Members of the UNC Board of Governors met most of the day Thursday in Chapel Hill for committee meetings. Between discussions of admissions standards and the proper role of boards of trustees in SGA elections, Policy Watch talked with members about reports N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) is seeking the chancellorship at East Carolina University.
Former ECU Trustee Robert Moore publicly said Moore was seeking the position in a resignation letter this week. Other trustees confirmed it to Policy Watch this week along with several members of the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom asked not to be identified so they could discuss confidential conversations about Moore seeking the chancellorship.
UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey said he hadn’t spoken to Moore about the position and had no personal knowledge of him seeking it.
“I read the same letter everybody else read — but outside of that, I don’t have any knowledge of it,” Ramsey said Thursday. “I think it’s completely inappropriate for those trustees or anybody on our board to be talking about a chancellor search that is underway. Because it’s certainly going to hurt the chances of the right candidate applying for the job. That’s just the way I feel about it.”
UNC Board of Governors Chairman Jim Holmes, who is not directly involved with the ECU chancellor search, said members of the search committees should not share confidential candidate information — anonymously or otherwise.
“These searches are confidential to protect the candidates, they’re confidential to protect the search,” Holmes said. “If you can’t keep it confidential, don’t be part of the search.”
In November, the UNC system named a 20-member search committee that will recommend finalists to UNC-system Interim President Bill Roper, who will recommend a final candidate to the Board of Governors. The board will then vote on whether to make that candidate ECU’s next leader.
Members of both the ECU Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors have raised questions about the ethics of politically appointed boards deciding whether to give a highly coveted job to one of the powerful political figures responsible for appointing them.
“There are those on the board who don’t think it would be right to have a vote of the people who the General Assembly appointed to decide if one of the leaders of the General Assembly gets one of the most important leadership positions at ECU,” one of the ECU trustees told Policy Watch this week.
UNC Board of Governors member David Powers said that quote itself — which originally appeared in a Policy Watch story Thursday — reflects a problem with the ECU Board of Trustees.
“The chancellor is not ‘one of the most important leadership positions’ at East Carolina, as the anonymous trustee said,” Powers said. “It is the most important position at East Carolina. The chancellor runs the university — not the board of trustees. Some of the ECU trustees might have an inflated view of their real authority there. Their role is to advise the chancellor. The only powers they have are those that are delegated to them by the board of governors. Trustee boars that embrace their advisor roles tend to be the most effective.”
Powers, who previously told Policy Watch Moore might be a good candidate for President of the UNC System, said Thursday that he wouldn’t discount him as a candidate for ECU chancellor either.
“It’s not my aim to exclude anybody,” Powers said. “There are different skill sets — Speaker Moore certainly has some skill sets that would be very good. Fundraising, the ability to help advocate for the university. He has some skill sets that would fit very nicely into a job like that. So
I’m not willing to exclude anyone.”
Powers said it is not unprecedented for state lawmakers and political leaders to become leaders in the the university systems of their state.
“I certainly think [Former Republican Governor of Indiana]Mitch Daniels has done an incredibly good job at Perdue [University],” Powers said. “And not just on the Republican side. [Former Democratic Texas Legislator and current Texas A&M University Chancellor] John Sharp at Texas A&M is a fantastic university administrator.”
One doesn’t even have to look beyond the UNC System, Powers said.
“Erskine Bowles is a great example of a political figure who made a really good president of the university system,” Powers said of the former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton who served as UNC System President from 2005 to 2010.
But each of the board of governors members who spoke with Policy Watch about the potential of Moore’s chancellorship at ECU acknowledged his candidacy could be complicated.
“I think it does pose a potential ethics issue,” Ramsey said. “I have said during the presidential search we wouldn’t close the door to anyone. But I do believe it poses a very complicated issue for somebody who is currently seated in the General Assembly to be named chancellor or president. I think if we come to that bridge, we’re going to have to take a very close look at it from a governance perspective. I think that’s appropriate.”
Powers agreed it could be a complicated — though not disqualifying — issue.
“They do have to be extremely careful about being fair and open,” Powers said. “It means got to treat them like every other [applicant]. I know it’s difficult, but you have to have your procedures in place. You’ve got to have everything set up as you go through the process to make sure they get the same shot everybody else does — not less or more.”
Powers pointed out that the decision will not be solely made by the ECU board of trustees or the UNC Board of Governors. The search committee — which includes students, faculty, staff and community members as well as trustees — will have the first opportunity to narrow the list of candidates that will then move to the school’s board of trustees.
Holmes said that ultimately, whether the question of a powerful political leader’s candidacy comes before a board of trustees or the board of governors, it is up to the members to act ethically and professionally when they make their decision.
“Would it be influential in how I would make my decision?” Holmes said. “The answer, candidly, is no. They appointed us to do a job. We do that job to the best of our ability and it should be based on our independent thought. I feel like they appointed us because they felt like we’re capable and they’re confident we can lead. I’ve never had anyone try to sway us otherwise.”
“I don’t know if the speaker’s interested,” Powers said. “That’s certainly his business. There’s certainly nothing I would do to say ‘No, you can’t do that.’ He’s got to make his case, just like anybody else.”