UNC Board of Governors member: ECU chancellor pushed out in “personal vendetta”

UNC Board of Governors member Steve Long

On Monday Dr. Cecil Staton announced he would step down as East Carolina University’s chancellor.

After long tensions with UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith, the move seemed inevitable to some following politics on the UNC Board of Governors and at ECU.

UNC Board of Governors member Steven Long, who acts as the board’s liaison to ECU, released a blistering public statement on Staton’s departure Monday (reprinted below in full).

Staton was forced out by Smith in a deal brokered by UNC Interim President Bill Roper, Long said in the statement. The move, Long said in an interview with Policy Watch Monday, was motivated by a “personal vendetta” by Smith over a real estate deal and Smith’s desire to micro-manage the school, its chancellor and Board of Trustees.

“Most of the people on the board are ready to talk about policy, they care about the university, they want to see it move forward,” Long said Monday. “They’re not interested in these petty disputes. They don’t want to undermine chancellors. They want to support them. They’re not interested in getting involved in the management of the universities. Harry’s not like that.”

“Harry treats this like a full time job,” Long said. “He gets very involved – far too much, I think. And he has these vendettas he pursues.”

Tensions with the board – and with Smith specifically – played a part in the departures of UNC System President Margaret Spellings last year and UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt earlier this year. The constant conflicts have led to concern UNC will have trouble attracting good candidates for leadership of universities in the system – and that new leaders will be able to do their jobs effectively.

Long said there is “general concern about Harry” on the board – which has been the case since he became chairman last summer after an uncontested election.

“I think we were all very concerned,” Long said. “We didn’t know how he was going to turn out to be.”

Now, Long said, it’s clear.

“He needs to be replaced,” he said.

That would require a two-thirds majority vote of the board. Long said he hasn’t gauged the board on that specific question.

“I don’t think so at this point, but I don’t know,” Long said when asked if the votes to replace Smith were there.

Long sent his written statement on Staton’s resignation Monday morning he said.

Asked if he had gotten a response, he said he had.

“Suffice it to say, he is not in agreement,” Long said.

Policy Watch reached out to Smith for comment. He has not yet responded.

Long said there had been no discussion of replacing Staton by the Board of Governors. Roper acted without the knowledge or authority of the board in negotiating Staton’s departure, Long said.

““The UNC Board of Governors has never met to discuss any possible termination of Chancellor Staton,” Long wrote.  “Despite that and the Board’s clear policy granting only the Board of Governors authority to terminate a Chancellor (UNC Policy Manual 300.1.1), Dr. Roper took the highly unusual step of negotiating and reaching a termination agreement with Chancellor Staton without consulting or even providing prior notice to the UNC Board of Governors.”

” He acted unilaterally and was not authorized by the Board of Governors to take any action regarding Chancellor Staton,” Long wrote. “The Board of Governors has spent hours discussing where to put a statue at Chapel Hill and absolutely no time discussing whether the ECU Chancellor should be asked to leave.”

Thomas Shanahan, UNC System General Counsel, responded to that part of Long’s public statement.

“This was not a termination,” Shanahan wrote in a response statement Monday. “This is a resignation by Chancellor Staton. The policy provision that Steve (Gov. Long) references would apply only if the Board or the president were pursuing the involuntary separation of the chancellor.”

“In addition, the Board of Governors, at its last meeting, passed a resolution authorizing the president to enter into separation agreements with departing chancellors, which is the case here,” Shanahan wrote. “President Roper acted entirely within his authority in doing so.”

Long’s public statement: Read more

Commentary, News

Attorney General moves to limit anti-worker “no poaching” agreements

Attorney General Josh Stein

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein took an important step forward in protecting both businesses and workers this week by announcing a new multi-state settlement that prohibits several major fast food companies from forcing their employees to sign “no-poaching” agreements — or contracts that prohibit employees of one franchise from moving to another.

Public attention has been drawn to employers’ increasing use of non-compete agreements to keep their low-wage workers from taking other similar jobs in the same industry. One of the more infamous cases involves Jimmy John’s, which forced its front line sandwich makers to sign binding agreements promising not to work for a competitor sandwich-making company under certain circumstances. Although employers typically use non-competes to keep skilled employees from taking proprietary knowledge to a competing business, these kinds of restrictions for low-wage workers—who clearly lack such skills or knowledge — is nothing more than an effort to suppress wages by limiting these workers’ options.

Unfortunately, some industries have upped the ante from non-competes and are increasingly using another stealth tactic to limit employees’ job mobility: no-poaching agreements.

These agreements take non-competes one step further and prohibit employees of one franchise location from taking a job with another franchise of the same company. In other words, a McDonald’s in downtown Raleigh could prohibit an employee from leaving to work at a different McDonald’s franchise in Southeast Raleigh. Even more troubling, workers may not even be aware when accepting a job that future job opportunities are restricted by these agreements, which are signed between employers.

Because the fast food industry has become a chronic abuser of no-poaching agreements,  on March 12, North Carolina joined 12 other states and the District of Columbia in reaching a settlement with Arby’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys, and Little Caesars.  Those restaurants have agreed not to include no-poaching clauses in their franchise agreements, to remove them from existing agreements, and not to enforce such clauses.  Investigations are continuing into Burger King, Popeyes, and Panera.

This agreement follows a major effort by the Washington attorney general resulting in no-poaching clauses in franchise agreements nationwide with a wide range of companies, well beyond the fast food industry.  The most recent agreement included Einstein Bros. Bagel, Express Employment Professionals, FASTSIGNS, L&L Franchising, The Maids, Westside Pizza and Zeek’s Pizza, bringing the total number of companies affected to 57.

Employees interested in learning their rights with respect to non-compete agreements can find information here.

Carol Brooke is a senior attorney with the N.C. Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project. 

Education, Higher Ed

ECU’s Chancellor announces plans to step down

East Carolina University will soon be searching for a new chancellor to lead the Pirates.

Dr. Cecil Staton announced Monday morning that he will step down as chancellor May 3rd and remain on as an advisor to the president and the interim chancellor through the end of June. Here’s more from the ECU News Service:

Dr. Cecil Staton

“Catherine and I are very grateful for our time at ECU,” said Staton. “We have enjoyed every moment working with our inspiring students and world-class faculty and staff. As we prepare for this transition in leadership, we remain committed to the idea we arrived with – ECU’s future is full of promise. There are no limits to what ECU can attain in service to the East, North Carolina, our nation, and our world and we look forward to following the progress of this great university in the years to come.”

Staton came to ECU in 2016 following a 27-year career in Georgia where he served as a faculty member and administrator at three different colleges and universities, as a state senator responsible for Georgia’s appropriations to higher education, as a university system senior administrator, and as an interim university president. He was former UNC President Margaret Spelling’s first chancellor hire. After a national search, he was elected chancellor on April 26, 2016.

During his tenure, retooling the athletics program was a key priority. “Pirates have great passion,” Staton said. “I am grateful that we have been able to press the reset button for Pirate athletics and prepare a foundation for future success. I am enormously grateful that Dave Hart accepted my invitation to serve as Special Advisor to the Chancellor for Athletics. Together we have completed successful searches for a new Athletic Director, Head Men’s Basketball Coach, and Head Football Coach, and we’ve committed significant university resources to support our proud athletic traditions. I am confident that ECU athletics are in a good place and that our best days are ahead.”

Commenting on Staton’s tenure and leadership, ECU Board of Trustees Chairman Kieran Shanahan said, “Cecil Staton has served ECU with distinction, dedication and an uncompromising commitment to excellence. His and Catherine’s departure is a tremendous loss for our great university.”

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper said, “ECU’s importance to this state and to Eastern North Carolina is immense and I’m grateful that Chancellor Staton answered the call to serve the Pirate community over the past three years. I’m confident he is leaving the university in good hands and with a bright future ahead as it continues to build on its success.”

Staton’s departure comes just weeks after the high-profile exit of Chancellor Carol Folt at UNC-Chapel Hill as well as System President Margaret Spellings.

(Kevin Guskiewicz is serving as the interim chancellor at Chapel Hill and Dr. Bill Roper holds the UNC System Interim President title for the 17-campus system.)

The ECU opening will certainly be a hot topic when the UNC Board of Governors holds its meeting at Appalachian State University in Boone this Thursday and Friday.

NC Budget and Tax Center

With the influx of federal dollars, Medicaid expansion would pay for itself

Recent estimates of the costs and savings of Medicaid expansion from Governor Cooper’s recommended budget show that closing the coverage gap is a great deal for North Carolina. Given our state’s more than one million uninsured individuals and approximately 626,000 additional Medicaid enrollees expected to be newly eligible, the decision on whether or not to expand coverage is clear.

Each year since 2014, North Carolina has foregone billions of federal dollars as a result of not expanding Medicaid. Beginning in 2020 the federal government will pay for 90 percent of the cost of expansion, and the state’s 10 percent share will be covered through a combination of budget savings and fees collected.

With billions in federal dollars coming into the state, Medicaid expansion would generate significant savings for the state budget – an estimated $30.7 million and $69.3 million, respectively, in the first and second fiscal years. Increased federal Medicaid funding would reduce the need for existing state spending on health care services by state agencies like the Division of Mental Health, the Division of Health Benefits, the Department of Corrections, and other state agencies.

The remaining portion of the state’s share will come from assessing fees on hospital revenues and capitation payments made to Medicaid health insurance plans, common revenue-generating strategies used by states. Because these health care organizations will experience significant patient revenue growth with more insured patients under Medicaid expansion, they stand to benefit on net even after paying the fees.

In addition to the zero net cost of expanding Medicaid, it will allow hundreds of thousands of individuals to become newly eligible for affordable health coverage and achieve the benefits that come with it, including improved health and financial security. In addition, when our neighbors are healthy, we all benefit; it allows people to fully participate in their communities and lowers health care costs for all of us.

While the national conversation centers on health care as a right, North Carolina lawmakers in the General Assembly have the opportunity to cover the uninsured and to do it in a fiscally responsible way. With these data, lawmakers will have a tougher time making the case for why the time isn’t right for Medicaid expansion.


Diane Ravitch: Family income often determines how well students perform on standardized tests

Diane Ravitch

Celebrated educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch told a group of North Carolina educators and public school advocates Saturday that standardized tests scores often reflect family income, with wealthier students outperforming their poorer counterparts.

But Ravitch, noting the recent academic scandal involving wealthy parents who paid millions of dollars so their children could gain admission to a top university, said that isn’t always the case.

“Now we saw with the recent cheating scandal for the college boards, there are lot of dumb kids whose parents are rich,” quipped Ravitch.

The scandal to which Ravitch referred involved more than 33 parents, including Hollywood stars and wealthy CEOS, who took part in a scheme to cheat on the SAT and ACT to help their children gain admission to top universities.

Ravitch made her comments via Skype during a “community conversation” in Raleigh to discuss the toll excessive testing has on teachers and students.

Dane West, a Lee County teacher, said the culture of testing can destroy a child’s dream as early as third-grade.

West said children in the third-grade who don’t pass end-of-grade tests are being told they’re not on a path that will lead to college or a meaningful career.

“You have a generation of kids growing up who are being told they are failures and have no future,” West said. “It weighs on them and it shows up in how the view school.”

Suzanne Miiler, founder of NC. Families for School Testing Reform, poses for a photo during a March 16 community conversation about the toll of excessive testing on students and teachers.

Meredith Pinckney, a Wake County agricultural science teacher, said her students aren’t tested but she sees the impact excessive testing has on them.

“The anxiety is real,” Pinckney said. “We literally have kids who skip test days because they don’t want to be there. That’s unfortunate that’s where we are.”

Saturday’s event was hosted by N.C. Families for School Testing Reform (NCFSTR), Save our Schools NC and Jen Mangrum, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Several dozen educators attended the community conversation as well as a handful of elected officials, some of who later sat on a panel to discuss the state of education in North Carolina.

Ravitch said students from low-income households who perform poorly on standardized tests don’t do so because they don’t have the brains to score well.

“Children who grow up in poverty are likely to have low test scores, not because they’re not smart but because they’re hungry, or they haven’t had decent medical care, they’re growing up in situations that are disadvantageous to their health and well-being and that affects their test scores,” Ravitch said.

Federal and state leaders have given too much weight to standardized tests, Ravitch said.

She said the tests are often flawed and shouldn’t be used to measure student and teacher success.

“The appropriate use of testing is diagnostic,” Ravitch said. “Tests today have no diagnostic value whatsoever, so standardized testing is being totally misused to judge everybody for accountability purposes and it’s not supposed to be used that way.”

In North Carolina, State Superintendent Mark Johnson has announced new initiatives to reduce the amount of testing currently required of students in North Carolina’s public schools.

Johnson has pledged to reduce the number of questions on tests, reduce the time students must sit for tests, change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools, work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests and push to eliminate tests not required by the federal government.

A survey about testing conducted by Johnson’s office found that 78 percent of the roughly 42,000 parents who responded said their child takes too many tests. Seventy-six percent of teachers who responded said North Carolina’s public school students were being tested too much.

And the State Board of Education is weighing the elimination of the state’s fourth grade exams in science and social studies and the fifth-grade exam in social studies as way to reduce the amount of testing in North Carolina Schools.

Critics of high-stakes, standardized testing said they understand some testing is needed, but believe the state now requires students to take too many exams.

“We’re concerned with the excessive testing that is putting a strain on our children, it’s bringing shame to them, it’s putting them in environments that are not optimal for their learning and social-emotional learning,“ said Suzanne Miller, founder of NCFSTR.

Miller said Saturday’s event was a first step toward raising awareness about excessive testing to bring about a cultural change.

“We need to make sure parents and teachers know they can do something about this and empower teachers to use their voices to say something needs to change,” Miller said. “And we need to be in conversations with our legislators and policy makers to let them know how we’re feeling and that we really do need change, not only for our own kids, but for the entire state. It’s an issue across the state.”

State Sen. Floyd McKissick, (D-Durham) said the General Assembly must address the fact that many teachers feel they’re teaching students to only pass standardized tests.

“Our dependence and reliance on standardized tests needs to be rethought,” McKissick said. “We need to come up with alternative means to evaluate students and to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses.”