Commentary, Higher Ed

Fetzer’s long overdue departure offers a ray of sunlight at UNC

Tom Fetzer

There hasn’t been much good news emanating from the UNC system in recent years. Ever since Republican legislators peppered the system’s Board of Governors with of a cadre of cronies and conservative ideologues, most of the news has involved controversy, backbiting, investigations and constant turnover in leadership.

Yesterday, however, there was a ray of sunlight when Tom Fetzer, one of the chief architects of board’s dysfunction, finally took his leave.

Fetzer, a corporate lobbyist, former politician and full-time right-wing firebrand has been an almost constant source of conflict and chaos at UNC.

He’s regularly worked to undermine the concerted efforts of his fellow board members with rogue actions – including destructively inserting himself into the chancellor searches at both Western Carolina and East Carolina, and indeed, seeking the jobs for himself.

He’s been a similarly unhelpful participant in efforts to do away with the “Silent Sam” statue that served as a hateful symbol of white supremacy to so many in the Chapel Hill community.

Fetzer says he resigned to spend time with his family, but the evidence indicates other board members had grown weary of his stunts and self-dealing and forced him out. As PW’s Joe Killian reported:

Fetzer’s announcement comes as the board is finalizing changes to its policies and procedures that would more strictly outline its members’ responsibilities. The policies will include censure and recommendation for removal of board members who overstep their roles. The changes were instigated by repeated problems with Fetzer acting in ways his colleagues said were inappropriate and possibly legally dangerous for the UNC System.

While most of the board was silent on Fetzer’s announcement, two members spoke to Policy Watch about it Wednesday. The members asked not to be identified so that they could characterize closed-session discussions of the board.

“I think the writing was on the wall for him that the board wasn’t going to put up with the kinds of things he was involved in,” one board member said. “We are putting some teeth into our policies and he is not stupid. He’s a very intelligent man. He knows if he continues to operate the way he has, he’s going to end up in trouble.”

Another board member said he believed Fetzer could “read the room” and tell that the majority of the board had no further stomach for scandals from its own board members.

“His personality is just not going to allow him to be on the board without going beyond the lines that most of us observe,” the board member said. “He just has the kind of nature where he’s going to do what he wants to do and he likes to get into it with people, and I think our board is trying to move beyond that. We’ve had too much of it in the last few years.”

Let’s hope this news signals a long overdue shift at UNC away from personal and political agendas and toward supporting the university of the people.

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