Allies of UNC System Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith are trying to silence a critic on the board, Carolina Journal has learned. Board member Tom Fetzer is lining up votes to introduce an official resolution of censure against Steve Long, a board member at odds with Smith.
The censure vote would take place during the Board of Governors’ meeting later this week at Appalachian State University in Boone.
Carolina Journal phoned and emailed Fetzer for comment. He refused to address the topic, instead asking CJ to reveal our sources. CJ also reached out to the UNC System, but officials declined to comment.
These moves come on the heels of several unflattering media reports about the board’s governance and its handling of several high-profile disputes, including the Silent Sam protests at UNC Chapel Hill which led to the resignation of Chancellor Carol Folt; the abrupt departure of former UNC System President Margaret Spellings; and this week’s announcement by ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton that he would resign after what he called several months of discussions he didn’t initiate.
Staton’s pending resignation, first reported by CJ Sunday afternoon, led to stories about the controversy by local media outlets and national publications The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education.
Meantime, Triangle Business Journal reported Tuesday Reform UNC System Governance, a group of more than 200 of the state’s prominent business leaders, are redoubling their public campaign against what the group calls “micromanaging” and “bullying” of campus leaders by BOG leaders.
“All of us who value the UNC system have seen the Board of Governors evolve into a highly partisan, political group of folks who simply – oft times – put their agendas ahead of what’s in the best interest of the university system,” Chapel Hill developer Roger Perry said Tuesday to TBJ.
“Sallie Shuping-Russell, a former UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees member and managing director at BlackRock Private Equity Partners, said she believes the trustees at system universities do not want to speak out for fear of retaliation,” TBJ reported.
A recent op-ed in the News And Observer, by former UNC System President Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former Charlotte mayor and GOP gubernatorial nominee Richard Vinroot, noted there “must be balance” on the BOG.
“Republican lawmakers have named conservatives of their own party to the Board of Governors and changed the governance rules to diminish any appointive authority in the governor’s office. This type of action risks turning the Board of Governors into a purely political organization doing the bidding of our legislative leaders. And, in our opinion, that puts our university’s reputation in peril,” the op-ed says.
Staton’s departure from ECU hasn’t ended the turmoil in Greenville. Tuesday, Kieran Shanahan, the outgoing chairman of the campus Board of Trustees, wrote BOG member David Powers, expressing disappointment in the BOG’s decision to reject nominees ECU trustees recommended to fill vacancies on the ECU board.
The BOG has the authority to choose members of the campus boards. But according to Shanahan’s letter, the BOG asked ECU leaders to send a slate of nominees to the system leaders, then didn’t consider a single nominee listed.
“We fully understand that the decision on who to appoint as Trustees rests squarely with the Board of Governors,” Shanahan wrote. “But what message does it send to announce a process, encourage us to follow it, only to have the Board of Governors ignore its own policy and our slate of nominees? What does it say to our student population — 58 percent of which are women — that your board slate fails to include any women, and that, if not corrected, there will be zero women on the ECU Board of Trustees? What message will this send on recruiting a new chancellor?”
The nominees ECU board members recommended include incumbent BOT member Leigh Fanning, an executive with an beer and wine distributor, and Linda McMahon, an ECU graduate and the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The BOG’s list, all men, includes current member Mark Copeland, who reportedly is friendly with Smith; Troy Dreyfus, managing partner and host of Pirate Radio in Greenville; Thomas Furr, founder and CEO of PatientPay; and Phil Lewis, cofounder of Carolina Benefit Specialists, a service provider for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.
Smith dismissed Shanahan, who’s not seeking a new term. In a story published last week by the Daily Reflector of Greenville, Smith said, “I’m a bit surprised he is concerned, given his desire not to continue serving.”
CJ reached out to Powers via phone and email for comment but received no response by press time.
Editor-in-chief Rick Henderson provided additional reporting for this story.