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Kotis responds to complaint about his participation in student body president debate

UNC-Chapel Hill Trustee Marty Kotis has formally responded to a complaint over his participation in a debate between UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President candidates earlier this month.

UNC-Chapel Hill Trustee Marty Kotis.

As Policy Watch reported this week, UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Lamar Richards, who also serves on the university’s board of trustees, sent a complaint to the UNC System president and chair of the UNC Board of Governors’ University Governance Committee, alleging Kotis attended the online debate, asked questions and offered “pointed, professionally inappropriate responses in the chat” regarding answers provided by the candidates.

Richards said Kotis’s participation in the debate was inappropriate and his questions about how candidates would work with members of the board of trustees were made student candidates uncomfortable. Kotis claimed Richards was mischaracterizing his interactions with candidates and that there is no rule barring trustees from attending or asking questions at student government campaign events.

On Thursday Kotis sent a 10-page, point-by-point response to Richards’s complaint to members of the board of trustees, the UNC Board of Governors and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. In his response, Kotis reiterated that he does not believe his participation at the debate violated his responsibilities as a trustee or rise to the level of his trying to influence a student election.

He also took the opportunity, in his response, to comment on low voter turnout for student elections.

“I feel comfortable that I did not violate any of those responsibilities and frankly think that by attending the virtual debate (with 30-40 other attendees) I better fulfilled my obligations as a trustee by learning more about student values and ideas as well as the election process,” Kotis said. “For instance, I was not aware that all the voting was online and that the runoff was an instant runoff (voters rank candidates – apparently this was implemented because of low runoff voter turnout).  I also learned that voter turnout (even with online voting) is a paltry 13% or 4,300 voters.  Given that each of the four candidate had to obtain 1,000 signatures that’s only 300 more than the signature base.”

In the response, Kotis also called the accusations against him “defamatory” and returned to his complaints about student decorum toward trustees and administrators.

“I’d also welcome a thorough discussion of decorum – what is expected and appropriate behaviour by trustees, faculty, staff, administrators and students,” Kotis said. ” A discussion of free speech would also be welcome.  A conversation about ‘share governance’  is also sorely needed as Trustee Richards and others seem to lack an understanding of the concept.”

In an interview with Policy Watch earlier this week, Kotis criticized the eventual winner of the UNC-Chapel Hill student body presidential race, Teddy Vann, for taking part in a June protest over the board of trustees holding up tenure for acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. At that meeting, students refused to leave the meeting when the board had a closed session and were physically removed by police officers.

Kotis said suggesting he should be removed from the board for asking questions at a student debate while condoning that sort of student protest at a meeting didn’t make sense.

Why shouldn’t the student who comes with a megaphone and screams obscenities be removed from the student body?” Kotis said.

On Thursday UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey said the board’s University Governance committee is taking the complaint seriously and thoroughly investigating it. He said he did not feel comfortable commenting on the matter while it’s still being resolved.

Read Kotis’s full response here.

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