Higher Ed, News

UNC interim President: Silent Sam should not return to original site

In his first UNC Board of Governors meeting as interim president of the UNC system, William Roper tackled some of UNC’s thorniest issues – including the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue.

“Although I was not supportive of the way the monument was taken down in August, my personal position is we should not be putting the monument back on McCorkle Place,” Roper said in a press conference after Friday’s board meeting.

Though Roper didn’t say whether that would preclude the statue from returning anywhere on the Chapel Hill campus, simply saying it should not return to its original site may be enough to ruffle some feathers on the board. Several members have insisted the statue, toppled by protesters in August, must be returned to its original place at the heart of the campus.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt ordered the base of the statue removed earlier this month, just before she surprised the board by announcing her resignation. Several members of the board – including Chairman Harry Smith – said Folt overstepped her authority by giving that order. Others have suggested she broke a 2015 law on the preservation of such monuments.

Interim UNC President William Roper and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith during Friday’s meeting of the board.

The board voted Friday to give Roper the authority to begin negotiating Folt’s exit package. He is already looking for an interim chancellor and is meeting with students and faculty to get input.

In prepared remarks Friday, Roper provided a window into how he will make the decision.

“First, this is an interim position.,” Roper said. “There will be a national search to come later for a permanent chancellor.”

Roper said he expects the interim chancellor, which he will choose by the end of January, may need to be in the job for up to 18 months while a full-time chancellor search is conducted.

“Carolina cannot and will not drift during an interim leader’s tenure,” Roper said. “It will surge forward under a strong leader.”

Roper said he’s looking for “a well-known entity here in North Carolina” who will be “ready to start on day one” without needing months to get acclimated. He’s also looking for “someone of stature” who “has the gravitas to lead” he said.

Lastly, he said, they must have his trust and the trust of other leaders.

“We are not in the business of micromanaging our key leadership,” he said.

Micromanaging was a common description of  the sort of board of governors behavior Folt and outgoing UNC President Margaret Spellings faced during their tenures, leading to the conflicts with the board many have speculated led to their abrupt exits.

Faculty, staff and national experts predict finding the next leaders for both Chapel Hill and the UNC system will be difficult given that recent history.

Higher Ed, News

Western Carolina University chancellor interviews to begin next week

The UNC Board of Governors is facing the twin challenges of replacing both the UNC System President and chancellor of its flagship campus, UNC-Chapel Hill.

But while those searches have yet to properly begin, a second attempt at finding a new chancellor for Western Carolina University is well underway.

The university has received 58 applications for the position and have identified ten candidate for initial interviews. The Board of Governors, who will hear a report on the search at Friday’s full board meeting, is expected to vote on the final candidate by April.

As Policy Watch reported back in July, the first search for a chancellor was scuttled when board of governors member Tom Fetzer leaked confidential candidate information to a private firm for investigation. He then used information the firm provided to argue that the candidate, whose name was withheld during the search, had provided inaccurate information when applying for the job.

The candidate abruptly withdrew from the search and board members and then-UNC President Margaret Spelling, who had chosen the final candidate, criticized Fetzer for compromising the candidate’s confidentiality and disturbing the established candidate search process.

Fetzer argued that the process itself was inadequate and he simply did what he had to do in order to be sue due diligence was done.

Fetzer later revealed he had a conversation with UNC President Margaret Spellings about being interim chancellor at the school, where he was once a trustee. Two former trustees at the school asked if they could put his name forward, Fetzer said, but in a telephone conversation with Spellings he was told she had already decided on an interim.

Fetzer denied he pursued the chancellor’s position himself.

The search, which had to that point cost $90,000, was begun again.

Education, Higher Ed

Board of Governors’ actions ‘deeply troubling,’ harmful to UNC’s reputation

The decision of the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) to expedite the departure of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt is drawing more criticism.

After having the remnants of Silent Sam removed from campus, Folt had hoped to stay on board through end of the academic year. The Board of Governors instead gave her until the end of this month to wrap-up her work.

Twenty former members of the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees have now issued a letter denouncing the Board of Governors’ move to abruptly dismiss Folt in this manner:

Since arriving at Chapel Hill, Carol Folt has stood strong for the University. We are much better for the work she has done. However, during her tenure, increasing pressure from Raleigh and the Board of Governors has put politics ahead of the best interests of education, research and patient care. Silent Sam came to embody it all.

Tuesday, Chancellor Folt paid the price for her leadership and North Carolina lost another great opportunity to resurrect its history as a progressive part of this nation. Instead of allowing Chancellor Folt to leave office on her terms — at the end of this academic year — the Board of Governors held an emergency session and forced her to resign in two weeks. It is the same protocol the Board exercised when President Margaret Spellings resigned. The Board could not be satisfied to let them leave on their own terms.

Read the trustees’ full letter here.

The non-profit Higher Education Works Foundation also condemned the BOG’s action:

Folt’s departure is the latest in a sequence of troubling events for North Carolina in recent years: The abrupt dismissal of former UNC System President Tom Ross; enactment of HB2, the “bathroom bill;” the Silent Sam controversy; and the departure of Ross’ successor, Margaret Spellings, who announced her own resignation in late October 12.

With this kind of governance, can UNC-Chapel Hill continue to be viewed as one of the top public universities in the country? Repeated events like these don’t signal the stability industry and education leaders look for when they decide where to locate.

This weekend on News & Views, Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield discusses the week’s events with NC Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier.

Glazier believes the Board of Governors’s ideological bent will negatively impact the ability to attract new leadership and retain high-quality faculty for the university, and could even dissuade some students from applying.

Click below for a preview of that radio interview:

For more reaction on the departure of Chancellor Folt and the removal of Silent Sam, read Jane Stancill’s piece in the Raleigh News & Observer.

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors “flabbergasted” by resignation of UNC Chancellor

When UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced her resignation earlier this week, it came as a surprise to most of the UNC community.

That included her bosses on the UNC Board of Governors, according to board member Marty Kotis.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis

“We didn’t have a conversation or even get notice or a copy of her letter before it was posted publicly,” Kotis said in an interview Thursday. “I’m flabbergasted why she would do it that way – I think most of us were.”

The abrupt resignation came after prolonged tension with the board of governors over the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument, which was toppled by protesters last year. Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees made it clear they would prefer the statue not return to campus, but the board of governors have insisted  a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues mandates its return.

Though Folt denies that conflict led directly to her resignation, she joined the two issues in her resignation letter. In her announcement, she let the public – and the board of governors – know that she had ordered the base of the monument removed from McCorkle Place. Board members said Folt was overstepping her duties as a  a task force of board members had been established to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees on a new plan for the monument to be delivered by March.

“We have a process and a governance structure,” Kotis said. “That’s my frustration right now – that people don’t seem to want to take the time to go through the governance structure.”

In her resignation announcement, Folt said she made the decision because “the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility” – a seeming jab at a board and process that insisted she substitute her judgement for their own.

Folt’s resignation comes just after UNC President Margaret Spellings announced her own in October. Spellings has also repeatedly butted heads with the board, which she has criticized as micro-managing and attempting to assume responsibilities and make decisions that should have been hers.

A group of 20 former members of the UNC Board of Trustees signed on to a letter this week placing the blame for Folt’s exit squarely on the board of trustees and saying they monument issue was emblematic of a larger problem.

“[D]uring her tenure, increasing pressure from Raleigh and the Board of Governors has put politics ahead of the best interests of education, research and patient care,” the letter read. “Silent Sam came to embody it all.”

Whatever Spellings’ differences with the board, Kotis said, she did come to them and talk about her resignation before announcing it publicly – making as amicable a split as could be managed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone publicly submit a resignation before talking to their bosses about it, until now,” Kotis said.

The board accepted Folt’s resignation the day after it was offered – but decided not to let her serve out the rest of the semester, as she had wished. Instead, she will leave at the end of the January.

“I think she made a point about there needing to be a change and a healing that begins,” Kotis said. “And we thought that it was best to go ahead and bring in an interim to begin that healing. You’re not going to choose a new chancellor right away anyway – whether she leaves at the end of this month or in May. The process doesn’t move that fast.”

The board authorized acting UNC President William Roper to appoint an interim chancellor as soon as he sees fit.

Kotis said he would like to see someone like UNC alum and former pharmaceutical executive Fred Eshelman, who pledged $100 million to the university in 2014, take the position.

“I’ve always said that we should be able to find someone from North Carolina for these positions,” Kotis said. “I think if they’re connected to North Carolina and to the university, they’re more likely to stay. And Fred has written some big checks – that’s not to say you buy your way into these things, but I think it shows a connection to the university and a commitment.”

Similarly, Kotis said, he thinks someone like Jim Goodnight – the billionaire software developer and N.C. State alum – would be a good president for the system.

“I would love to see someone with ties to the state, ties to the university and experience in the business world for these positions,” Kotis said. “That’s that kind of candidate I would choose, if I had a magic wand.”

Everyone will have to take Folt at her word that the Confederate statue controversy didn’t cause her resignation, Kotis said – but they certainly seemed connected.

“I can actually sympathize with her because I think Carol and Margaret were both blasted by people in this,” Kotis said. “Carol had that student interrupt her meeting with the faculty and get in her face and call her all sorts of things. I think we’re living in a culture where there’s so much polarization and where people feel like they can just be vicious.”

Folt dealt with criticisms from the political left and right.

Over her nearly six year tenure she faculty and students accused her of refusing to take a stand on important political and social issues facing the university – and for not standing up to a board of governors they said wanted to pull the university system to the political right.

At the same time, critics on the political right said she didn’t take a strong enough hand with faculty and students who engage in protests at which they were arrested, made incendiary public comments or politicize lectures and academic issues.

“I think what we’re struggling with now is first to try to create an environment where students are safe and then trying to get back to a place where we can have reasonable conversations about these issues,” Kotis said. “If I could solve that, I’d probably win a Nobel Prize.”

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member: Re-erect Silent Sam – and new statues

This week has seen a whirlwind of new controversy surrounding the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.

On Monday UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt abruptly resigned following UNC Board of Governors over whether the toppled monument would return to campus. Folt ordered the base of the monument removed from McCorkle Place. This infuriated members of the board who voted for a task force of board members to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees on a new plan for the monument to be delivered by March.

On Tuesday the board held an emergency teleconference meeting during which they voted to accept Folt’s resignation, but decided to replace her with an interim chancellor by the end of the month rather than allow her to serve until the end of the semester as she had desired.

Most of the board – including those on the task force – aren’t going on record about the flap. But board of governors member Thom Goolsby has posted a video to YouTube condemning Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees over the removal of the statue’s base. Calling it a “calculated act of disregard for North Carolina law,” Goolsby suggested the statue should be re-erected on the campus with a structure around it to provide security. He also suggested erecting other statues, perhaps commemorating the 1898 white supremacist coup in his town of Wilmington referred to as “The Wilmington Race Riot” and minority women who were sterilized as part of a eugenics program.

Goolsby, a Republican, characterized both as atrocities committed by Democrats.

As historical experts have observed throughout the debate over Confederate monuments, modern conservatives regularly make such broadsides while ignoring the historical realignment of political parties in the United States. That realignment has led to members of what was the party of Lincoln fiercely defending Confederate statues erected in the Jim Crow era as part of a white supremacist movement.

Goolsby, a former state senator, is often an outlier even on the largely conservative board of governors, frequently at the center of controversies and butting heads with his fellow board members. He called for the immediate re-erecting of the statue in the wake of its toppling and was the only board member to vote against the recent task force to decide the statue’s future.

Last month a panel of independent security professionals concluded the statue’s return to campus is a security risk likely to attract violence and further damage to the statue. In a report to the board of governors, the panel suggested the safest solution would be to move the statue off campus – a position with which Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees agreed. Most members of the board of governors say a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues makes that impossible.

Goolsby ended his video by urging people to contact their state legislators and pledging to fight “until the rule of law is reestablished in North Carolina.”