ECU official resigns amid controversy
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
A controversy over the recognition of an ECU alumnus resulted in the resignation of an assistant vice chancellor and rumors that an awards ceremony either would be canceled or delayed.
By late Wednesday, the university released a statement affirming the “40 under 40” Leadership Awards event will be held on March 23 as originally planned. However, the statement also said “A review of the broader processes for managing the program will occur regarding future events.”
The controversy became public on Tuesday when Pirate Radio 1250 & 930 reported that Heath Bowman, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, had submitted a resignation letter earlier in the day.
Bowman said in his letter he is leaving because “I do not feel that I can perform, in good faith or good conscience, the actions requested of me since Jan. 25. Those actions have included suggested punitive measures against active alumni board members and a request to take part in arbitrarily postponing a major young alumni awards program — to the detriment of some of our most accomplished alumni — without any substantive justification or reasoning.”
Bowman said he did not believe the he could “sufficiently or effectively” perform the major functions of his job “which is to support, engage, and celebrate the alumni of East Carolina University.”
Bowman did not give details about the actions that concerned him. However Michael Aho, chairman of the ECU Alumni Association sent emails to Christopher Dyba, vice chancellor for university advancement and president of the ECU Foundation, several members of the Board of Trustees and others saying he was concerned because members of the university’s senior leadership wanted to move management of the the 40 Under 40 program from the Division of Student Affairs to the Alumni Association and postpone the ceremony scheduled for March 23 until the fall.
The reasons for the change are not clear, Aho said, other than the awards selection committee included John Bream among the individuals being recognized.
Bream, an emergency medicine physician in Rowan County, rose to prominence when he hired an airplane to fly over ECU’s campus with a banner calling for the firing of former athletics director Jeff Compher.
On Jan. 16, the 40 Under 40 committee released an email urging members of previous 40 Under 40 classes to attend the March 23 ceremony. The email included a list of this year’s honorees, which included Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly and Kate Teel — who soon will assume the president’s role at the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce — and a link to purchase tickets.
Aho sent an email to members of ECU's Board of Trustees on Tuesday reiterating his concerns about the efforts to relocate the 40 Under 40 program and postponement of the ceremony. Board of Trustees Chairman Kieran Shanahan responded, “Your intel is incorrect. There was concern about the process that led to a review but the event is going forward.”
Tom Eppes, ECU chief communications officer, released the following statement on Wednesday after receiving inquiries from The Daily Reflector:
“‘Forty Under 40 is a program under the Division of Student Affairs that recognizes ECU alumni who have made significant contributions to the university and their communities. Upon the release of this year’s honorees, there were concerns raised about the divisive nature of certain selections. These concerns were voiced from both within the university as well as external stakeholders. Given the widespread concerns and the need for an internal review, various options were considered for this year’s recognition event, including rescheduling the program to coincide with ECU’s homecoming celebration. Contrary to some reports, at no time was cancellation of the event contemplated. Ultimately, it was decided to continue with the event on March 23 as originally planned. A review of the broader processes for managing the program will occur regarding future events.”
Contact Ginger Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9570.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement to ECU Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Vern Davenport. The statement, “Your intel is incorrect. There was concern about the process that led to a review but the event is going forward," was in an email response Board of Trustees Chairman Kieran Shanahan sent to Michael Aho, chairman of the ECU Alumni Association.