Fetzer and ECU controversy deepens as UNC Board of Governors meets

As UNC Board of Governors leadership criticized member Tom Fetzer for running a secretive private investigation into the former interim chancellor of East Carolina University on Thursday, there were further revelations about Fetzer’s possible motives.

The UNC System released further documents related to the ECU controversy Thursday, including an e-mail from Fetzer that went to UNC System President Bill Roper, former board chairman Harry Smith and board member Michael Williford.

UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer and attorney Peter Romary.

In the e-mail, sent between the forced resignation of former ECU chancellor Cecil Staton and the naming of Dan Gerlach as interim Chancellor, Fetzer outlined an extensive plan he called “Operation Rescue ECU” that went from the installation of an interim chancellor to the plans for the school’s future in the next few years.

Fetzer offered specific strategic points on what the school should do going forward, from fiscal and enrollment plans to a new marketing campaign he wanted to call “ECU Wants You.”

Fetzer went so far as to dictate a draft of the interim chancellor’s first public remarks which included describing Staton’s leadership as “two years of controversy and chaos” which now needs to be replaced with “calm and stability.”

Fetzer also recommended waiting until after spring graduation, when students left campus, to name a new chancellor to avoid “sympathy for Staton” — who was forced to resign without any public reason back in March.

On Thursday several board members suggested the letter shows Fetzer always harbored an interest in being chosen as the next permanent chancellor at ECU. Then Gerlach, the interim chancellor who was well liked among students, faculty and trustees, announced he would be a candidate for the position.

That, several board members and ECU Board of Trustees members told Policy Watch this week, is why Fetzer seized on the controversy surrounding Gerlach’s drinking with students and allegedly driving home intoxicated. Fetzer became convinced he had to intervene in the official UNC investigation, one ECU trustee said, to be sure damaging information on Gerlach was not only uncovered by the investigation and brought to the board, but was quickly made public to quell sympathy and support for the man who might have been his rival in the chancellor search. Fetzer employed Greenville attorney Peter Romary in an effort to secure damaging security camera video of Gerlach which was ultimately leaked to the media.

Fetzer, who did not attend Thursday’s board committee meetings at Elizabeth City State University, has not responded to Policy Watch requests on the Gerlach matter. He has declined to comment to other news outlets this week.

As Policy Watch has reported, this is not the first time Fetzer operated outside the system to impact a chancellor search.

Last year Fetzer and Romary were also involved in the scuttled search for a new chancellor at Western Carolina University. Fetzer gave confidential candidate information to Romary, who suggested the final candidate had lied on their application. Other members of the board said that wasn’t true. The candidate ultimately withdrew their application amid concerns about confidentiality. Fetzer’s fellow board members — and then-UNC President Margaret Spellings — criticized Fetzer for stepping outside of the board’s process and compromising the confidentiality of the selection process.

Fetzer later admitted he had spoken to Spellings about becoming interim chancellor at Western Carolina but was denied when she said she’d chosen someone else.

In September Fetzer told Policy Watch he was not interested in any open leadership position in the UNC system, from one of the chancellorships to the UNC System presidency.

“Lord no,” Fetzer told Policy Watch at that time.

Fetzer said he has young children and wouldn’t want to put his family through the current social media environment in either a bid for that sort of leadership position or a run for office.

Under rules approved by the board, any Board of Governors member who did want to be considered in a search would need to resign their board position first.

 

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