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UNC President Tom Ross and N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls were joined by two lawmakers, state Sens. Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) and Josh Stein (D-Wake), at the RTP Headquarters in Durham.

Ross learned he would be out of a job in January, in a surprise move by the UNC Board of Governors to find a new president that many suspect had political motivations. (Ross was hired under a board that of Democratic appointees, the current UNC Board of Governors all received appointments from a Republican-led legislature.)

Ralls announced last week he was leaving his job of 7 years leading North Carolina’s 58-campus community college system for a job leading a Virginia community college.

On Wednesday night, Ross, the UNC president, commented that the loss of Ralls would be significant for North Carolina, and that under Ralls’ leadership, the community college system worked closely with the university system by pushing for articulation agreements for students to easily transfer credits from one system to the next.

“I couldn’t have a better partner than Scott Ralls,” Ross said.

Below is a run-down of some of the more interesting comments made by the four men last night:

—>One of the biggest threats to the university system? Faculty retention, according to UNC President Tom Ross. Faculty saw average salary increases of 1.5 percent over the last seven years, a time period in which inflation has gone up by 10 percent.

Ross said the state’s flagship school, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in particular, is seeing a spike in professors leaving campus. The school typically had 30 out of every 100 professors with job offers end up leaving the campus. That jumped up to 70 percent last year, he said.

“It’s more than just compensation, frankly,” Ross said. “Most faculty are not in it for the money. There are other factors are in the minds and hearts right now that are causing them to look elsewhere.”

—>State Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, reiterated Ross’ point about departing faculty. Stein said he recently spoke with a dean on N.C. State University’s campus that relayed that more staff in his area left last year than in the prior three years. More remarkably, Stein said, those leaving told the dean to not even bother seeking a counter offer.

Stein mentioned a bill he’s filed (but hasn’t been heard), that would restrict state lottery funds to paying for pre-K slots, and providing college scholarships to low-income students.“We have to be creative,” Stein said.

—>State Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Cornelius Republican, remarked when he visited chancellors on all 17 campuses after first taking office, he wanted to hear what metrics (SAT scores, class rank, etc.) they thought were the best predictors of whether students would be successful in college.

To his surprise, he heard that the length of time a student spent in pre-K or early education programs was what made the difference.

—>When asked for comment about President Barack Obama’s proposal to make community college free for all students who can maintain high grades, N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls said he wonders if other approaches could help more in North Carolina, where tuition is already low.

The community college student is predominantly made up of low-income students, and more needs to be done to support those students, Ralls said.

Among Ralls’ suggestions were expanding Pell Grants (which are provided to very low-income students) to cover summer sessions, and putting day-care facilities on community college campuses so that parents can work toward their degrees without barriers.

“The greatest challenges our students face is not getting in, but staying in,” Ralls said.

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The UNC Board of Governors hopes to have a new president announced this September.

Joan MacNeill, the chairwoman of the presidential search committee acknowledged in a meeting Monday that keeping to the timeline would be tough.

The board needs to select a head-hunting firm to conduct the search, hold public forums around the state for input about the skills and qualities the next leader of the UNC system should have and then weed through what are expected to be a substantial number of applicants.

“I acknowledge that this is ambitious,” said MacNeill. “It may not work, but we’re going to try for it.”

The presidential search committee met Monday on the campus of N.C. A&T, in Greensboro. Committee members discussed the timeline, and heard an overview about the executive search industry from Al McAulay, a Charlotte-based recruiter.

McAulay is a personal friend of John Fennebresque, the chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, and was not paid for his presentation.

McAuley said the board will have a choice between going with large executive search firms or smaller operations. They should also expect to pay whatever firm they select about a third of the new president’s new salary, as well as any direct costs incurred by the firm during the search firm.

The board of governors hopes to reach out to several search firms in coming days to request bids on conducting the presidential search.

At Monday’s meeting, board members expressed interest in looking for candidates outside of academics, starting by looking at search firms who aren’t primarily focused on finding academic leaders.

“We should see what some of the outsiders say as well,” said Frank Grainger, a member of the UNC Board of Governors.

The need for a new leader of the 17-campus system came after the UNC Board of Governors pushed out its current president, Tom Ross, in January.

Ross, a former Davidson College president and judge, will stay on the job through at least January 2016. Reasons for Ross’ ouster haven’t been fully explained by the legislatively-appointed board, though public speculation has rested on political motives.

Ross was hired in 2010, when the board consisted of appointees of what was then a Democrat-led state legislature. The current board is now made up entirely of appointees selected by a legislature in Republican control.

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IBM, which employs thousands in the Triangle area, doesn’t want North Carolina to adopt a controversial religious freedom bill that opponents say would allow discrimination against the LGBT community.

The company’s senior executive in North Carolina, Robert Greenberg, wrote a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory noting the company’s opposition, as reported by WRAL earlier this morning.

From Greenberg’s letter:

IBM has a large number of employees and retirees in North Carolina and is gravely concerned that this legislation, if enacted, would enable discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or identity. We call on members of the Legislature to defeat this bill.

Our perspective is grounded in IBM’s 104-year history and our deep legacy of diversity and inclusion — a legacy to which we remain strongly committed today. IBM is opposed to discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. We urge you to work with the Legislature to ensure that any legislation in this area is not discriminatory.

Several other tech companies have spoken against the bill, which would allow businesses to choose who they do work for based on religious beliefs. Opponents have said that essentially is a license to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents. Similar legislation that became law in Indiana ignited a national firestorm of opposition.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst wrote earlier this month that his Raleigh-based company embraces diversity and called the oroposed North Carolina legislation “divisive” and harmful to the state’s economy.

Ltr_NCMcCrory_RFRA_040715.pdf by NC Policy Watch

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N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls

North Carolina is now on the hunt for new leaders of both its higher education systems, with today’s announcement that N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls is taking a job in Virginia.

The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill reported early this afternoon that Ralls is taking a new job to head the Northern Virginia Community College, a campus with 75,000 students.

In North Carolina, Rawls has headed the 58-campus state community college system that serves 850,000 students since 2008. He will start his new job in September. (Click here to read the announcement from the Virginia community college.)

From the N&O:

Ralls has led the North Carolina community college system since 2008. The system had phenomenal growth — 28 percent — in the first three years of his tenure, which was during the depths of the recession.

At the same time, the system experienced a budget crunch, all while embarking on a strategy to revamp curriculum, improve graduation rates and forge new transfer agreements with the state’s university system.

A former president of Craven Community College in New Bern and Havelock, Ralls said Thursday he had always intended to return to a campus setting, where he could interact with students and faculty.

“That’s who I am and where my heart is,” Ralls said Thursday. “I’ve always aspired to go back to a campus.”

Ralls’ forthcoming departure comes at the state’s university system is also looking for its new leader, after the UNC Board of Governors moved in January to push out President Tom Ross.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman John Fennebresque denied that politics played a roll in Ross’ ouster, but no reasons other than a general desire for change have been given.

Ross is staying in his position until January, and a successor is expected to be announced this fall.

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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will find out his fate this summer , with his sentencing on a criminal charge of stealing federal funds now pushed back to July.

LaRoque-PC

Stephen LaRoque

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican and former co-chair of the powerful House Rules committee, plead guilty in January in front of Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Howard to a charge of stealing $150,000 from federally-funded economic development groups he ran.

The other 11 charges he faced were dismissed as a condition of his plea agreement. He also agreed to repay $300,000 that prosecutors contend he stole from the non-profit he founded, East Carolina Development Company.

He was supposed to be sentenced on May 12, but the sentencing has been pushed back to the week of July 7. In motions filed in court, his attorney said LaRoque needed more time to provide financial information to the federal probation officials writing up the pre-sentencing report that Howard will use to decide LaRoque’s sentence.

LaRoque faces up to 10 years in a federal prison, as well as a fine of $250,000, on top of $300,000 he agreed to pay in restitution as a condition of his plea agreement. Read More