Vern Davenport fixed

East Carolina University Board of Trustees Chairman Vern Davenport announces the members of the new chancellor search committee and discusses the process on Friday.

Having a new chancellor in place when the 2020 fall semester begins is the goal of the newly appointed East Carolina University search committee, the Board of Trustees chairman said Friday.

Vern Davenport announced the 20 individuals who will make up the committee. A dozen members, including Davenport, who will chair the committee, are ECU alumni. Other members include Greenville City Manager Ann Wall, Vidant Medical Center President Brian Floyd, ECU faculty, staff and administrators and the university’s Student Government Association president.

UNC System interim President Bill Roper will give the committee its charge at its first meeting, scheduled for 11 a.m. on Dec. 10 in Room 249 of the Main Campus Student Center.

“Our next chancellor is going to need the broadest support possible from all Pirate Nation and it was in that context that members of the search committee were chosen,” Davenport said.

Not everyone can serve on the committee, he said, but everyone can participate by offering feedback through a website outlining the process, https://chancellorsearch.ecu.edu, or by participating in listening sessions that will begin early in the new year.

“I’ll tell you, already there are people interested in this job ... we are not starting from scratch,” Davenport said.

There has been speculation that former Raleigh mayor and current UNC Board of Governors member Tom Fetzer and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore have expressed interest in the chancellor’s job. When asked if they were among the interested individuals, Davenport said, “I addressed that in my comments; this is a confidential search.”

ECU is searching for a new chancellor because Cecil Staton resigned in March after serving nearly three years filled with controversy about the university’s athletics program and the purchase of a new house for the chancellor.

Dan Gerlach, who was appointed interim chancellor following Staton’s resignation, publicly expressed interest in the permanent position. He resigned in October after photographs and videos emerged showing him drinking with young people in several downtown bars and later driving home.

“A chancellor’s search is a key moment in the life of our institution and I can tell you this particular search seems particularly important,” said Jeff Popke, chairman of ECU’s faculty senate, during his presentation to the Board of Trustees.

Faculty morale is low because of years without “meaningful” pay raises, instability and negative press, he said.

“To faculty, it feels like we’ve lost the ability to shape a positive narrative of ECU and the great work and accomplishments of our faculty and students can’t gain the attention that they deserve,” Popke said. “We feel the right leader can foster the shared vision and collaborative spirit that will engage and empower faculty for a new era of ECU success.”

If the new chancellor emerges from a process that is perceived to be predetermined or tainted by political influence, there is a risk of alienating faculty and creating lasting damage to the university, he said.

Popke said faculty should have an opportunity to engage with individuals on the short list of candidates.

“Doing so will not only add valuable information to the search process but it will allow the successful candidate to build the connections with faculty that she or he will need to be successful,” he said.

UNC System policy allows “confidential or closed searches,” Davenport said.

“This is critical to protect the identity of the applicants. Conducting confidential searches is intended to maximize the quality of the candidate pool,” he said. The system doesn’t want to exclude individuals who might not apply if the candidate pool is publicly disclosed.

The policy directs the search committee to develop a pool of candidates of “exceptionally well-qualified individuals of both traditional academic experience as well as candidates with alternative backgrounds in business, industry, government, military and not-for-profit sector,” Davenport said. The committee also is being asked to focus on candidates with North Carolina connections “including an internal talent pool of the University of North Carolina System.”

The committee will make recommendations to the full East Carolina University Board of Trustees, which will vote on candidates to recommend to Roper. At least two candidates will be forwarded to him, Davenport said.

Roper then either will recommend a candidate to the UNC System Board of Governors for final approval or ask ECU to continue looking.

The process is expected to take six to nine months.

Tuition/fee increases

The trustees approved a $134 tuition rate increase and a $77 fee increase for new undergraduate students starting the 2020 fall semester.

SGA President Colin Johnson was the only board member who voted against the increase.

While the SGA supported the tuition increase and the non-mandatory fee increases, the organization didn’t support the $50 athletic fee increase or the 3 percent increase in renovated residence hall fees.

“We expressed some serious concerns about the sustainability of the athletics budget and how it affects student auxilities, how it affects dining, housing and all those different areas,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the students.”

“Nobody likes to raise fees, however we think it is the right thing at this time,” said Bob Plybon, chairman of the board’s finance and facilities committee.

Economic development

“We had a great meeting but I can’t tell you about it because it was all in closed session,” said Max Joyner Jr., chairman of the board’s Research and Economic Development ad hoc committee.

The committee met in closed session on Thursday, citing state statutes governing the discussion of economic development incentives and the purchase or sale of property. Joyner had all vice-chancellors and administrators not directly involved in the discussion leave the room. At least one group of individuals were observed entering the committee meeting after the closed session started.

No action was taken when the board re-convened in open session.

Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson inadvertently may have revealed part of the discussion during his comments at Friday’s meeting.

“Yesterday (Thursday) we talked about the millennial campus and its future development. It’s so important, it has been in the wings waiting and I think it’s just about time to unleash it,” Mitchelson said. “I am hopeful we’ll have more news on that. I’m glad we got the green light yesterday to continue with negotiations with the developers.”

The millennial campus was not discussed in open session at any other committee meeting held Thursday.

Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Sara Thorndike reported during the September Board of Trustees committee meetings that the university was working on a potential memorandum of understanding to create a public-private partnership to develop a project in the Warehouse District, which encompasses land between Clark Street and the Dickinson Avenue corridor.

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