Commentary

The tone is very measured, but the basic message of this morning’s editorial in the Wilmington Star News echoes the the negative reviews that have been appearing over the last few days to the UNC Board of Governors’ decision to fire President Tom Ross:

“It is understandable that the board would want to leave its own mark on the university, and the most effective way to do that is to appoint a president of its choosing. But given the partisan transition in state government, which is also reflected on the board, there is reason to worry that political ideology might play a larger role than it should in UNC’s future.

Historically, the president’s loyalty has been to the legacy of the University of North Carolina system, not to partisan agendas. There have been signs that this board intends to make major – and not necessarily positive – changes in an institution that has grown into one of the nation’s most respected public university systems.

While a strategic plan completed by Ross and the board rightly focuses on the need to increase graduation rates and provide a better pathway into the job market for students, a conservative push to marginalize liberal arts education – unfairly maligned even by Gov. Pat McCrory as being of less value than other types of degrees – has been disappointing.”

In short, Chris Fitzsimon put it more pointedly in his take down of the decision last week, but the basic message is the same: The Ross firing is just the latest act in the longstanding conservative scheme to remake the university system in a partisan and ideological fashion and the state is going to suffer as a result. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

News

Members of the Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC) met Friday afternoon to continue their work in reviewing the Common Core State Standards and developing recommendations for high quality alternatives. But commission members quickly ran into a road block when the issue of the Common Core’s copyright arose, with some members becoming concerned that attempts to revise the standards, instead of scrapping them wholesale, would be met with a lawsuit.

State Board of Education attorney Katie Cornetto told ASRC members that they were free to come up with replacement standards that comprise some or even nearly all of the Common Core yet are called something else, and that they would not be in violation of copyright law because the standards are part of the public domain.

Cornetto’s assertion was contradicted by ASRC member Tammy Covil, who said that the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which are owners of the Common Core, would have to issue North Carolina a waiver if they wanted to use some of the Common Core standards in their replacement recommendations.

Covil, who has publicly decried the Common Core, said she did not feel comfortable moving forward with evaluating the standards and considering keeping parts of the Common Core until she saw a waiver from either the CCSSO or the NGA, neither of which have agreed to awarding one to North Carolina, she said.

“Either we go with an entirely new set of standards…as a recommendation…or we merely revise Common Core and open us up to a lawsuit,” said Covil. Read More

Commentary

Tom-Ross-116By now you probably know that the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom were elected in the last four years by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, voted this morning to force UNC President Tom Ross to resign effective January of 2016. Sarah Ovaska has a good rundown of the meeting and the aftermath.

Rumors about the dismissal started early this morning and were confirmed by the board after a closed session that lasted more than two hours.

There was no public discussion when the board returned to open session, only a vote on a cryptic “employment package” for the president. The board and Ross issued a joint statement  that praised Ross’ performance and said the “timeline for transition was different” between Ross and the board. In other words he was forced out.

After the meeting Ross and Board Chair John Fennebresque met with reporters in one of the most bizarre press conferences you will ever see, with a combative Fennebresque unable to answer a basic question asked by reporter after reporter; why exactly was Ross forced to step down.

Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with his performance, the joint statement said that too. Fennebresque said he was very pleased with Ross’ efforts for the UNC system, that he had been doing a wonderful job.

He said it was not related to Ross’ age—he is 64—and Ross said explicitly that he was not ready to retire. Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with the scandals about athletics and academics at UNC-Chapel Hill, that Ross has handled those situations “admirably.”

And Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with politics either, the hardest answer of all to believe given the rumors about pressure on the board from legislative leaders to make a change.

It was about nothing apparently. UNC President Tom Ross, a man respected throughout North Carolina and across the country for his intellect, leadership and integrity, was being forced out for no apparent reason. Yes, Ross will get a severance and will remain on the job for a year but that is not the point.

He is being dismissed, force to resign before he wants to leave and for no reason that the head of the board that is firing him can identify.

What a cowardly and pathetic decision.

It has to be politics and the folks behind it at least ought to have the courage to admit it.

Supporters of the university and taxpayers across North Carolina deserve at least that much if a sadly overtly political board is firing a leader who they admit is doing a wonderful job running one of the most important public institutions in North Carolina.

News

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to take on directly the question of whether same-sex marriage bans violate the Constitution.

Here’s the language from the order:

The petitions for writs of certiorari are granted.

14-556             OBERGEFELL, JAMES, ET AL. V. HODGES, RICHARD, ET AL.
14-562             TANCO, VALERIA, ET AL. V. HASLAM, GOV. OF TN, ET AL.
14-571             DeBOER, APRIL, ET AL. V. SNYDER, GOV. OF MI, ET AL.
14-574             BOURKE, GREGORY, ET AL. V. BESHEAR, GOV. OF KY, ET AL.

The cases are consolidated and the petitions for writs of certiorari are granted limited to the following questions: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

A total of ninety minutes is allotted for oral argument on Question 1. A total of one hour is allotted for oral argument on Question 2. The parties are limited to filing briefs on the merits and presenting oral argument on the questions presented in their respective petitions. The briefs of petitioners are to be filed on or before 2 p.m., Friday, February 27, 2015. The briefs of respondents are to be filed on or before 2 p.m., Friday, March 27, 2015. The reply briefs are to be filed on or before2 p.m., Friday, April 17, 2015.

The cases come to the court from four states in the Sixth Circuit — Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky —  and follow that circuit’s decision upholding same-sex marriage bans in each of them.

News

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors pushed out the head of the state’s university system on Friday, sparking a search for a new leader of the 17-campus system.

Tom Ross, who had served as president since 2011, will remain in the president’s role until January 2016, while a national search is underway for his successor.

tom-ross

UNC President Tom Ross

Precise reasons for his announced departure weren’t articulated Friday, other than statements from UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque about the board’s general desire for a transition to a new leader.

The UNC Board of Governors met for close to two hours in closed session before announcing the changes.

“The board felt like at the appropriate time there should be a transition to a new president,” Fennebresque said, in comments to reporters.

Fennebresque also disputed media reports that Ross’ age was a factor. Ross is 64, and prior UNC system presidents had left their positions at 65. Ross said he was interested in working past that, and had hoped to continue in the job leading the public university system.

“I love it and I would love to be here forever,” Ross said.

Ross’ new terms of employment with the university system includes a salary of $600,000 for the next year, a tenured position at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government and $300,000 for a year to conduct research following his expected 2016 departure from the president’s office.

Conversations about Ross’ termination only began this week, Ross said, and he wasn’t made aware of any single event or issue that turned the Board of Governors against him.

Fennebresque went to lengths at a press conference with reporters to emphasize that Ross had been a strong leader that had the support of the board of governors, despite Friday’s announcement that the board wanted to part ways.

“This board believes Tom Ross has been a wonderful president,” Fennebresque told reporters Friday after the announcement about Ross. “Fantastic work ethic, perfect integrity.”

Ross’ departure was announced Friday after months of speculation about his future after his relationship with the UNC Board of Governors became more fraught.

Ross came to the UNC system after serving as the president of the private Davidson College. He previously had worked as a judge, the head of the state’s administrative office for the courts, and the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a Winston-Salem based group that funds several progressive nonprofits in the state. (Note: the N.C. Justice Center, which N.C. Policy Watch is a part of, receives annual funding from ZSR.)

He led the university through a period of rapid change, and significant budget cuts. The university system received more than $400 million worth of cuts in 2011,

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