East Carolina University Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach has been placed on administrative leave after photos and video of him with students in a bar near campus caused controversy, the UNC System office said Monday morning.
Gerlach will remain on administrative leave “pending further investigation,” according to a Monday press release.
The photos and videos, first reported by local Greenville television station WITN, show Gerlach posing for photos, chugging beer and dancing with young people. There are several photos of him hugging or putting his arm around young women.
Jeannine Manning Hutson, ECU’s interim Chief Communications Officer, released a statement on Sunday after the photos led to concerned calls to ECU and UNC System leadership.
From that statement:
“On the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 25, ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach went to Sup Dogs near the campus of the university. While there he ran into two adult male acquaintances who invited him to walk down the street to join them at a local pub, which he did. Gerlach is known for taking selfies with students, staff and faculty on and off-campus. The videos and photos that WITN received show Gerlach interacting with college-aged young adults and taking selfies.
‘When I first started here, and even before, one constant concern that I heard was that our students needed a leader of the university to be present and approachable, someone who can speak to them in their language. That’s what I’ve set out to do at ECU. I regret that these photos are being perceived as anything more than what they are,’ said Gerlach today.
‘During the time that I am interim chancellor, I will continue to work toward balancing the university’s budget and improving enrollment and will continue to engage with students and the community. On Wednesday night, I spoke with 125 proud Pirates at Cypress Glen. Because our students are the center of the university, I’ve been working hard to show up – at performances, on tours, at Fall Open House yesterday. Students are the reason the university exists.'”
Gerlach is one of four interim chancellors now in place at UNC system schools after a series of controversial resignations and ousters of school leadership over the last year. The chaotic and highly political atmosphere on the UNC Board of Governors could lead to trouble finding and retaining the best candidates for new leadership positions, some national higher education experts have observed.
In March former ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton was asked to resign in a controversial ouster that led to Gerlach’s placement as interim chancellor.
Members of the ECU community and members of the UNC Board of Governors accused UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith of pushing Staton out as part of a private vendetta – a charge Smith denied.
This weekend Smith released a statement urging people to remain calm and reserve judgement on Gerlach’s position as interim chancellor.
“I would ask that everyone please reserve judgment and allow a proper process and review by the system office and the president who are aware of the issue,” Smith said in the statement.
Smith announced his own resignation as chairman of the board of governors last week shortly before UNC System Interim President Bill Roper announced he would stay on in that role through June of 2020 but would not seek the position on a permanent basis.
Debate continued throughout the day Monday about Gerlach’s behavior and the decision to put him on leave.
Club 519, the bar where video of Gerlach was taken, mounted an online campaign to defend him – including links to a petition encouraging the public to “fight fake news” and support Gerlach as chancellor. The petition had more than 3,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
On Twitter a number of people with ties to ECU theorized the outrage was artificial — part of a plot to sink Gerlach’s chances of becoming the school’s permanent chancellor. Others lamented that his behavior seemed to confirm stereotypes about ECU as a “party school.”
Before his time at ECU, Gerlach was director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center. The Budget and Tax Center is a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, of which N.C. Policy Watch is also a project.