Observers at Friday’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors were expecting what could euphemistically be called “a frank exchange of ideas” after a week of turmoil and cross-accusations over the ouster of ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton.
Instead, there was no exchange at all.
Though board member Steve Long began the week saying board Chairman Harry Smith should be removed from the board for pursuing a personal vendetta against Staton, he sang a different song on Friday.
Toward the beginning of the meeting, held at Appalachian State University in Boone, Long read a statement apologizing to Smith and the board for “intemperate” comments and for speaking publicly on the matter rather than coming to Smith directly.
“I did not do this the right way,” Long said.
Several board members told Policy Watch there was a movement ahead of the meeting to rally vote to officially censure Long for making accusations against Smith publicly. But the two resolved their differences Wednesday night, Smith said at a press conference after the meeting.
“Steve is my friend and will continue to be my friend,” Smith said.
Smith did not say he regretted the actual content of a blistering public letter wherein he said Smith had criticized and undermined Staton’s leadership – only that he should not have publicly aired his thoughts.
Of the actual ouster of Staton – who said he was asked for his resignation rather than initiating conversations about it – neither Smith nor Staton would say much of anything. Beyond noting Staton had resigned, the subject was not broached in any detail during the board’s open session Friday – either during board discussion or during reports from Smith and Interim UNC President Bill Roper.
Roper opened a press conference after the meeting by thanking Staton for his service but refused to answer any questions on his ouster.
“I don’t have a legal obligation to answer your question” he told a reporter after the first question.
Asked if refusing to publicly discuss the matter conformed to pledges of greater transparency both Roper and Smith made when assuming their respective positions, Roper said he is still committed to transparency – but considers Staton’s resignation a personnel matter he doesn’t have to discuss.
Though he seemed visibly uncomfortable during the press conference, Roper would only return to his prepared statement
When pressed, Roper said his initiating Staton’s resignation was continuing conversations that had been going on before he became the UNC system’s interim president.
Staton has for months denied there were any discussions about him stepping down. He has asked that UNC release a recent 360 review of his job performance, which he said was positive. The UNC system has so far refused to release the document.
Several UNC Board of Governors members, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal, this week confirmed to Policy Watch the review was positive. Smith and Roper have both refused to give any reason Staton was asked to resign – though Smith did repeat denials that he called on Roper to ask for Staton to step down.
Smith did say there may be information about the situation that would be embarrassing to Staton or the university should it come out — but he would not elaborate, saying it is best to simply move forward.