News

Southern Poverty Law Center updating database as Confederate monuments removed

As Confederate monuments continue to be voluntarily removed and toppled by protesters across the South, the Southern Poverty Law Center this week released an update to its Whose Heritage? report , which tracks and maps public symbols of the Confederacy nationwide.

The Confederate monument in downtown Winston-Salem was removed last year amid protests.

The update shows  nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols still in public spaces across the country. That includes statues and monuments but also schools, counties, military bases, streets, highways and parks named for confederate figures.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police has led to weeks of international anti-racist protests and a new momentum for removing Confederate symbols in public spaces and the names of avowed white supremacists from places of honor.

Last weekend Gov. Roy Cooper ordered three Confederate monuments on the State Capitol grounds removed after protesters tore down parts of one of them.

The SPLC estimates 105 symbols of various types of Confederate symbols have been removed from public spaces across the country since its last update  — 70 of them were monuments. Forty-eight symbols listed in its database have been renamed, eleven are pending removal and five have been relocated.

“Many Confederate monuments have been removed in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, as more people come to understand that these symbols glorify white supremacy and the subjugation of Black people,” said SPLC Spokesperson Lecia Brooks in statement Wednesday. “Though the swift removal of some public monuments is encouraging, our updated report shows that there is much more work to be done.”

Read the full Whose Heritage? report update here.

Education, Higher Ed

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.

Education, Higher Ed

Peter Hans elected UNC System President

In an emergency meeting Friday morning, the UNC Board of Governors unanimously elected Peter Hans the next UNC System President.

Hans, who now serves as as president of the North Carolina Community College System, will take the university’s system’s top leadership spot Aug. 1.

“Peter has long distinguished himself as a visionary leader who not only understands, but who is leading the charge for the future of higher education,” said UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey.“We believe there is no one better suited to lead our university system into the future — even if that future may be very different than the one we all thought it would be six months ago. We are delighted to have Peter Hans as our new president and look forward to the transition process.”

“Peter Hans passionately believes that North Carolina’s future depends on education, and he has a long track record of uniting people and institutions in pursuit of shared goals,” said Dr. Bill Roper, who has served as  interim president of the UNC System since Margaret Spellings abruptly left the position last year.

UNC System President-elect Peter Hans speaks to the UNC Board of Governors following his election Friday morning.

“I am confident that, with today’s decision, great things are ahead for the UNC System and for our great state,” Roper said.

Hans has led the state’s community college system for the last two years. Before that, he was an advisor to Spellings on technology, health care, strategic planning and K-12 education. He served on the UNC Board of Governors from 2003 to 2014, serving as chair of the board from 2012 to 2014.

Ramsey said the people of North Carolina want a leader who can rise above partisan politics — a serious problem on the tumultuous and highly political board of governors over the last few years.

Hans does have a partisan political history. He served as senior policy advisor to U.S. Senators Lauch Faircloth (R) and Richard Burr (R) and was a campaign advisor for Senator Elizabeth Dole (R).

But those who have worked with Hans said he has a history of reaching across the aisle and operating in an inclusive and non-partisan way.

Friday morning Gov. Roy Cooper (D), State Senate leader President Pro Tem Phil Berger  (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) released a joint statement praising the choice of Hans.

“Peter Hans has done tremendous work as president of the N.C. Community College System, and he’s the right choice for UNC System President,” the three said in a statement. “That we all agree on Peter is a testament to the respect he commands as an able, competent leader.”

Two of the system’s previous presidents, Spellings and Erskine Bowles,  also issued statements praising Hans as the board’s choice Friday. Spellings is a prominent Republican who served as Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush while Bowles, a Democrat, was chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.

“Congratulations to my dear friend and colleague Peter Hans, who has committed his career on the state and national levels to advancing and enriching the lives of all North Carolinians,” Spellings said in a statement. “Whether as a trusted advisor to me at the UNC System or as President of the NC Community Colleges, Peter has worked tirelessly to improve student achievement, enhance educational access, and ensure college affordability for all students. I wish Peter the greatest success as he takes the helm of the System during this critical time.”

Bowles said Hans has “the people skills, the experience and the leadership strengths needed to push the university forward in a nonpartisan manner, to meet the challenges and opportunities we face today and will face in the future.”

“I am delighted that the UNC Board of Governors has elected Peter Hans to serve as the president of the University of North Carolina,” said Bowles said in a statement. “Peter served as vice chairman of the UNC Board of Governors during my tenure as UNC President. I’ve seen firsthand the real love Peter has for our state and our university, as well as the deep appreciation he has of the critically important role that the University’s 17 campuses play in the future of North Carolina and our people.”

Hans’ base salary as president will be $400,000 — dramatically lower than Spellings or Roper, Roper now makes $775,000 per year, with a $77,500 annual retirement contribution and the possibility of up to $125,000 in an annual performance bonus. An additional $600,000 will be possible as incentive pay based on his performance on three metrics  — increasing on-time graduation rates for first-time and transfer undergraduate students, reducing expenses per degree completed, and reducing student loan debt per undergraduate students as a percentage of per-capita income.

UNC Board of Governors member Jim Holmes said Hans preferred that compensation arrangement and praised him for it.

In a brief press conference after his election Hans said he believes the university system can learn a lot from the state’s underrated community colleges — including making transfers between schools easier, stretching their dollars and the importance of taxpayers as stakeholders.

He declined to get into his ideas for the system in detail, saying Roper will be president until August and the system should have just one leader at a time.

“Stay tuned,” he said.

Education, Higher Ed, News

Sources: New UNC System President to be elected Friday

The UNC Board of Governors will meet in an emergency video conference Friday morning to hold an UNC System presidential election vote.

Two members of the board have confirmed to Policy Watch that the new president will be Peter Hans, current president of the North Carolina Community College System.

Policy Watch agreed not to reveal the board members’ identities so that they could discuss the confidential search process and closed-session deliberations.

Peter Hans

Board members think highly of Hans’s stewardship of the community college system. He’s also a former UNC Board of Governors chairman, having served three terms on the board. Before becoming head of the state’s community colleges two years ago he was an advisor to former UNC System President Margaret Spellings.

“He knows the system, he knows the board and he is proven as a leader,” one UNC Board of Governors member told Policy Watch Thursday afternoon. “We’ve been convinced we have the talent right here in North Carolina to elect a president. I think it is likely this will be a unanimous vote.”

Hans’s candidacy has been rumored for weeks. As the board’s selection committee held two days of interviews this week, the buzz that he would be the choice grew louder.

On Wednesday evening Durham attorney Greg Doucette, who was a board member during his time as a student, posted on Twitter that several sources confirmed Hans would be the next system president.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper was scheduled to leave the system’s top leadership position at the end of June. In April, as the presidential search was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he agreed to stay until the search was concluded.

Roper has served as interim president since November 2018. Before that, he was CEO of UNC Health Care for 14 years and dean of the public health school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

As interim president Roper now makes $775,000 per year, with a $77,500 annual retirement contribution and the possibility of up to $125,000 in an annual performance bonus.

Education, Higher Ed

UNC-Chapel Hill lifts moratorium on renaming buildings, promises to face campus’ racial history

 

UNC-Chapel Hill students and community members hold signs illuminating the history of building names on campus. Photo: Joe Killian

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to lift its self-imposed moratorium on the renaming of buildings and historic places on campus, setting the stage to remove the names of Confederate and white supremacist historic figures from places of honor there.

The move comes after years of student and faculty efforts to overturn the renaming ban, which was put in place in 2015 as national sentiment rose against the honoring of Confederate figures, slave owners and avowed white supremacists. Though students, faculty and staff at the school have pushed for decades to rename some of its buildings, this week’s vote comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the resulting international protests against police violence against Black people and racial disparities in the U.S.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz addressed Wednesday’s meeting of the school’s board of trustees, saying the lifting of the moratorium is just one part of a commitment to greater racial equity at the school.

“Systemic racism is part of institutions across our country and we have been challenged by this here in Chapel Hill over the years,” Guskiewicz said. “But our faculty, staff and students have pushed to make UNC better for decades — as have you, members of our board. But it’s clear that we’ve move too slowly at times. We haven’t done enough to be the campus community we aspire to be at times.”

Though no steps toward actually renaming anything on campus were discussed Wednesday, board members and the chancellor made it clear they mean to get that process under way.

“This puts us on a road to take meaningful actions,” Guskiewicz said of lifting the ban. “Actions that we’ve talked about on many occasions.”

As with the movement against the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam, those pushing to rename buildings on campus faced significant resistance from university administration, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and some members of the UNC Board of Governors.

But in 2015, they scored a qualified victory. The Board of Trustees agreed to rename Saunders Hall. The building was named for William Saunders – a Confederate colonel, UNC trustee and leader of the state’s Ku Klux Klan. The trustees faced mounting pressure to remove his name, but stopped short of renaming it for Black anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston, as many students preferred. Instead, they opted for the more neutral “Carolina Hall,” and also imposed a 16-year moratorium on renaming buildings on campus.

Last August, Policy Watch reported members of the UNC Board of Trustees — including Chairman Richard Stevens — were open to a discussion of ending that moratorium.

Stevens likened his shifting perspective on UNC’s building names to his views on the Silent Sam Confederate monument, which was toppled by protesters.

“I’ve had the benefit of more frequent discussions with students and with faculty of color,” Stevens said. “I understand much better now their opposition to Silent Sam and now my position is I don’t think it should come back to McCorkle Place.”

In February, faculty delivered a petition to administration on the issue.

On Wednesday, Guskiewicz promised that this step will the first in an ongoing effort to face UNC-Chapel Hill’s history and build a more inclusive future.

“This history of our university mirrors that of our nation,” he said. “Our campus has struggled with reconciling our history just as many other universities have.”

“To be the nation’s leading global public research university we need a deeper commitment to reconciling our history of racial injustice with a commitment to racial equity and inclusivity,” Guskiewicz said.

Look for further coverage of this issue — at UNC Chapel Hill and beyond — tomorrow at NC Policy Watch.