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Search underway for interim chancellor

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Students walk near the Wright Fountain at ECU on March 25, 2019. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

ECU’s interim chancellor should be a person with gravitas, one who is well-known and knows the university well, the UNC system’s interim president said during a visit to Greenville on Monday.

Bill Roper met with the East Carolina University Board of Trustees during a special-called meeting one week after Chancellor Cecil Staton announced he would resign effective May 3. The 8:30 a.m. meeting was called to hear updates and move into closed session to consider confidential personnel information and consult with legal counsel.

Roper said he came to seek advice and gather input on who will fill Staton’s post on an interim basis while a search for the next chancellor take place. He also outlined what his criteria for the interim job are.  

“I’m here to meet with the leadership of the Board of Trustees and other university leaders to begin the process of getting advice toward my decision I’ll be needing to make probably in two to three weeks of who is the right person to be the interim chancellor at East Carolina University,” Roper said. “It’s an important decision and I welcome the input and advice.”

Before moving into closed session, Roper laid out four criteria that will guide his decision. He said the interim chancellor:

■ Must understand that while the position is temporary, he or she still will be the chancellor and carry the full weight of that post.

“The fact that this is an interim chancellor should not be read as this is a temporary caretaker, a keep-things-peaceful kind of person. This is to be a real person, who with the authority as chancellor to make the decisions that need to be made, to move ECU forward,” Roper said.

■  Needs to be well-known and know well the university and the environment of eastern North Carolina. 

“It needs to be someone who doesn’t have to come here and spend months and months getting up to speed on what needs to be done,” he said.

■ Needs to be someone “who has the stature and the gravitas to lead, that is to consult with others and make up her or his mind and then make decisions and move out smartly, as the military says. Not someone who is intimidated or pushed around or whatever.”

■ Needs be someone that “I know well and that I trust,” Roper said. “There are many other issues that are important issues facing the institutions that are a part of the University of North Carolina system, and I want, once having made this decision and announced it, I want to be able to turn my attention to those other things instead of having to look over the person’s shoulder who is here.”

Several board members also weighed in on the search.

Vice Chairman Vern Davenport agreed the interim chancellor needs to be someone who can come in and take action. He also said that health care investments, economic growth, execution and performance and teamwork were things to consider.

He also brought up ECU’s athletic program.

“Obviously you can’t say ECU without athletics coming into the conversation,” Davenport said. “We’re certainly at a point of transition where we’ve made some investments. Those investments need to be sustained.”

Board member Fielding Miller, who phoned into the meeting, said “the elephant in the room” that need to be addressed was how the university’s strained relationship with the UNC Board of Governors would change.

That comment prompted a quick response from Roper.

“I’m anxious to move us forward together, to do this in a way that is constructive and optimistic for the future, and that’s the attitude I’m bringing to this task,” he said. “The selection of the interim chancellor is a decision made by the president, and that’s me.”

Trustee Debra Davis, a veteran hospital executive, said that she and Roper, until recently the head of UNC Hospitals, have known each other for many years.

“I really agree with the characteristics that you (Roper) mentioned earlier and I would add to that there’s got to be somebody of high integrity and a backbone,” Davis said. “You’ve got to have very common leadership capacity and an ability to stand up for what’s right for ECU. Because we are challenged in a lot of ways.”

ECU Student Government President and Trustee Jordan Koonts said that that Staton’s replacement needs to be someone students can relate to.

“We need someone our students can connect with and understand,” Koonts said. “Someone that seems approachable. I see a lot of what’s happening at a lot of other campuses with student protests and things, and we’re fortunate here that we have an administration and faculty who students feel like they can approach and can utilize their outlets when they’re frustrated or feel like they’re not being served properly.”

He said ECU students are very involved and informed and “they’ll pick up on things if they feel like they’re not being served.”

As a first-generation college student, Roper said he understands the importance of being approachable.

ECU Board Chairman Kieran Shanahan said that the interim chancellor will be expected to hit the ground running.  

“I think the intention is they would absolutely be like a pilot in the cockpit,” Shanahan said. “They will be running the show. I think it’s fair that you would sort of look to people who are familiar with the university and eastern North Carolina and can step in and immediately hit the ground running.”

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.