Former ECU chancellor sues UNC System, Rucho leaving board of governors

Former East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton is suing the UNC System over his unexplained ouster last year.

The suit also names former UNC Board of Governors chairman Harry Smith and attorney Peter Romary and his firm QVerity.

Regular Policy Watch readers will recall our coverage of Staton’s firing, which was never explained by the UNC System.

Cecil Staton and Harry Smith.

Staton asserted then — and maintain in his suit — that his firing was not a result of his performance in the job but conflict with Smith over Staton’s rejection of a business proposal that would have benefitted Smith.

The suit says Smith weaponized the board of governors against him in retribution and used his position to publicly criticize him and harm his reputation.

The suit alleges that Smith, Romary and QVerity compiled and distributed a dossier on Staton that harmed his reputation that prevented him from getting jobs after his ouster at ECU, including at a Texas university.

Throughout his tenure on the board Smith was criticized for overstepping his bounds and micromanaging ECU, of which he is a prominent alum. Smith stepped down as chair last September and ultimately left the board after conflicts with his fellow board members and pressure from the General Assembly.

In other board of governors news, member Bob Rucho will leave the board at the end of this month.

Neither Rucho nor the UNC System responded to questions about his resignation last week, but Rucho told Business North Carolina that he’s leaving the board before his term ends next year because he is moving from Raleigh, which will take time and energy he would otherwise spend on the board. The decision also coincides with his youngest son recently graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, he said.

Rucho’s exit follows the resignation of fellow member Tom Fetzer from the board earlier this month. Fetzer and Rucho are both combative former Republican politicians (Rucho a state senator, Fetzer a former mayor of Raleigh and former NC GOP chairman)

This weekend sources on the board told Policy Watch that there is a renewed emphasis on depoliticizing the board and mitigating the public perception that the board, which has no Democrats, is motivated as much by partisan politics as concern for the well-being of the UNC System. A number of high profile conflicts and scandals on the board involving vocal conservative members of the board such as Smith, Fetzer and Rucho have made that more difficult, members said.

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