One big-ticket item Congress failed to tackle in the coronavirus relief bill? Student loan relief.

North Carolinians hoping the $900 billion COVID relief bill passed by Congress would include some help for those with student loans debt will be disappointed. The massive package failed to extend the suspension of student loan interest and payments, which will expire at the end of January.

Even before COVID-19, one in four student loan borrowers was in default or serious delinquency. Many worried about their ability to make student loan payments while covering other basic needs.

Rochelle Sparko with the Center for Responsible Lending joined Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield recently to discuss the crisis and the need for federal and state consumer protections in 2021 when it comes to debt-collection.

Click below to listen to the interview with Sparko and then make time to read the Center’s recent report: Road to Relief.

Center for Responsible Lending Policy Director Rochelle Sparko

New chancellor announced at ECU (again)

Dr. Philip G. Rogers was officially chosen as the 12th chancellor of East Carolina University Thursday.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously elected Rogers, who is now senior vice president for learning and engagement at the non-profit American Council on Education (ACE).

Rogers was raised in Greenville. Several generations of his family are ECU graduates. Rogers himself began his career in higher education at ECU, serving as chief of staff for former Chancellor Steven Ballard in 2008.

Dr. Philip Rogers

Before taking that position, Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Wake Forest University,  a master’s in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Dr. Rogers is a driven leader who brings energy and vitality to ECU,” said UNC System President Peter Hans at Thursday’s UNC Board of Governors meeting. “He has broad national higher education experience and deep local roots in Greenville. Philip is invested in ECU for the long haul and will bring steady, stable leadership. It’s my enormous pleasure to welcome Philip and his family home.”

Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey also praised Rogers.

“Dr. Rogers embodies the spirit of the Pirate Nation,” Ramsey said. “He is homegrown and fiercely loyal to eastern North Carolina. When he assumes his role at ECU’s helm, I’m confident Philip will lead the university and the region it serves to greater heights of innovation and success.”

Rogers will be ECU’s fourth chancellor in three years.

Two of those chancellors — Cecil Staton and Dan Gerlach —ended their tenures in scandal, political controversy and a lawsuit.

Staton was ousted from his position in 2019 in a conflict with the UNC Board of Governors over which he sued earlier this year.

Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach resigned under a cloud last October after video surfaced online of him drinking and dancing with students in local bars — and then stumbling down the street before getting into his car and driving away. An investigation into that incident exposed the involvement of UNC Board of Governors members in making the Gerlach footage public, which they claimed they were doing in concert with GOP leaders in Raleigh.

The school’s board of trustees has also been rocked by scandal. Earlier this year two of its members resigned amid controversy over their trying to influence a student government election.

Around the same time, several members of the board of trustees told Policy Watch N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore was pursuing the chancellorship at ECU. Earlier this year Moore said he declined an offer to interview for the job, though he had not officially applied.

Rogers will take the helm at ECU on March 15, taking over from Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson.


NC Community College System taps Stith as next president

Thomas Stith III

Thomas Stith III will serve as the next president of the NC Community College System.

In January, Stith will succeed interim President Dr. William Carver and former President Peter Hans, who left in August to became president of the University of North Carolina System.

Stith is currently district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Others may recall Stith served four years as former Gov. Pat McCrory’s chief of staff.

His higher education experience includes five years as economic development program director at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

“My vision for the North Carolina Community College System is very clear. Regardless of whether you are a student just entering our community college system or whether you are a worker that needs retraining because of this global pandemic, the NC Community College System will be there to provide that cost-effective education, that pathway to economic opportunity,” said Stith in Monday’s press conference.

His appointment is drawing praise from legislative leaders:

“Thomas Stith will be a strong leader for North Carolina’s community colleges. His unique business experience and love of all things North Carolina will bring a fresh perspective to the system. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the need for educational opportunities and workforce development — two things our community colleges excel at. I believe Thomas is the right leader to build upon those fundamentals and help mold the next generation of North Carolina’s workforce.”

– Phil Berger, Senate President Pro Tem

“North Carolina’s Community College system has a reputation for training the world-class workforce that has attracted companies large and small to our state. My hope is that the new President will work with businesses, schools, universities, workers, the legislature and me to continue the system’s tradition of connecting North Carolinians to life-long learning as our state faces the economic challenge of pandemic recovery.”

– Roy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina

North Carolina’s 58 community colleges serve about 700,000 students a year.

President-elect Stith will officially take over the third largest community college system in the country on January 11th.

UNC-Wilmington faculty vote to censure chancellor

UNCW Chancellor Jose Sarterelli

The UNC-Wilmington Faculty Senate took the rare step Tuesday of voting to censure Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.

The censure, approved by the faculty governing body  in a 51-20 vote, charges that Sartarelli has “egregiously failed” in his obligation to support the school’s values of diversity, community engagement and integrity, and has “violated the trust of the UNCW faculty, lessened their esteem for the Office of the Chancellor, and dishonored the UNCW community.”

The conflict between faculty and administration stems from a series of on-campus tensions over racial issues, including the school taking down Black Lives Matter banners hung by faculty after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd and the mass demand for reform that followed. In September the school implemented a new, more restrictive sign policy that required pre-approval for any signs or banners, even if they are hung by faculty.

Sarterelli also stirred controversy earlier in the summer when asked by students to make a public statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s going to be hard for me to do that,” Sarterelli replied. “Because I believe all lives matter.”

But tension over racial issues have been building at the UNCW campus for years.

In July the school paid Mike Adams, a professor with a long history of well publicized racially offensive behavior, $500,000 to retire early. The move came after decades of controversies and legal battles between Adams and the school. After years of inaction on Adams insulting students, fellow faculty members and the administration, many in the community  — including at least one trustee — called for Adams to be fired. Instead, the university made and the UNC Board of Governors approved a large settlement with the professor. Shortly thereafter, Adams shot and killed himself in his home.

The censure passed by the senate Tuesday specifically cited the Black Lives Matter controversy and the chancellor’s “lack of leadership on the matter of Diversity and Inclusion prior to student and public demands to do so during the Summer of 2020.”

Sarterelli responded to criticisms late last month in a public statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts at the school. As Policy Watch has reported, race and diversity issues have been a continuing problem across the UNC System.

After Tuesday’s censure, Sartarelli released another public statement:

“As Chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, my focus is centered on our students and advancing our mission, vision and values in partnership with all faculty and staff. Establishing a campus commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is a continual process. How we learn from and live with our history matters. I understand the urgency required and hope all of us (Chancellor, administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community) can build a better Seahawk future together. At their previous meeting, the Faculty Senate requested a Chancellor’s report in March 2021 about the university’s efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. I am proud of the progress we have been making over the past five years, especially since June, and shared an advanced copy of such a report the first week of December. I look forward to leading UNCW as we continue to pursue this important work in the new year.

The UNCW faculty censure carries no concrete consequence for Sartarelli. The UNC Board of Governors holds the power to hire, fire and formally discipline chancellors. So far, the board has not publicly addressed faculty or students concerns over Sartarelli. But the censure could lead to discussion of the issues at a higher level.

In August the Appalachian State University Faculty Senate passed a “no confidence” resolution on the leadership of Chancellor Sheri Everts. UNC System administration has defended Everts’ decision to no longer meet with faculty leaders or attend meetings of the faculty’s governing body.

Rep. Alma Adams a possibility for Biden’s Education Secretary? One higher ed leader makes the case for the NC Congresswoman.

Congresswoman Alma Adams

Rep. Alma Adams‘ re-election to North Carolina’s 12th congressional district was never in doubt this election year. Republicans didn’t even put forth a challenger to face the popular incumbent in the solid Democratic district.

Now the United Negro College Fund’s vice president of public policy and government affairs suggests Rep. Adams might be a good fit for the top education post in the Biden administration.

Inside Higher Ed reports this week:

Organizations representing historically Black colleges and universities said Tuesday they will be suggesting someone with at least ties to the institutions be considered as education secretary.

Lodriguez Murray

And Lodriguez Murray, the United Negro College Fund’s vice president of public policy and government affairs, said that if asked by the transition, he’d suggest Alma Adams, a Democratic congresswoman from North Carolina who was instrumental in pushing to make federal funding for HBCUs permanent and a former professor at Bennett College, a historically Black institution for women in Greensboro, N.C.

Murray said he didn’t know if Adams would be interested but said she’d be “a very formidable secretary who has shown the ability to work across the aisle. At a time when African Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID and racial unrest, she’d provide a steady hand.”

Harry Williams, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said on Tuesday the group, which advocates for public historically Black colleges and universities, would be raising the idea of naming a former or current HBCU president as the education secretary with members of Biden’s transition team, building on the pride in the Black community over the election of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a graduate of Howard University.

“It would be an amazing choice,” he said. “Historically we’ve never had anyone in that role from the HBCU community.”

Others speculate the person who will replace Betsy DeVos as education secretary will come from K-12 education.

Politico reports that Lily Eskelsen Garcia, an elementary school teacher and former president of the National Education Association, might top Biden’s list.

But there’s no denying Rep. Adams commitment to HBCUs and students.

In 2015, she founded the first bipartisan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus in Congress.

Most recently she has pushed congressional leaders to ensure that our nation’s HBCUs have equitable access to federal research and development funds in the COVID-19 relief packages.

Read the full article “Speculation Over Biden’s Education Secretary” here.