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ECU trustees chairman: 'I believe the future is bright'

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Despite the challenges it currently faces, East Carolina University has a bright future, said the university’s outgoing chancellors and members of the Board of Trustees.

Chancellor Cecil Staton and members of the board used Friday’s quarterly meeting, likely the last time the existing group would meet, to talk about the university’s successes.

ECU needs the positive vision and the high standards of excellence that Staton brought to the university, Board Chairman Kieran Shanahan said.

Staton announced his resignation last month after enduring months of criticism over athletics decisions, an enrollment drop and a new house, among other issues. His resignation is effective on May 3 but he will remain until June 30 to advise the interim chancellor. 

“You held yourself with grace under fire, with class,” Shanahan said. “When you are in situations where adversity surrounds you, that’s when your values really show.”

Staton always said he would do what is best for the university, Shanahan said, “to me that speaks volumes about the man you are.”

Outgoing board member Edwin Clark said after meeting Staton and his wife during the candidate interview process, he believed the former Georgia legislator was a good fit for university and the greater community.

“My thoughts will always be (about) where Cecil’s leadership could have taken us,” he said. “You are an honorable man and we could have done worse.”

Clark said when the new trustees board begins the search process for a permanent chancellor, they should think about the dynamics between the individual and the community.

“One of the biggest things you are going to be challenged with is finding a person who fits the area, fits eastern North Carolina,” Clark said.

Kel Norman said it is sad to think about what could have been if Staton had continued his tenure.

“There has been a lot of negative perception out there but I can tell you, this is a wonderful university and we have wonderful students,” Norman said.

Outgoing Student Government Association President Jordan Koonts called Staton “a friend, a colleague and a mentor.” He thanked the trustees for their service, calling them “the most passionate Pirates and most passionate people I’ve ever known.”

“You’ve stood strong in the face of adversity, misinformation and sometimes in what we feel is overreach but what we have done is stay true in our mission to ECU,” he said.

The trustees, by acclamation, named Staton “chancellor emeritus,” a honorary title.

Shanahan and the trustees then shared their vision for the university and offered advice to the newly appointed trustees who will meet for the first time in July.

“ECU is a great university and it’s destiny is to be a great national university,” Shanahan said, adding he is always inspired by the work taking place.

The Board of Trustees’ greatest power lies in its ability to influence, but that influence is only possible when it speaks with one voice.

“It’s not to say that you don’t have healthy discourse or disagreement, you do … but at the end of the day once a decision is made the board should speak unanimously,” Shanahan said.

ECU, like every other university, has issues, he said. There will always be challenges, but the the university is fulfilling its mission and educating students and preparing them for graduation.

“I believe the future is bright. But as the say in the Navy, I wish you fair winds and following seas because they will surely come,” Shanahan said.

Mark Copeland said future trustees must fight to continue the university’s mission of educating students and providing eastern North Carolina access to better health care and growth.

“We have to build upon it in the future,” Copeland.

Staton said the success the individual trustees have experienced in business and their service to the university is a testament.

“You reflect well on what this university has become a vital key for North Carolina’s success, particularly the success in the growth in the workforce and economy,” he said.

It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback and second guess decisions, Staton said. “No one can argue with the outcome of where we are,” he said.

The university is on track to double its Honors College enrollment and to double the number of students who participate in study abroad programs, Staton said. A scholarship program also has been established to give $1,000 to incoming freshmen.

Initiatives have begun to increase enrollment at the Brody School of Medicine and to build a new medical school facility.

The university’s athletics program has a strong foundation.

“The vision I brought to ECU wasn’t really my vision, it was yours,” Staton said. “I hope you will not let that vision die. 

“The mission of changing lives and through changing lives changing the world is an enduring mission. It is one this university does so well and I am confident will continue to do well in the future,” Staton said.

The Board of Trustees also approved the following items:

■ The Board of Visitors’ recommendation to appoint John Cooper as the body’s new chairman, Will Litchfield as vice chairman and Linda Hofler as secretary. The trustees also approved the reappointment of 11 members and appointment on one new member.

■ The finalized contract of ECU Head Football Coach Mike Houston.

■ Revisions to the faculty serious illness leave policy.

■ Faculty tenure.

Committee meetings

The trustees received the following reports during their Thursday committee meetings:

■ John Mountz, director of Greek Life, presented a summary report from the Chancellor’s Task Force on Greek Life and outlines recommendations for improving the community.

Since April 2017 eight fraternities and sororities were removed from campus for various reasons. Staton established a task force in July to examine issues surrounding Greek Life.

Mountz said the report has four key recommendations; implementing a scorecard on organization performance that goes beyond current the process; creating a standards program’ establishing clear policies and procedures for recruiting members, the intake process and new member education and finally increasing alumni involvement.

Mountz said the task force committee found that fraternities and sororities with the greatest alumni involvement had the most success.

There also are discussions about how to recruit more faculty advisers for Greek organizations.

■ William McCartney, associate vice chancellor of campus living and dining services, updated the board on activities surrounding on campus housing.

The university loses an estimated $96,000 in residential and dining costs for every 10 beds empty beds on campus. In a later interview McCartney said he believes all the university’s residence hall beds will be filled in the fall semester, in part because the university was creating 100 single-bed rooms due to demand.

Between 2000 and 2025, the university will have invested $213 million in renovation costs so students have the same access to social and academic settings. The university also investing in updated security systems, McCartney said.

There is, however, a need to continue the university’s five-year capital planning process, he said, because delays will only increase construction prices.

In the coming fall semester the university will have differing rents because Legacy, Jones, Garrett, Umstead and Slay residence halls are dated and in need of renovation, he said, so rent for those halls won’t increase in the coming school year.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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