Commentary

The cowardly firing of Tom Ross

Tom-Ross-116By now you probably know that the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom were elected in the last four years by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, voted this morning to force UNC President Tom Ross to resign effective January of 2016. Sarah Ovaska has a good rundown of the meeting and the aftermath.

Rumors about the dismissal started early this morning and were confirmed by the board after a closed session that lasted more than two hours.

There was no public discussion when the board returned to open session, only a vote on a cryptic “employment package” for the president. The board and Ross issued a joint statement  that praised Ross’ performance and said the “timeline for transition was different” between Ross and the board. In other words he was forced out.

After the meeting Ross and Board Chair John Fennebresque met with reporters in one of the most bizarre press conferences you will ever see, with a combative Fennebresque unable to answer a basic question asked by reporter after reporter; why exactly was Ross forced to step down.

Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with his performance, the joint statement said that too. Fennebresque said he was very pleased with Ross’ efforts for the UNC system, that he had been doing a wonderful job.

He said it was not related to Ross’ age—he is 64—and Ross said explicitly that he was not ready to retire. Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with the scandals about athletics and academics at UNC-Chapel Hill, that Ross has handled those situations “admirably.”

And Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with politics either, the hardest answer of all to believe given the rumors about pressure on the board from legislative leaders to make a change.

It was about nothing apparently. UNC President Tom Ross, a man respected throughout North Carolina and across the country for his intellect, leadership and integrity, was being forced out for no apparent reason. Yes, Ross will get a severance and will remain on the job for a year but that is not the point.

He is being dismissed, force to resign before he wants to leave and for no reason that the head of the board that is firing him can identify.

What a cowardly and pathetic decision.

It has to be politics and the folks behind it at least ought to have the courage to admit it.

Supporters of the university and taxpayers across North Carolina deserve at least that much if a sadly overtly political board is firing a leader who they admit is doing a wonderful job running one of the most important public institutions in North Carolina.

19 Comments


  1. Alan

    January 17, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Now, at last, the students at UNC can look forward to an expanded curriculum, consisting of:

    A. Emperor Ronald Reagan and how he brought down communism. Tear Down This Wall-101.
    B. Media Bias and Socialism. Exploring the enemies of freedom, liberty and capitalism.
    C. God is Great. How Jesus was a Republican.
    D. Noah’s Ark. Historical fact or historical fact? You choose.
    E. How to develop an exhaustive enemies list. Course sponsored by The Civitas Institute.

    Oh.. I could go on, and on, and on….

  2. Greg Dail

    January 17, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Is this the same BOG President that has run interference for the Carolina athletic department with the zeal of a halfwit, semi-literate baby blue linebacker these last few years?
    Oh yeah, he was hosed!

  3. Willis W. Apple

    January 17, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I have known Tom Ross for over 30 years, having first met him when he chaired the board of Legal Services of NC, Inc. Then and now, Tom was and continues to be one of my most admired leaders. He proceeds to follow his passion quietly, deliberately and effectively. Only he, in my view, even approaches the quality and character of Dr. Bill Friday, who also was simply legendary among North Carolina’s visionary leaders. Tom is leaving with style and finesse; I would expect no less of him. But our loss will undoubtedly be someone else’s gain. Best wishes, Tom, for an equally rewarding next career! As for our aboard of Governors…you should be ashamed of yourselves for caving!
    Bill Apple
    J.D. & M.B.A., 1980
    B.S. In Bus. Admin., 1973

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    January 17, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Ross was a pawn of the radical left wing. It is time we get someone with another view in there. Now the UNC system will become run with an eye for efficiency and can see through the BS of the educrat administration complex.

  5. LayintheSmakDown

    January 17, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    As an aside, it is funny to see all the leftist heads spinning like the girl in the exorcist. I guess the tables being turned after 140 years really hurts. Just think how all the normal people of NC hated all these leftists being put in power all those years!

  6. ML

    January 18, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Here comes lsd with the rational level headed comments as usual…

  7. Ted Hiley

    January 18, 2015 at 9:51 am

    He is just another left-wing political actor…about time the UNC system had some professional leadership instead of someone promoting his “progressive” ideas. Age 65…he was supposed to go. Big surprise. At least it won’t be another Democrat pol.

  8. ML

    January 18, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Instead we’ll get a typical republican pol and their radical right wing tyrannical fascist views of creating religious institutions to corespond with the state religion.

  9. Greg Dail

    January 18, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Mr. Apple, your credentials are impressive but it’s unfortunate you will feel the need to parade them before us. Some of us have degrees as well you know.
    To your point, I’m sure Mr. Ross is a fine man, but for you to invoke the name of Bill Friday in his defense is absurd, and not a little insulting. When Bill Friday saw wrongdoing in athletics he did something about it (Google the Dixie Classic). When Mr. Ross saw scandal he ran the four corners. There’s a difference Sir and if you don’t see it you are looking at the world through Carolina Blue eyes.

  10. Gene Hoglan

    January 18, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Can’t wait for the brain trust in Raleigh to appoint the next UNC president: Molotov Mitchell.

  11. LayintheSmakDown

    January 18, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    It beats the typical dem/progressive pol that has occupied the position constantly. It is nice to have a change.

  12. Lex

    January 19, 2015 at 10:01 am

    If Tom Ross’s handling, or lack of handling, of the UNC-CH academics scandal had been a reason for his firing, don’t you think the Board of Governors would have said so, rather than going out of its way to insist that the firing wasn’t a performance issue?

    And while Ross is a Democrat, he has had nothing to do with electoral politics since leaving the Superior Court bench many years ago. Grow up, people. This was an ill-advised, political firing by a Republican state leadership that repeatedly has demonstrated hostility to the UNC System’s constitutionally defined mission, despite the huge economic benefits to the state that that system provides.

  13. LayintheSmakDown

    January 19, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Lex, this was a great move by the BOG. Ross was a strong advocate for inserting more and more progressive rule into the system. It is time for a change and the board is making the right call to put someone qualified for the job in place, all this whining is due to political sour grapes and nothing else. I for one am enjoying watching the heads explode and the toddlers kicking on the ground when they dont get their way.

  14. david esmay

    January 19, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    No day tripper, we just want someone that supports higher education, not some political hack appointed by the Koch bros.

  15. LayintheSmakDown

    January 20, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Uh, and what you will get is someone who supports higher education…..just not as much communist propaganda which is why the toddlers are kicking and screaming. Also, why are you so paranoid about the Kochtopus, as if they don’t have bigger fish to fry than the UNC board. Take of the tin foil hat for a moment and let your brain cool down.

  16. Lex

    January 20, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    LTS, I’ve been a Republican since 1978. I’ve known Tom Ross almost as long. And I can guarantee you that you can look at the entire length of the GOP bench — and the Democratic bench, for that matter — and not find anyone more qualified than he to run the UNC system.

    I return to the system’s constitutional mandate: to provide as nearly free a higher education to the people of North Carolina as is practicable. Way too many people, most but not all of them Republicans, have a problem with this. If so, they should seek a constitutional amendment rather than sabotaging the system by throwing out the best president since Bill Friday and installing a hack to run it.

  17. LayintheSmakDown

    January 20, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    You may have known him, but I know the Z Reynolds foundation and their goals and his statements fit right in to their views. He must have changed a great deal since you knew him.

    There is nothing the BOG has done to subvert the mandate, if anything they will be doing a better job if Art Pope comes in to cut costs and get the communist/progressive fat out of the system. You can’t say the Ross guy has done a good job what with the constant 4+% requests for increased funding in a low inflationary environment.

  18. Alan

    January 21, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Oh, look, I get to comment last! Papa Smurf will be so proud of me!

  19. LayintheSmakDown

    January 21, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    No…you don’t.

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