Diversity debate nudges UNC board
By Bobby Burns and Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Friday, March 22, 2019
Members of UNC Board of Governors announced on Friday they had increased the number of women appointed to the governing boards of the state’s universities by a small margin, but said more needs to be done to make trustee boards reflect their student populations.
The UNC System board members discussed efforts to diversity trustee boards during their meeting at Appalachian State University in Boone, where they unanimously approved a slate of two men and two women to the ECU Board of Trustees and made appointments to the boards at 11 more of the 17 UNC System schools.
All the nominees were given preliminary approval on Thursday by the UNC board’s governance committee. Leigh Fanning of Greenville and Angela Moss of Chapel Hill were appointed to the ECU board along with two men, Thomas Furr of Durham and Phillip Lewis of Greenville. The appointments came after several days that saw the list of nominees change from an initial slate that included Furr, Lewis and two other men, Troy Dreyfus of Greenville and Mark Copeland of Texas.
The lack of women on the initial slate at ECU and elsewhere fueled a debate over diversity that carried through to Friday’s discussions, carried live online by UNCTV.
“I recognize that there are some very strong candidates on this slate and I appreciate that,” board member Anna Spangler Nelson of Charlotte said prior to Friday’s vote. “I also recognize that some of our boards of trustees do not reflect the race and gender of their campus communities and I just hope that we will continue to pay attention to that and work on that.”
Board Secretary Pearl Burris-Floyd of Dallas said the board is increasing the number of women it appointed over those made during the last round of appointments in 2017. Men made up 71 percent of the appointments at that time and women accounted for 29 percent, she said. The numbers this year changed to 69 percent male and 31 percent for females.
“That may not seem like much, but when you look around this table and you see the sprinkling of women and minorities serving the Board of Governors, then 2 percent is a big push ...” she said.
“We know that 56 percent of our total student body population consists of women, and when women do things, we succeed,” she said. “This is not a slam against men. I do believe, as an only girl growing up in a family of four boys, we have to work collaboratively together, and when we do that, the result is phenomenal.”
Board Chairman Harry Smith, an ECU alum from Greenville, thanked the board for a healthy discussion.
“I’ve had a lot of debate on this topic in the last couple of weeks and, as I always say, I like the facts not the emotion,” Smith said. “A lot of people like to participate in the emotions and create unnecessary emotions, and the facts always come out, and the data and the detail normally tell that there’s no doubt we need to improve.”
Fanning, who was appointed to her second four-year term, and Moss are the only women serving on ECU’s 12-member board, although two open seats will be filled in the coming weeks by the N.C. General Assembly. One African-American, Vince Smith, is on the board.
As of November, East Carolina’s student population of 28,718 was 59 percent female and 41 percent male. Its racial breakdown is 67 percent white, 16 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian and 9 percent other, according to the university.
ECU Trustees Chairman Kieran Shanahan, who will be among members leaving the board in June, began raising concerns about candidates under consideration by the Board of Governors last week. He was satisfied on Friday with the end result.
“I am very excited,” Shanahan said. “There are some good people on there. It’s a good outcome and we still have two slots to fill. I am very confident that we’ll have a great slate and they’ll hit the ground running in the next school year.”
The General Assembly customarily makes its appointments in June. Shanahan said ECU officials will submit a number of nominees based on needs left unaddressed by the Board of Governors’ selections.
Debate over the board of trustees overlapped with Monday’s announcement by Chancellor Cecil Staton that he would resign effective May 3. Board of Governors member Steven Long of Raleigh publicly criticized Smith and Bill Roper, the UNC System interim president, for seeking the resignation to end what Long called a long-running, negative campaign by Smith against Staton.
Long during Friday’s meeting issued an apology to Smith. Long declined to discuss the apology after the meeting but repeated his statement: “This past Monday I made comments to you (Smith) in the press regarding the ECU Chancellor that I realize now were intemperate, disrespectful to you and to the Board of Governors. I should have come directly to you and discussed my concerns as you would expect a board member. I knew you have the university’s best interest at heart and I apologize to you and the Board of Governors for the embarrassment I have caused. I did not handle this matter in the right way and was not civil and respectful to you or the Board of Governors. For that I sincerely apologize.”
Shanahan said volunteer board members work in an imperfect system and sometimes don’t act in a perfect way.
“As unpleasant as it was losing our chancellor and the other related things that have gone on, calmer waters are ahead for the board and we can focus our energy on working collaboratively with the Board of Governors in those areas we need each other to help East Carolina be successful.”
The trustee board is scheduled to hold a special-called meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Monday in the Spilman Building on the main campus “to hear updates and take any related actions,” ECU announced. The board expects to move into closed session to consider confidential personnel information and consult with legal counsel.
Shanahan said Roper, appointed last year after UNC President Margaret Spellings announced her resignation, will be attending and plans to meet with a variety of constituent groups to get input about filling Staton’s post.
“I applaud the process he is following. It’s very similar to the process he followed for choosing the interim after (UNC-CH Chancellor) Carol Folt left,” Shanahan said. “We are pleased with that and now we have to plan for that and help Dr. Roper anyway we can.”
Presumably, after the interim chancellor is in place, the new Board of Trustees would appoint a committee to begin the search for a permanent chancellor.
Staton said this week he did not initiate his resignation but said he was prevented from offering details by a non-disparagement agreement. UNC officials did not comment on Long’s accusation, however, a reporter asked Roper after Friday’s meeting who initiated Staton’s departure.
“I would just say on behalf of the university system we thank Chancellor Staton for his service at ECU and we wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Roper said.
The reporter then told Roper that did not answer the question.
“I don’t have a legal obligation to answer your question,” Roper said on a live stream posted by the ASU’s student newspaper, The Appalachian. “I believe it’s in the best interest of the university to be looking forward, and that’s what we are doing.”
UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith and UNC System Interim President Bill Roper took questions after the Board of Governors meeting in Boone on Friday, March 22. The Appalachian, the Appalachian State University student newspaper captured it live on Facebook. Roper takes the first question about ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton's resignation.