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UNC Board of Governors chair: No action on “Silent Sam”

New UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith sounded ready to consider some action on “Silent Sam” Friday afternoon – promising a board discussion on whether to petition the state Historical Commission.

But by Friday evening, Smith was back to the board’s original hands-off position on the Confederate monument at the Chapel Hill campus.

Smith listened to students, alumni and Chapel Hill residents during the public comment before the board’s Friday meeting. He respects their position and passion and wants them to know the board hears them, he said at a press conference after the meeting.

He even apologized for referring to the movement to move the statue in a dismissive way in an interview with the conservative James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal (formerly the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy).

“That was a mistake by me,” Smith said. “I didn’t mean, contextually, to demean the movement and I understand why they took it that way. I’m in learning mode there.”

Smith said he’s open to a full board conversation on whether to petition the Historical Commission for the removal of the statue.

“I would expect that we will have the conversation with the board, because at the end of the day, we’ve got to hear everybody on the board,” Smith said.

He had no personal opinion on the matter, he said, but is continuing to listen and learn. He said he had learned a lot from listening to those speaking against the statue.

UNC President Margaret Spellings said she and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt spoke this week about “the implications” for the statue as students ready to return to campus for the Fall semester. The cost of securing the statue – $390,000 last year – was significant, Spellings said.

Spelling said Folt and the UNC trustees were working hard on a plan to keep students and property safe and finding a way forward.

“What are the options ahead for this board or the legislature to consider about how to put that period in our history in the right kind of context and to move on from it in ways that we learn from it?” Spellings said.

But shortly after 7 p.m. on Friday Smith released a written statement concluding there would be no board action on the issue.

“The UNC Board of Governors respects each of the varying opinions within the University community concerning this matter,” Smith said in the statement. “However, after consulting with legal counsel, neither UNC-Chapel Hill nor the UNC System have the legal authority to unilaterally relocate the Silent Sam statue. Thus, the board has no plans to take any action regarding the monument at this time, and we will await any guidance that the North Carolina Historical Commission may offer.”

It’s unclear whether Smith’s statement means that the board will not have a full discussion on petitioning the commission. The full board does not meet again until September.

 

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Controversy over chancellor candidate fuels latest power struggle on UNC Board of Governors

Board of Governors chairman, Harry Smith

As new UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith preached unity, respect and moving away from politics at this week’s meetings of the board in Chapel Hill, members clashed over power struggles and ethical fights in the search for a new chancellor at Western Carolina University.

Earlier this month, the board was expected to announce a new chancellor for WCU. Instead, Smith abruptly announced that the prime candidate had withdrawn from the process and that the board would now be examining the selection process itself.

Emails obtained by Policy Watch Friday detail the struggle over the search and its unnamed final candidate.

In the emails it was revealed that board member Tom Fetzer  – an influential lobbyist from Wilmington, former mayor of Raleigh and past chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party – had stepped into the search process and, some members felt, overstepped his role.

In an email, Fetzer revealed that after a final candidate was chosen from finalists by UNC President Margaret Spellings, he had contacted a friend at the “screening firm” QVerity, which Fetzer described as “founded and staffed by former CIA personnel.” He said he was prompted to ask that the company do a check on the candidate, whose name was redacted from the e-mails, when he heard the candidate had lectured somewhere (location redacted) of which he had never heard.

Tom Fetzer

Fetzer said he believed the results of that review, which he shared with board members, made him uncomfortable moving forward with the candidate.

“It would appear that there is more scrutiny that this candidate should have been subjected to, especially as it pertains to veracity and suitability.

Fellow board members charged that Fetzer improperly interfered with the search process by giving the candidate’s name and information about them to an outside group.

On Friday, Fetzer defended the move, saying as a board member he is charged with making sure information submitted by candidates is accurate. Fetzer contends that the outside background check turned up information that the candidate had provided inaccurate information for state employment.

“All I was doing was my due diligence as required by law as a board member to make sure the information supplied on an application is true,” Fetzer said in an interview after Friday’s full board meeting.

Though he would not elaborate, Fetzer said he still believes the candidate provided inaccurate information — an assertion other board members privy to confidential information on the candidate dispute. They say they believe the information provided wasn’t inaccurate, it just needed clarification.

In the Friday interview Fetzer, who until last year served as a trustee at Western Carolina, also revealed he had a conversation with UNC President Margaret Spellings about being interim chancellor at the school. Read more

News

Analysis: Youth voter registration up since Parkland school shooting

Youth voter registration has surged since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, according to a new analysis by data firm TargetSmart – including a 5.5 percent bump in North Carolina.

The company’s analysis of 39 states found the share of youth registrations in the N.C. increased from 38.7 to 44.2 percent since the February shooting.

In a release promoting the analysis, TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier attributed the increase to the well publicized movement to organize youth for the November election.

“A new generation of political leaders emerged in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy,” Bonier said in the release Thursday. “We witnessed their ability to organize in North Carolina and across the country as massive crowds took to the streets for the March for Our Lives, and now we’re seeing a quantifiable impact from that organizing. It remains to be seen how many of these younger registrants will cast a ballot in November, but they are poised to have a louder voice than ever in these critical midterm elections.”

The release also highlighted the findings of a poll from the Harvard University Institute of Politics, conducted after the Parkland shooting. It found  64 percent of 18-29 year-olds favor stricter gun control laws whether or not they plan to vote in November. Nearly two-thirds of those under 30 who say they plan to vote said they support stricter laws.

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Western Carolina University chancellor decision up in the air

Last week, the UNC Board of Governors scheduled a special session to vote on the new chancellor at Western Carolina University. The announcement of a new chancellor was expected, the culmination of a search process that began in February.

But today new board chairman Harry Smith released a statement saying the candidate being considered for the position has withdrawn from consideration. The search process itself is now, according to Smith, being reviewed and revised.

Smith’s statement:

“Today, I announce that the candidate for the position of Western Carolina University (WCU) Chancellor has withdrawn from consideration. President Spellings informed me that Alison Morrison-Shetlar has agreed to her request to continue to serve as interim Chancellor. On behalf of the UNC Board of Governors and President Spellings, I thank Alison for her leadership and service. WCU’s future is strong and bright.

The Board plans to complete an expedited review of the Chancellor search process in an effort to refine and improve it—and we expect to have the process in place in September.

The Board is committed to working with the President and the Boards of Trustees to identify the most capable and talented candidates to lead our remarkable institutions—and modifications to the Chancellor search process will do just that. Together, we are working to move our institutions—and the System—forward. Thank you.”

Patricia B. Kaemmerling and J. Bryant Kinney, co-chairs of the Western Carolina search committee, released their own statemet:

“Certainly, this is not the outcome we had hoped for, but Western Carolina University remains strong and well-positioned to continue to make great progress.We look forward to working with the WCU Board of Trustees, the UNC Board of Governors, President Margaret Spellings and the WCU campus community to ensure a successful search for our next chancellor. We are grateful to Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, who has agreed to continue serving in the interim role, and to Dr. Carol Burton, who has agreed to remain as acting provost.

We are also immensely grateful to members of the search committee for their hard work and diligence on this search.”

Several faculty and staff members, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by the board, said Monday that they are worried the announcement may mean the process may be politicized.

For several years faculty, staff and administration across the UNC system have expressed concern about the board taking a new, more aggressively conservative direction.

News

By 2040 just eight states – NC included – will hold 50 percent of U.S. population

An interesting piece in the Washington Post points to new population projections that show that by 2040, about half of the population of the United States will live in just eight states.

North Carolina is among them.

According to an analysis by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia, Census Bureau data suggests 49.5 percent will live in either North Carolina, California, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania or Texas.

What does that mean demographically and politically?

As the piece puts it:

“Thirty percent of the population of the country will control 68 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Or, more starkly, half the population of the country will control 84 percent of those seats.

It’s self-evident that the 34 smaller states will be more rural than the 16 largest; a key part of the reason those states will be so much more populous is the centralization of Americans in cities. It’s true, too, that this movement to cities has reinforced partisan divisions in a process called the Big Sort.

The Weldon Cooper data, though, is less stark on the age differential. Eleven of the 16 most-populous states will have over-65 populations that are below the median density nationally. Twenty-two of the 34 less-populous states will have over-65 populations that are over the median density.

In the current political context, older voters means more Republican voters. By 2040, though, those 65-year-olds will be Generation X, a generation that currently skews more Democratic than the two generations that preceded it, according to a March study from the Pew Research Center. By 2046, even some millennials — a group that is much more Democratic-leaning — will be at retirement age (!!!).”

Read the whole piece here and the population projection data on which it is based here.