Higher Ed, News

Second ECU trustee resigns in wake of scandal

Resignation letter takes apparent swipe at N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

Robert Moore, the East Carolina University Board of Trustees member censured as part of an SGA election scandal earlier this month, has resigned from the school’s governing board.

Former ECU Trustee Robert Moore.

In a letter to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) Monday, Moore said his resignation would be effective immediately — and appears to have taken a swipe at the House speaker on his way out.

“In closing I want to again thank you for the opportunity to serve the institution that I have come to adore and love,” Moore wrote to the Speaker. “I would also like to wish you the very best of luck in your continued pursuit of the position of Chancellor at East Carolina University.”

Tim Moore has for months been rumored to be pursuing the UNC System presidency. Moore has repeatedly denied the rumor, though his denials have become less emphatic.

Robert Moore’s suggestion that the Speaker is pursuing the chancellorship of East Carolina University comes while that school is beginning the search for its next leader. Its last full-time chancellor was forced to resign by the UNC Board of Governors — and no reason was ever publicly given. Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach resigned the position after it was alleged he drank heavily with students in bars near campus — and then drove home.

As revealed in a UNC investigation of the Gerlach affair, several figures close to the scandal suggested the Speakers’ office was involved in attempts to make damning photos and video of Gerlach publicly available.

Earlier this month Robert Moore and fellow ECU Trustees Phil Lewis 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.

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.

Lewis abruptly resigned his position at a hearing on the matter earlier this month before the Board of Governors could vote on whether to remove him from the board of trustees.

Because Robert Moore was appointed by the N.C. House, that body would have had to remove him.

His resignation Monday came before that debate could take place.

Higher Ed, News

Silent Sam settlement scrapped — but questions remain

As Policy Watch reported yesterday, an Orange County Superior Court Judge effectively scrapped the UNC System’s controversial “Silent Sam” legal settlement with the NC Sons of Confederate Veterans Wednesday. The group will not keep the Confederate monument that was toppled by protesters in 2018 or the $2.5 million UNC had agreed to pay in a trust toward the statue’s care.

Judge Allen Baddour, who initially approved the deal and signed the consent order, found after further examination and argument that the Confederate group had no legal standing to sue in the first place. He voided the original order and dismissed the original lawsuit, which was constructed through collaboration by lawyers for UNC and the Confederate group to reach a pre-arranged settlement.

Baddour has given UNC’s lawyers until Monday to tell him whether they want his order to direct them on what to do with the statue itself. But he ordered the trust dissolved and money returned.

There are, however, some interesting and complicated questions remaining — and we heard them from readers on Twitter, Facebook and over e-mail in the wake of yesterday’s ruling.

While some things are still in flux, we can answer some of these questions here and now.

Read more

Education, Higher Ed

Former UNC Board of Governors chair: Time to increase diversity, independence from the General Assembly

Louis Bissette, the former Chair of the UNC Board of Governors, has some solid advice for current BOG members in a new essay at Higher Ed Works.

Bissette writes in a series on good governance that it is well past time for the board to focus on professional diversity, and stop playing political games.

Here’s more from Bissette:

Louis Bissette

Lately, we have seen a lot of headlines about how our universities are led, with a focus on the Board of Governors. Whether you think things are going well or going badly, we can all agree that our leadership quality helps dictate our university quality.

Simply put, we need the best governing boards possible. But I don’t think many of us have thought about what that looks like. You can’t get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going.

So, what would a perfect board look like? I don’t have all the answers, but I believe it would focus on three things: diversity, independence, and trust.

First, a perfect Board of Governors is one that looks like North Carolina. This is a diverse state, but we don’t have a diverse Board. Of the Board’s 24 voting members, only two live west of the Charlotte area, only three are persons of color, and only five are women.

A governing board should reflect the interests of the people it represents. Geographically and demographically, it should look like our student body and the people of our state. That’s how we make sure all voices are heard and our policies are broadly supported and sustainable.

A perfect board would have more professional diversity. Speaking as a lawyer, a board only needs a few of us. It also needs educators. It needs CEOs and CFOs. It needs respected civic leaders and credentialed policy wonks.

Some corporate boards have experience targets that they use informally to build the right diversity of skills. That’s not a bad idea for a public board as well.

The biggest gap, however, between a board that looks like our state and the current board, is political. When I first started serving, Democrats and Republicans were just about equally represented on the Board of Governors. It functioned effectively. But today, the Board has no Democrats. That is simply not representative of our state and of the citizens we serve.

Second, a perfect Board of Governors is one that is independent, or as close to independent as a public body can be. Our universities should be held accountable, but governing boards do not exist to serve as oversight committees for the legislature.

The University System’s Board of Governors owes its fiduciary duty to the System. Its duty of loyalty is to the institution it represents, not the institution that appoints its members, the General Assembly.

Who appoints those members is also important. A perfect board would have its appointment power spread out as much as possible. In the past, the executive branch of our state government had a hand in appointing Board of Trustees members, and most folks agree it was a healthy way to be sure differing views were heard. No single entity should have total control over boards as important as these.

In addition, each member of the Board of Governors must be as independent as possible. They must be able to tell the General Assembly “no” when the University’s interests don’t totally align with the Legislature’s.

That means Board Members’ careers and professional interests shouldn’t be financially reliant on the General Assembly. If you are a lobbyist, or your business relies on state contracts, you’re probably not the best person for the Board of Governors.

No board can be fully independent. After all, the popularly elected General Assembly rightly controls the University System’s purse strings. But a perfect board should strive for as much independence as possible.

Third, a perfect board is focused on trust. The processes of the Board of Governors are pretty impressive on paper. Its committee structure delegates tasks, empowers professional staff and the President, and creates a deliberative, data-driven process for making decisions. Problems arise when a board loses trust in the process.

Read Bissette’s full column here.

Making Governance Work is a series of essays from university, business and political leaders on the Higher Ed Works website. For more on the series and the state of our higher education system, listen to our recent interview with Higher Ed Works Executive Director David Rice:

David Rice, Higher Ed Works

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.