When David Fisher, chairman of the ECU Foundation, heard about the resignation of Chancellor Cecil Staton, he was “deeply disappointed” – but not exactly surprised.
“He was bullied from the beginning,” Fisher said of Staton, who several UNC Board of Governors members say was pressured to resign after conflicts with board chairman Harry Smith.
“From the day he arrived there were people biting at his heels over things he had no control over,” Fisher said. “I think when you see [UNC System President] Margaret Spellings resign and then the UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor resign…and now this? These dots add up and connect. There’s some forces at play.”
Fisher was one of a long list of prominent ECU community members who wrote the board of governors in January to express their support for Staton and shine a light on what they said was a pattern of harassment.
From that letter:
“We are concerned that rumors persist that Chancellor Staton will be removed in spite of the support of the trustees and the people who know him best.
We feel it is time for the evaluation of the Chancellor to become public and we would like to offer our support to him. In fact, we would ask that, with the permission of the Chancellor, the 360 review recently finished be released so that it can become part of the record. It is confusing that a document designed and paid for by the university would not be available to those of us invested in the university. Many of us gave our time to be interviewed for the document and find it insulting that this document has been hidden from view since its publishing.
In short we are asking that Chancellor Station be allowed to continue in his position without continued threats. It seems beneath this great institution for this to continue. It is time for this shameful episode in our university’s history to come to an end and for our Chancellor, Dr. Cecil Staton, to be supported and given every opportunity to lead our university to greatness.”
The group’s concerns were obviously well founded, Fisher said.
With recent changes, Fisher said, the ECU Board of Trustees has also been stacked with people who will conform to the wishes of the Smith and the Board of Governors without forming and holding to their own opinions. That includes the board’s only two women not being reappointed, making the membership now entirely male.
“With the board packed now they’re not there to be objective and call it like they see it,” Fisher said. “They’re there for a purpose.”
The UNC Board of Governors meets Friday at Appalachian State University, where conflict over Staton’s resignation is expected to be publicly aired.
Whatever happens, Fisher said, he is sure that Staton and ECU will move forward, however unfortunate the parting.
“I’m really proud of the chancellor in the way he’s conducted himself,” Fisher said. “I’ve never once heard him speak ill of the board of governors or anyone associated with the board of governors – to me when he has been to my home or in public. He’s taken the high road the entire way.”