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.

Commentary, Education, Legislature, NC Budget and Tax Center, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. Gov. Cooper wants a $3.9 billion education bond, 9 percent pay raises for teachers

Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday proposed a robust $3.9 billion education bond for school construction and renovation projects.

He also called for an average nine percent pay raise for teachers over the next two years to put North Carolina on a path to become the best state in the Southeast for teacher pay in four years.

No teacher would receive less than a three percent raise in either of the next two years, under Cooper’s plan.

“North Carolina ranks 37th in teacher pay, and that’s not good enough,” Cooper said in a statement. “We need to put our schools first and that starts with paying teachers and principals better and treating them like the professionals they are.” [Read more…]

** Bonus read: Gov. Cooper’s environmental budget adds $6 million to tackle emerging contaminants
2. How a high school basketball controversy in Charlotte encapsulates inequality in North Carolina schools

When a West Charlotte High basketball player excoriated the “B.S.” that grifted a home court playoff game from his school this week, his palpable anger made sense on many levels, just one of them actually involving sports.

The school’s gym – capacity 400 – wasn’t big enough to house West Charlotte’s hotly-anticipated match-up Tuesday with cross-town rival, Ardrey Kell High, The Charlotte Observer reported this week. So his team’s well-earned spoils, a home date in the “Lion’s den” – as locals call it – decamped and moved eight miles northeast to a neutral high school with 650 more seats.

Put aside the slight to West Charlotte’s basketball team, for a moment. Snatching home court advantage in a playoff game stings – though West Charlotte won the game anyway – but, in this week’s report, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake saw the controversy absent the fog of competition.

In a very limited sense, it’s a sports story. But in a broader sense, it’s a microcosm, a symptom of an illness in North Carolina. It’s a weary story, a story about haves and have-nots, Leake explained, writ small in high school basketball melodrama.

“We are more segregated today than we’ve ever been,” Leake sagely told The Observer reporter. “There’s a white system and a Black system.” [Read more…]

3. RDU officials side with mining interests in clash over Umstead quarry

Umstead State Park in winter is at its least beautiful, but in no way is it ugly. Within the park’s palette of gray and rust appear plush pelts of moss in iridescent green and coarse crowns of lichens in dusty mint. Outcrops of ancient rocks, composed of minerals such as feldspar and quartz, are strewn across the forest floor like scattered teeth.

Failing to observe property lines, the park’s outcrops extend east and west of the park to 250 acres owned by the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. Wake Stone, which has operated a quarry nearby for more than 35 years, wants the rock. The Airport Authority needs the money.

Under a controversial agreement, the Airport Authority board has leased 105 acres, known as the “Odd Fellows tract,” to Wake Stone, which, provided the test borings prove fruitful, would timber it. Then on 45 of the acres, the company would blast a pit 40 stories deep to extract the minerals, crush them and sell the material for road-building and other uses. While Wake Stone has agreed to invest millions of dollars in adjacent natural areas and mountain bike trails, the mining could continue for 25 years or more.

The lease has raised concerns about transparency and inclusiveness of the Airport Authority board, whose eight members include several real estate developers and construction company owners. The board is appointed by the Durham City Council, Durham County Commission, Raleigh City Council and Wake County Commission, but three of those four elected bodies say they were not consulted on the deal. [Read more…]

4. Educators seethe at N.C. lawmakers’ plan to arm, deputize teachers

Two new bills filed by state lawmakers take the heated debate over gun rights and safety to one of its most controversial battlegrounds: the classroom.

House Bill 216 – The School Self-Defense Act – would make it legal for teachers and staff members to carry concealed handguns on school grounds “to respond to acts of violence or imminent threats of violence.”

Senate Bill 192 – The School Security Act of 2019 – would incentivize teachers to carry concealed weapons, provide training and pay raises for teachers who undergo law enforcement training, and make them sworn law enforcement officers too.

The House bill’s primary sponsors are Reps. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) and Michael Speciale (R-Craven). The Senate bill’s primary sponsors are Senators Jerry Tillman (R-Guilford and Randolph), Ralph Hise and Warren Daniel. Hise and Daniel are Republicans from western North Carolina.[Read more…]

5. The Equal Rights Amendment makes a long overdue comeback

There’s no denying that the American public policy environment is measurably more progressive in the aftermath of last November’s election. In Washington, congressional leaders of both parties are pushing back against President Trump’s attempt to declare a national emergency, and the U.S. House is seriously discussing proposals for a “Green New Deal” and a massive overhaul of federal ethics and voting rights laws.

Meanwhile, here in North Carolina, despite conservative majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, progressive proposals are percolating into public view at a much faster pace than in recent years. In the early days of the 2019 session, lawmakers have introduced legislation to close the state’s Medicaid gap, curb gun violence, restore master’s degree pay for teachers, raise the minimum wage, reinstate the state Earned Income Tax Credit, expand paid family and medical leave and legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

And while no one expects an easy path onto the statute books for any of these bills right away, it is possible to envision such a path in the foreseeable future – especially for the state-level proposals, given that each of them has been around for a good while and has already won approval in numerous jurisdictions. [Read more…]

6. Charlotte Learning Academy leader “seeing red” over comment comparing graduates’ video to ‘dirt sandwich’

Charlotte Learning Academy leaders left Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting visibly shaken and “seeing red” over a comment made by Steven Walker, vice chairman of the Charter School Advisory Board, who awkwardly compared ­­videos from former students of the struggling charter school to a marketing strategy that can make a “dirt sandwich” look good.

“I’m not trying to compare the school to a dirt sandwich or anything like that but what I’m saying is that if you market something you can make it look real good,” Walker said.

The Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) has recommended that Charlotte Learning Academy’s (CLA) charter not be renewed due to poor academic performance. The school serves mostly at-risk, economically disadvantaged students in grades 6-12 who find it difficult to succeed in a traditional school setting.[Read more…]

** Bonus read: State Board of Education votes to close Charlotte Learning Academy
7. Upcoming event:

North Carolina’s death penalty: On life support? Join us Tuesday (March 12) at noon for our next Crucial Conversation

Here’s something you might not know: North Carolina hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006, but the state – home to a boom in capital murder trials during the 1990s – houses the country’s sixth largest “death row” population.

That’s one of a series of sobering details in “Unequal Justice: How Obsolete Laws and Unfair Trials Created North Carolina’s Outsized Death Row,” a report published in 2018 by the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, the state’s leading advocacy organization on capital punishment.

Learn more and register today for this special event.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy

Cheri Beasley to be installed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

This afternoon at 2:00pm, Cheri Beasley will be formally installed as the Chief Justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court. You can watch it live on WRAL or on the Judicial Branch’s Facebook Live.

Ahead of today’s historic installation, get to know Beasley a little better by reading Courts and Law reporter Melissa Boughton’s excellent, recent profile of our new Chief Justice:

If you told Cheri Beasley when she was a little girl that she would grow up to become North Carolina’s first Black female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, she might have looked at you a little funny.

“I can assure you that I could not have predicted my journey as a young girl,” she said Wednesday in an interview with NC Policy Watch. “I always felt really good, and I always felt led to service in some way, even as a little girl. As a Girl Scout, I was tasked with cleaning parks and that kind of a thing and going to senior citizen centers, and then it just sort of became engrained.”

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Beasley’s new role as Chief Justice on Tuesday. She’s been on cloud nine ever since with an overwhelming sense of love and support from those around her.

Beasley is originally from Tennessee, but she says she got to North Carolina as fast as she could. She was a graduate of Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University, where she majored in economics and political science and minored in accounting and finance.

After school, she worked at the Tennessee Human Relations Commission and investigated claims of discrimination involving age, gender and ability in places of public accommodation, housing and employment.

“It was really there that I decided to go to law school,” Beasley said. “It was a great opportunity to see lawyers in action and to see them take an advocacy role.”

She had hoped to attend law school in North Carolina to be with her soon-to-be husband, Curtis, but “as fate would have it,” she received a full scholarship from the University of Tennessee. The rest is quite literally history.

Beasley has been appointed to the judiciary by three different Governors – the District Court bench in Cumberland County by Gov. Jim Hunt, the Supreme Court by Gov. Bev Perdue and now the Chief Justice post by Cooper. She also served on the state Court of Appeals, where she was the first Black woman to be elected to statewide office without having first been appointed by a Governor.

“I’ve had a life full of highlights,” she said of her career. “I feel incredibly privileged to have served for 20 years in the judiciary. I honestly cannot think about a point in time when I thought that my service wasn’t worthwhile or that it wasn’t gratifying to be in the trial courts and to work with young people, or see a family has a difficulty in their lives and in some way be a part of helping them to come up with a solution.”

Beasley wore a navy blue skirt suit Wednesday and her ears were dotted with pearl earrings. She was matter-of-fact about her love for her work and her dedication to serving all of North Carolina.

“The import of the work directly impacts the jurisprudence of the state, and so even when people don’t have a sense of how the work of this court is affecting their everyday lives, it really does,” she said.

There is great honor, she added later, in being a part of people’s lives in such an impactful way.

“There’s no way that all of us shouldn’t feel a sense of gratitude and obligation to work hard to make sure we’re doing the very best for the people who come before us,” she said. “People in these cases, many of which are very complicated, share their journeys with us. … We have to really appreciate the fact that we’re in a very special place to make tough decisions which affect people and our communities and businesses.”

Click here to read Beasley’s full one-on-one interview with Policy Watch’s Melissa Boughton.

Higher Ed, News

Asian American and Pacific Islander groups file amicus brief in support of UNC’s race-conscious admissions policies

North Carolina Asian Americans Together and a coalition of other groups are taking a stand in support of UNC’s position to continue their race-conscious admission policies. Here’s more from the good folks at NCAAT:

North Carolina Asian Americans Together (NCAAT) has joined with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (an affiliation of five civil rights organizations) alongside over 60 Asian American groups, 25 professors, and Fox Rothschild LLP in filing an amicus brief today in support of race-conscious holistic admissions at the UNC Chapel Hill. Participants in this brief whole-heartedly attest that race-conscious admissions policies result in more equitable and integrated universities and enhance the educational experiences of all students.

This amicus brief opposes the lawsuit filed by conservative activist Ed Blum and his group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) to end race-conscious admissions at universities. In their briefing, SFFA suggest that in addition to whites, Asian Americans are also supposedly disadvantaged by UNC’s race-conscious admissions policy.

“A ‘color-blind’ admissions policy is not race-neutral; it merely reinforces racial segregation and widens existing disparities in educational opportunities for people of color, including many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs),” said Nicole Gon Ochi, supervising attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “We refuse to be used as a weapon to dismantle programs that increase opportunities for students of color.”

The consideration of race in university admissions, one of many factors in the admissions process, has been critical for many schools to fully understand an applicant’s background and experiences beyond test scores.

“The data shows that these policies help all students of color, including Asian Americans,” said Dr. OiYan Poon, assistant professor of Higher Education and director of the Race & Intersectional Studies for Educational Equity (RISE Center) at Colorado State University. “Removing the consideration of race in admissions would hurt the most marginalized of AAPI students and be detrimental to the educational climate and environment, from which all students benefit.”

Race-conscious admission policies have been credited with offsetting the inherent racial biases of other admission factors, such as SAT/ACT scores. They are also a factor in creating more diverse student bodies on university campuses that more closely reflect regional or national demographics. Studies show that colleges and universities that reach the highest levels of diversity have fewer incidents of racial hostility. Students report having a more positive learning experience in schools with race-conscious admission processes.

“Removing the consideration of race at UNC would be a disservice to all communities of color, including the diverse AAPI subgroups in North Carolina,” said Chavi Khanna Koneru, executive director of North Carolina Asian Americans Together. “Our state is home to significant ethnic minority communities from Southeast Asia who experience varying economic and educational barriers. Saying that Asian Americans are not underrepresented minorities at UNC only obscures the needs of underrepresented Asian Americans.”

“The growing Southeast Asian community in our state is not a monolith; each student deserves the holistic review long prized by our state’s flagship university,” said Matthew Nis Leerberg, North Carolina-based partner at national law firm Fox Rothschild LLP. “We are proud to have had the opportunity to work alongside Asian Americans Advancing Justice to speak for that community on an issue critical to the future of our State and the nation.”

NCAAT and Asian Americans Advancing Justice stand firmly in support of UNC, race-conscious admission policies, and all students of color. We will continue to fight alongside other communities of color for greater equity and justice in this country.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, News

The week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch

1. A courageous judge taps the brakes on a rogue General Assembly

In case you missed it, there was an enormously important ruling issued last Friday afternoon by a Wake County Superior Court judge that ought to rekindle the public’s belief in (and support for) democratic, constitutional government.

The case – NAACP and Clean Air North Carolina v. Moore and Berger – was originally filed last summer and it challenged the constitutionality of four of the constitutional amendments approved by the General Assembly during the final days of the regular 2018 legislative session. Two of those four amendments – the ones that sought to strip power from the Governor – were ultimately rewritten in response to a separate court ruling and then defeated by voters in November. The other two, however, which sought to mandate a new voter ID requirement for North Carolina elections and to lower the cap on the state income tax, were ultimately approved by voters.

The argument behind the plaintiffs’ challenge was simple and straightforward – namely that it should be unconstitutional for state lawmakers to pass constitutional amendments when they have been elected under electoral maps that have themselves been declared unconstitutional (as has been the case in North Carolina for some time).

In his ruling on Friday, Judge Bryan Collins agreed and struck down both the voter ID and tax cap schemes. He put it this way in his eminently reasonable ruling:[Read more…]

2. House Speaker advances bond plan for K-12 and higher ed
Senate leaders still cool to the idea of borrowing

The divide between leadership of the state House and Senate over how to pay for billions in school construction needs widened significantly Thursday when House Republicans filed a bill calling for a $1.9 billion education bond.

Under House Bill 241, $1.5 billion in bond money, pending voter approval, would be earmarked for K-12 construction and renovation projects.

The UNC System and state community colleges would get $200 million each.

House Speaker Tim Moore, (R-Cleveland), said the state’s strong fiscal position, Triple A credit ratings, flush reserves and revenue surplus, makes the education bond a sound fiscal move that will quickly deliver money to school districts.

“There’s currently a competitive bond market and the state can borrow now at very favorable interest rates,” Moore said. “The opportunity is now and waiting can only end up costing the state more down the road.” [Read more…]

3. Cooper signs bill restoring state Court of Appeals bench to 15 judges

The State Court of Appeals bench has officially been restored to 15 judges since Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill today reversing a GOP measure that shrunk it to 12 judges.

Senate Bill 75 became law today, almost two years after former Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican who represented Stanly and Montgomery counties, sponsored the original measure shrinking the court, House Bill 239.

“A strong and unbowed, independent judiciary that works as part of our system of checks and balances is critical to our democracy and freedom,” Cooper wrote in a statement after signing the new bill.

Senators Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), Warren Daniel (R-Caldwell) and Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) filed SB 75 last week. They never responded to requests for comment about what spurred the change of heart to restore the number of judges on the court, though it was likely because litigation over the initial bill shrinking the bench was set to go before the state Supreme Court on Monday.[Read more…]

4. Duke University is killing regional light rail, while air pollution from cars kills people.

The irony is not lost on me, or many people, that the heart of the Duke Medical Center district — a congested stretch of Erwin Road, between Fulton and Trent streets — is hazardous to public health.

Put aside for the moment, the imminent physical peril that threatens bicyclists on those thoroughfares or pedestrians attempting to cross the streets, even if the walk sign assures them it’s safe to do so. The longer-term damage stems from the thousands of cars that pass by, that stack up 10 deep at the stoplights, that circle the dizzying mazes inside parking garages in search of a free space, that idle at valet parking or patient drop-off.

Air pollution from those thousands of tailpipes contribute to some of the very diseases and disorders that Duke doctors, nurses and researchers are trying to cure: asthma, heart disease, cancer, reduced lung function and premature death. MIT researchers estimated that in 2005 air pollution-related mortality shortened the average victim’s lifespan by 12 years. [Read more…]

5. The state of the state? Divided, volatile and—maybe—on the rise

Gov. Roy Cooper’s Monday address to both chambers of the legislature – the “State of the State” – was, of course, pageantry.

Not that it’s entirely low-stakes, that it doesn’t mean something for the governor, strolling into chambers so dominated by his nemeses in the Republican Party, to run down a blueprint for a purple-state makeover. There’s something to be said for the bully pulpit after all.

But Cooper’s moderate agenda – a sensible approach to funding public schools, Medicaid expansion and job growth – is no secret.

And there’s little chance of convincing the three men perched behind him Monday – Senate President Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, almost certainly Cooper’s opponent in 2020. [Read more…]

6. Gun violence debate renewed with introduction of competing bills in the NC House

This month marked the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The deadliest high school mass shooting in American history, the Parkland tragedy made more urgent the always contentious political issue of gun laws.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans support putting strong or moderate restrictions on firearms, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released earlier this month. That includes 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans.

That sentiment fueled many of the campaigns that led to Democratic congressional gains in the latest election and helped spur the U.S. House approving expanded background checks this week for gun sales, including at gun shows and on the Internet.

But in the North Carolina General Assembly, where two very different gun bills were filed this month, the standoff over gun laws looks much as it has for years. [Read more…]

7. Upcoming event:

North Carolina’s death penalty: On life support? Join us March 12th for our next Crucial Conversation

Here’s something you might not know: North Carolina hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006, but the state – home to a boom in capital murder trials during the 1990s – houses the country’s sixth largest “death row” population.

That’s one of a series of sobering details in “Unequal Justice: How Obsolete Laws and Unfair Trials Created North Carolina’s Outsized Death Row,” a report published in 2018 by the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, the state’s leading advocacy organization on capital punishment.

Learn more and register today for this special event.