Commentary, Higher Ed

Dellinger: Discarded UNC plan dooms Silent Sam deal and any proposed campus return

Since the UNC Board of Governors unveiled its sweetheart package for the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), critics of the payoff have uncovered witnesses and documents that should lead fair-minded observers to conclude that the outlay is unwarranted. As the agreement currently stands, the SCV gets possession of “Silent Sam,” the Confederate monument that towered over the center of the Chapel Hill campus until its toppling in August 2018, plus more than $2.5 million dollars in public money.

This week, state judge Allen Baddour will hold a hearing to reconsider his initial approval of the deal. Beyond the important new information revealed by gumshoes such as Durham attorney Greg Doucette along with student journalists at The Daily Tar Heel, there is a seemingly forgotten public document that also severely undercuts the rationale for the settlement itself and confirms that any effort to return Silent Sam to UNC’s campus would be untenable.

The document, entitled “Recommendation for the Disposition and Preservation of the Confederate Monument,” was released by UNC Chapel Hill officials in December 2018. Over its fifty-three pages, it sets forth a proposal to reinstall Silent Sam in a new, multi-million dollar indoor building on campus. The plan was immediately, widely, and rightly derided by the public and quickly discarded by the Board of Governors.

But what’s most striking today is what the document does not say. There is not a single mention – none – of any private group having any legal interest in the statue. Indeed, the entire plan rests on the assumption that UNC, and UNC alone, owns the monument.

Of course the presumption of UNC ownership in the 2018 plan now contradicts the linchpin of the Board of Governor’s defense for its multi-million dollar giveaway to the pro-Confederacy group: that a private entity (the United Daughters of the Confederacy), not UNC, has had legal title to Silent Sam all along. So grounds for discarding the UNC-SCV deal come from UNC Chapel Hill itself. If school leaders did not see a basis to mention any right to Silent Sam possessed by the Daughters, the Sons, or anyone else in its own lengthy consideration of post-toppling options, why should the Board of Governors’ later claim of longstanding private ownership be taken seriously?

The 2018 disposition plan is not only the best evidence of outright UNC ownership, it also makes the best argument for why Silent Sam could never return to its original location once the settlement is undone.  In UNC Chapel Hill’s words, “the return of the Monument to its pedestal creates unacceptably high safety risks”.  Because North Carolina’s monuments law explicitly allows a statue to be moved if it “poses a threat to public safety”, the campus plan makes clear that permanent removal is the only reasonable option.

The monuments law notwithstanding, I have long argued that Silent Sam’s fate should be controlled by federal law because the Civil Rights Act passed by Congress in 1964 bans schools from allowing the racially hostile environments that Confederate monuments on campus inevitably create. Read more

Higher Ed, News

State Auditor eyeing UNC Board of Governors, ECU Trustees activity

There were a lot of new faces at last week’s dramatic UNC Board of Governors meeting on the ECU trustee controversy – lawyers, ECU students and faculty, more media than generally covers a Board of Governors meeting.

State Auditor Beth Woods speaks with UNC General Counsel Tom Shanahan and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey.

But a standout face was State Auditor Beth Wood.

Asked whether her office is investigating the ECU matter or recent legal controversies on the Board of Governors (like the ongoing conflict over the Silent Sam settlement), Wood said she couldn’t comment.

“I hate having to say that, but I can’t,” Wood said.

But Woods attended both the UNC Board of Governors University Governance Committee meeting on the ECU trustee matter and last Friday’s full board meeting. She has also been spotted at ECU Board of Trustee meetings over the last year.

If state regulators have to determine whether the Silent Sam settlement amounted to an abandonment of fiduciary responsibility by the Board of Governors, Wood’s office would also be involved.

Wood talked briefly with UNC General Counsel Tom Shanahan and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey before Friday’s meeting.

The UNC Board of Governors voted last week to censure and reprimand ECU trustee Robert Moore following a meeting in which he and  fellow ECU trustee Phil Lewis offered to finance an ECU student’s run for student government president if she would vote with them on the trustees board, where the SGA president is a full member.

Lewis abruptly resigned in the middle of the meeting, when it appeared there may have been enough votes on the board to remove him from the trustees board. Moore was appointed by the N.C. House and they are the body that would have to remove him.

Higher Ed, News

One ECU Trustee resigns, one censured in SGA controversy

One member of the ECU Board of Trustees abruptly resigned during a hearing before the UNC Board of Governors Friday. Another was censured and reprimanded.

ECU Trustees Phil Lewis and Robert Moore were brought before the Board of Governors after they were recorded trying to convince ECU student Shelby Hudson to run for SGA president. The two told Hudson they could arrange for a professional campaign manager and finance her campaign as long as she kept the source of the money secret. Hudson recorded the lunch conversation without Moore or Lewis’ knowledge.

ECU Board of Trustees member abruptly resigned at a hearing before the UNC Board of Governors Friday.

On the recording the two trustees disparaged the current ECU student government president, Colin Johnson, who is a voting member of the board of trustees. Lewis and Moore have opposed a number of Johnson’s votes, going back to a contentious meeting wherein he was the swing vote in the election of a new of board chair. Vern Davenport, the current board chair, won the position 7-6 on the sharply divided board. On the tape, they told Hudson they had voted for a student fee increase to “punish” Johnson and suggested she could be an SGA president more in line with their vision for the board and the school. They also made disparaging remarks about ECU leaders and the UNC Board of Governors.

Hudson appeared before the Board of Governors Friday and read a prepared statement in which she described how Lewis reached out to her through Facebook. He asked her about her previous, unsuccessful run for SGA president and told her they needed “a good Republican” like her on the board, she said. Hudson was cut off after two minutes and was unable to read her full statement, though she made it available to board members.

Johnson also spoke to the board, telling them “students feel attacked” and that they are looking to the Board of Governors to restore faith in the university governance system.

The recording incensed many members of the Board of Governors.  Despite a University Governance Committee recommendation that the board take no action against Moore and Lewis, Board of Governors member Marty Kotis motioned to remove Lewis from his position as a trustee.

Because Lewis was appointed by the Board of Governors, it has the power to remove him. Moore was appointed by the N.C. House and would have to be removed by a vote there.

ECU Board of Trustee member Robert Moore was formally censured and reprimanded by the UNC Board of Governors Friday.

Kotis came to Friday’s meeting armed with highlighted copies of the transcript of Lewis and Moore’s lunch with Hudson, the contents of which he said made him sick to his stomach. Kotis gave an exhaustive account of the conversation, pointing to specific sections of the UNC Code he believed Lewis to have violated during specific parts of the conversation.

UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer attempted a substitute motion after Kotis made his case, asking that Moore and Lewis instead be censured and the entire board of trustees be given a written reprimand for its dysfunctional behavior. Fellow board member Thom Goolsby seconded the motion, but it failed.

Instead a momentum built among board members for Lewis’ removal, with several of them saying they believed the integrity not just of the ECU board of trustees was at stake in the matter but the integrity of the Board of Governors as well.

“My son is attending some of these meetings,” Kotis said. “He’s 17. These kids are only 20. I’m doing what I think is right by him and voting my conscience. I’d encourage every board member here to vote their conscience as well.”

“I find that in my review of the material and as I’ve listened to the discussion, this goes beyond board dysfunction and relationship dysfunction,” said Board of Governors member Reginald Holley. “It goes to the foundation of integrity.”

Adam Schmidt, President of the UNC Association of Student Governments and an ex-officio member of the UNC Board of Governors, told his fellow board members that the eyes of all students were on the board as it made this decision.

“Your actions today don’t just reflect on these trustees but the ethics and honor of this board,” Schmidt said. “The actions you take or don’t take will show us whether our belief that we can look up to you is true.”

Before the board could vote, Board of Governors member Jim Holmes asked for a five minute recess. When he returned, he announced that Lewis would like to address the board.

ECU student Shelby Hudson testified before the UNC Board of Governors Friday.

Lewis then gave a speech in which he defended his actions, insisted he had been set up and claimed that what he did was not unusual at ECU. He announced he would resign but took parting shots at his fellow board members and Kotis.

“If you ever get taped and get set up, I hope it works out for you,” Lewis said to Kotis.

Holmes then made a motion to accept Lewis’ resignation and to censure and reprimand Moore, taking away his voting right as a board member until the end of September.

It is not clear why that time frame was chosen. Further action could be taken against Moore by the N.C. House, but it was not suggested by the board. Moore is a heavy contributor to Republican political campaigns, having given more than $30,000 to the campaigns of Republican lawmakers including House Leader Tim Moore and House Majority Leader John Bell.

Both Moore and Lewis left after the meeting without speaking to reporters.

Vern Davenport, the embattled chair of the ECU Board of Trustees, said he believes the Board of Governors’ solution will allow his board to get back to work.

“We have some important things to do — like hiring a chancellor,” Davenport said.

Davenport praised the courage of both Hudson and Johnson, saying their willingness to stand up for what is right in the face of criticism is a great representation of ECU.

“What an amazing person,” Davenport said of Hudson. “What an uncomfortable situation she found herself in…but we can learn a lot from these young people.”

Hudson withdrew from ECU shortly after her meeting with Lewis and Moore. On Friday she told Policy Watch she is now at Pitt Community College and plans to return to ECU in the Fall semester.

ECU students thank UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis after Friday’s board meeting.

“I knew I had to come today and speak my truth about what happened,” Hudson said. “I knew if I did that I wouldn’t have anything to be afraid of.”

After the meeting Kotis said he hopes Lewis’ resignation and Moore’s censure would restore some confidence not just in the ECU Board of Trustees but also the UNC Board of Governors.  Kotis said he was disappointed Lewis’ expressed little or no remorse in his resignation speech. In doing so, Kotis said, Lewis reinforced the opinion he’d formed of him through listening to the taped conversation at the heart of the controversy.

“Guy’s a sleazebag from what I can tell,” Kotis said.

Chairman Randy Ramsey expressed disappointment with the entire ECU board but particularly with the two trustees who came before the board Friday.

“If I could remove the entire board today, I probably would,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey announced that at the next Board of Governors meeting the University Governance Committee will begin looking into board policies on self-governance, including the discipling of Board of Governors members and trustees.

David Powers, chair of the committee, issued a statement giving more detail.

“I will also form a working group, in consultation with Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey, composed of student body presidents, chancellors and members of Board of Trustees and Board of Governors to review student election procedures and ensure adequate anti-tampering procedures are in place,” Powers said in the statement.

Ramsey said all Board of Governors members and every trustee must remember why they are in their positions and who they represent.

“We are all stewards of NC’s crown jewel, one of the best higher education systems in the world,” Ramsey said.

 

 

Higher Ed, News

Questions loom as UNC Board of Governors meets today on ECU Trustees controversy

The UNC Board of Governors meets today to decide whether to pursue sanctions against two East Carolina University trustees who were recorded promising a student financial and political help if she ran for student government president.

The board’s University Governance Committee recommended the full board take no action after questioning the two trustees and board of trustees chairman Wednesday. That meeting left many unanswered questions, said several UNC Board of Governors members, and didn’t press the trustees enough about the content of their conversation with the student.

At issue: a recording of ECU Board of Trustee members Phil Lewis and Robert Moore meeting with a student who had previously run or student government president. If she ran again, the pair said on the tape, they could arrange for a professional campaign manager and finance her campaign as long as she kept the source of the money secret. The student recorded the lunch conversation, which Lewis and Moore first pursued, without their knowledge.

ECU Board members Robert Moore (left) and Phil Lewis (right).

The two sought to replace the incumbent ECU student government president, Colin Johnson, who is a voting member of the board of trustees. Lewis and Moore have opposed a number of Johnson’s votes, going back to a contentious meeting wherein he was the swing vote in the election of a new of board chair. Vern Davenport, the current board chair, won the position 7-6 on the sharply divided board.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis participated in Wednesday’s University Governance Committee meeting via telephone and submitted a series of questions for Lewis and Moore. Committee chairman David Powers decided not to ask those questions, or read excerpts from transcripts of the recording, saying the members had already read the transcript and had enough information to make their decision.

Kotis disagreed and took to Twitter to say he plans to ask his questions Friday.

 

In an interview with Policy Watch this week, Kotis said it would seem obvious to most people the trustees should be removed — but it isn’t clear whether the board vote will go that way Friday.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis.

“Things don’t happen here the way they would in the private sector,” Kotis said.  “Which is a big point of frustration for me, personally. If it was up to me and this was the private sector, I’d suggest we have a complete change-over, some fresh blood in there. We’re not talking about the whole management team of ECU — this is an advisory board. If they’re not able to play nice and get along, I’d suggest changing it up. If I had a major problem like this with a bunch of managers all not getting along at one business unit, I’d change it up.”

Nobody would like to find out they’d been recorded without their knowledge, Kotis said — but the trustees are still responsible for the things they said and offered on the tape and have to answer for it.

Adam Schmidt, President of the UNC Association of Student Governments and an ex-officio member of the UNC Board of Governors, agreed.

“We have clear evidence that they were trying to influence a student election for their own personal interests,” Schmidt said. “If we ignore that evidence, if there is no consequence for this, then we are endorsing this behavior.”

The ECU Board of Trustees met Thursday. Lewis and Moore were not in attendance. The board was scheduled to meet Friday as well but postponed that meeting so that trustees could instead attend Friday’s full UNC Board of Governors meeting.

That meeting will be held Friday at 10 a.m. in the Board Room of the Center for School Leadership Development, 140 Friday Center Drive in Chapel Hill.

Policy Watch will be covering the meeting live. Readers can follow updates on the meeting via @JoekillianPW on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Higher Ed, News

UNCG passes truly non-partisan resolution on state budget

On Wednesday UNC-Greensboro’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution urging lawmakers to pass a state budget.

UNCG’s board was careful not to take a side in the partisan political standoff between Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican majority in the General Assembly. That’s a sharp contrast with the UNC Board of Governors — and many of the UNC system schools that have followed suit with their own resolutions.

As reported by John Newsom of Greensboro’s News & Record newspaper, university leaders thought it would be inappropriate to favor one budget plan over another in the months’ long budget stalemate.

From that story:

Unlike the Board of Governors’ resolution that called for passage of two specific bills backed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, UNCG’s measure was less specific and intentionally non-partisan. It’s not the job of university trustees or officials to take political sides, Chancellor Frank Gilliam said at Wednesday’s meeting.

“An argument I would make is that by supporting a specific piece of legislation that seeks to favor one party over the other is not where we want to be, …” Gilliam said. “If the Ds and Rs were reversed, I would take the same position.”

Trustee Ward Russell was the lone vote against the UNCG resolution. He said he supports the intent of the document but said the UNCG board would be making a stronger statement if it urged passage of the two specific stalled bills.

As Policy Watch reported this week, trustees at many of the nine schools that have so far passed resolutions say they have felt pressure to support the budget favored by Republican lawmakers. The General Assembly’s GOP majority appoints the UNC Board of Governors, which in conjuncture with the legislature appoints the members of boards of trustees at UNC system schools.

At its January meeting the UNC Board of Governors unanimously passed a resolution urging state lawmakers to pass the currently proposed state budget, which would require a veto override.

UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam.

The Board of Governors also directed the individual boards of trustees at UNC schools across the state to follow suit.

“Further, we call on all boards of trustees to create and approve a concurring resolution as soon as practical,” the board wrote in its resolution.

Republicans don’t have the votes to override Cooper’s veto, but board of governors members have said they hope the school resolutions will encourage Democrats to join with GOP lawmakers, making that possible.

UNCG’s resolution could be a template for some of the system schools this month, as the boards of trustees that have not yet passed their own resolutions hold meetings at which they are expected to do so.

“I think it was the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” a trustee from NC A&T told Policy Watch Wednesday. “I think other boards are going to take that example.”

That board member asked not to be identified as some trustees fear failing to embrace the Republican budget could lead to the legislature deciding not to reappoint them to their boards.

NC A&T’s own board will meet Friday and is expected to take up the issue then.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis, who is from Greensboro, said his board’s resolution favors the Republican budget for its merits — not because of politics.

“This is one of the best budget we’ve seen, if not the best budget we’ve seen,” Kotis told Policy Watch this week.

Medicaid expansion — a major sticking point of the budget, along with teacher pay — is an important conversation, Kotis said. But it would require major changes in budget priorities that would be unlikely to be as advantageous to the university system, he said.

“If they do have the Medicaid expansion, do they think they’re going to have the same university budgets?” Kotis siad. “They’re not. It’s one or the other.”

“It may be hard to believe,” Kotis said. “But Democrats can be wrong about something every now and then.”