Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors committee suggests no action in ECU trustee controversy

The UNC Board of Governors’ University Governance committee recommended no action Wednesday against two East Carolina University trustees who were recorded promising a student financial and political help if she ran for student government president.

The full board of governors will meet Friday to debate the issue further and decide whether sanctions — including potentially removing the trustees — are necessary. The full board isn’t bound by the the committee’s recommendation and several board members indicated Wednesday they were dissatisfied with the hearing, which ended without a number of their questions being asked.

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

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.

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.

On the recording, Lewis and Moore can be heard describing how they thereafter voted against things important to Johnson “just to punish him, if nothing else.”

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Higher Ed, News

Full UNC Board of Governors will hold special session on ECU controversy Friday

The full UNC Board of Governors will hold a special session on Friday to deal with the deepening ECU Board of Trustees controversy, the UNC System announced Wednesday.

The board’s University Governance Committee will hold a special session Wednesday at 1 p.m. Any sanctioning action recommended by the board — up to and including removing members of the ECU Board of Trustees — will need to be voted on by the full board on Friday.

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

ECU Board of Trustees members Robert Moore and Phil Lewis are accused of attempting to support and bankroll an ECU student’s run for student government president in order to displace the current president, whose votes they have opposed on the school’s Board of Trustees.

The scheme appears to be part of an ongoing power struggle on ECU’s board of trustees that includes a July vote for chair. Lewis and Moore had backed Angela Moss, but the board ultimately voted 7-6 for Davenport. The current ECU SGA president, Colin Johnson, voted for Davenport. Among the Lewis and Moore promised to the student they wanted to run against the current ECU student government president: the help and support of Moss.

On Tuesday officers of the ECU Faculty released a letter calling on the board of governors to remove Lewis and Moore from the school’s board of trustees.

Wednesday’s meeting will be held at 1 p.m. in Room 127 at The Center for School Leadership Development, 140 Friday Center Drive in Chapel Hill, NC. Friday’s meeting will happen in the board room of the same location at 10 a.m.

Portions of both Wednesday’s committee meeting and Friday’s full board meeting are likely to be conducted in closed session.

Higher Ed, News

ECU Trustee scandal heads to UNC Board of Governors committee

The UNC Board of Governors’ University Governance Committee will convene Wednesday afternoon to tackle a complaint alleging a complicated scheme by East Carolina University trustees to influence a student government election.

ECU trustees Phil Lewis and Robert Moore are accused of attempting to fund and aid a student’s campaign for student body president. Their goal, according to a complaint to the board of governors: to displace the current president, whose votes on the school’s board of trustees have displeased Lewis and Moore.

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

ECU board chairman Vern Davenport, vice chairman Fielding Miller and secretary Vince Smith sent a letter about the incident to UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey and University Governance Committee Chairman David Powers on Jan. 18. It outlines Lewis and Moore’s overtures to the student, who was not named in the complaint. The letter says the Lewis and Moore’s overtures to the student “appear to demonstrate that they are advancing their personal political agenda ahead of the best interest of the university.”

Last week the UNC system released information related to the complaint, including a 56-page transcript of a conversation between Moore, Lewis and the student wherein they promised the student off-the-record money for the campaign, access to student information from ECU’s student affairs office, a professional campaign manager who has handled North Carolina political campaigns and help with campaign signs and billboards.

Lewis and Moore sent a letter to Powers on  January 24 saying they regret their actions. They believed they were operating in the best interest of the university at the time, they said but realize their actions have reflected poorly on ECU.

“We also realize that we have a responsibility to the UNC Board of Governors, as the governing body of the University of North Carolina system, to conduct our affairs in an honorable and transparent manner,” the letter said. “It is with sincere regret that we acknowledge out actions have misrepresented this obligation.”

The scheme appears to be part of an ongoing power struggle on ECU’s board of trustees that includes a July vote for chair. Lewis and Moore had backed Angela Moss, but the board ultimately voted 7-6 for Davenport. The current ECU SGA president, Colin Johnson, voted for Davenport. Among the Lewis and Moore promised to the student they wanted to run against the current ECU student government president: the help and support of Moss.

Moore and Lewis have filed their own complaints with the board about Davenport. They contend Davenport violated UNC System policy in trying to remove Pitt County Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster from the ECU board of visitors. Foster was implicated in the distribution of pictures and video of former ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach drinking with students before stumbling down the street to his car and driving away. Gerlach resigned, but Lewis and Moore were also mixed up in that affair. The two did not fully cooperate with the official UNC System investigation, according to a report made to the board of governors. They did not allow their phones to be examined as part of the investigation, and, at several points, called into question the methods and legitimacy of the investigation itself.

The University Governance Committee could vote to sanction Lewis and Moore Wednesday, though their removal would take a vote of the full board of governors. The specifics of the case are expected to be discussed in closed session.

The next full meeting of the board of governors is Feb. 20-21.

Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill faculty petition to end moratorium on renaming university buildings

UNC-Chapel Hill students and community members hold signs illuminating the history of building names on campus.

Prominent faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill are petitioning to rescind the UNC Board of Trustees’ self-imposed moratorium on renaming of historical properties.

Students and faculty have pushed for the renaming of buildings at UNC-Chapel Hill for decades, arguing men and women who owned slaves, fought for the Confederacy to preserve slavery and wrote white supremacist tracts after slavery was abolished do not reflect the university’s values or deserve to be honored.

As with the movement against the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam, they faced significant resistance from university administration, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and some members of the UNC Board of Governors.

But in 2015, they scored a qualified victory. The Board of Trustees agreed to rename Saunders Hall. The building was named for William Saunders – a Confederate colonel, UNC trustee and leader of the state’s Ku Klux Klan. The trustees faced mounting pressure to remove his name, but stopped short of renaming it for Black anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston, as many students preferred. Instead, they opted for the more neutral “Carolina Hall,” and also imposed a 16-year moratorium on renaming buildings on campus.

In August, Policy Watch reported members of the UNC Board of Trustees — including Chairman Richard Stevens — were open to a discussion of ending that moratorium.

Stevens likened his shifting perspective on UNC’s building names to his views on the Silent Sam Confederate monument, which was toppled by protesters.

“I’ve had the benefit of more frequent discussions with students and with faculty of color,” Stevens said. “I understand much better now their opposition to Silent Sam and now my position is I don’t think it should come back to McCorkle Place.”

On Monday, six prominent faculty members took a step toward getting that new discussion started at the highest level, delivering a petition to new UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

Those faculty members are:

* Malinda Maynor Lowery, Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of the American South

* Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the UNC School of Law

* Michelle Robinson, Association Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of American Studies.

* Karla Slocum, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Institute of African America Research, Thomas Wills Lambeth Distinguished Chair in Public Policy

* William Sturkey, Assistant Professor of History

* Erika K. Wilson, Associate Professor, Director of Clinical Programs at UNC School of Law


“This moratorium was unwise at the time it was imposed, and it now promises to vex the work and the chances of success of an important campus commission examining the university’s racial history and future,” the petition reads.  “The Board should rescind the moratorium in order to remove the cloud of complexity and confusion it has placed over the campus’s consideration of important matters about race and history.”

UNC History students have created an online database and map of map of buildings named for enslavers and white supremacists at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The buildings named include: Alderman Residence Hall, Avery Residence Hall, Caldwell Hall, Daniels Student Stores, Graham Residence Hall, Hamilton Hall, Mangum Residence Hall, Manly Residence Hall, Manning Hall, Mitchell Hall, Morrison Residence Hall, Murphey Hall, Parker Residence Hall, Phillips Annex, Phillips Hall, Playmakers Theatre, Spencer Residence Hall, Swain Hall, Vance Hall, Venable Hall and Winston Residence Hall.

The petition delivered to Guskiewicz Monday does not call for the immediate renaming of any buildings.

“To rescind the moratorium is not to issue an immediate invitation to the renaming of buildings and other spaces,” the petition reads. ” The Board of Trustees always retains its authority to make final and binding determinations about such things.”

“What rescinding the moratorium will do is remove artificial restrictions on intellectual inquiry and on the free and frank discussion of approaches to reconciling with our past and building our future,” it reads.

Read the entire petition here, including a link for UNC faculty, staff, students and postdocs who would like to add their names.

Education, News

Gov. Cooper renews push for bond referendum to build schools, upgrade water and sewer systems

Correction: The economic report mention is this story was released by the N.C. Department of Commerce.  

Gov. Roy Cooper is again pushing a statewide bond referendum for school construction and renovation following good financial news this week from the Debt Affordability Advisory Committee.

The committee reported that the state can afford to borrow up to $11 billion over the next 10 years.

In addition to $2 billion for K-12 schools, Cooper’s $3.9 billion spending proposal includes $500 million each for community colleges and UNC System schools, $800 million for local water and sewer projects and $100 million for the N.C. History Museum and the N.C. Zoo. Click here to see the bond proposal.

Cooper also proposed a $3.9 billion bond referendum last summer.

“We must build schools to get our children out of trailers and reduce class sizes, and a bond now at extremely low interest rates is affordable and necessary,” Cooper said in a statement. “Our state is growing at a remarkable pace, and we should let the people vote on a bond that would help us keep up with the demands of that growth.”

According to the N.C. Department of Commerce’s most recent economic report, the state’s population grew about 1.1% between 2017-18, adding about 113,000 people. North Carolina’s growth outpaced the nation (0.6%) and the South (0.9 percent).

And since 2010, the state’s population has grown about 8.5 %, nearly three percentage points better than the rest of the nation, which grew at 5.8 % clip.

Cooper’s bond proposal was immediately criticized by State Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Jacksonville, who contends a debt-financed bond would cost taxpayers $1 billion in unnecessary interest payments.

It’s an argument Brown made often during budget negotiations last summer when the GOP proposed a $4.4 billion “pay-as-you-go” scheme to build new schools over a 10-year period.

“Why in the world would we max out the credit card when we can just use cash to build new schools instead?” Brown asked. “It doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

Cooper noted in his press release that Republican leaders never responded to a compromise version of his school construction proposal last year that did not contain a bond.

He argues that a bond is “fiscally responsible” because it offers “stability for school districts, college and universities and local governments planning their budgets.