East Carolina University has 28,650 undergraduate and graduate students — 540 in the schools of medicine and dentistry. There are 2,075 full and part-time faculty — not to mention hundreds of administrators and staff.
It should be recognized as a world-class institution of higher education — and certainly has nearly all the ingredients.
Instead it has emerged as the portrait of disfunction in higher education — from the mismanagement of the UNC Board of Governors who oversee the system to the local ECU Board of Trustees and the dizzying revolving door in the chancellor’s office — three occupants in the last eight months.
Top all of that off with the recent meddling in the campus election for student body president by ECU trustees Phil Lewis and Robert Moore — an ethical breach if not a legal one. It is a demoralizing disaster. If not quickly and effectively addressed, it could do lasting harm to an institution critical to the economy, health and quality of life of the eastern part of the state.
“It is difficult to overstate the level of outrage that was expressed on our campus, and there is a clear sense among faculty that their behavior not only violated UNC System policy, but also runs counter to the values of our community and the minimal expectations for responsible and ethical Board (of Trustees) conduct,” said Jeff Popke a geography professor and chair of the ECU faculty Senate.
The best administrators, top-notch teachers, students and researchers won’t tolerate such chaos. They will go elsewhere — places where the focus is on education, not bureaucratic manipulation and meddling.
Instead of a focus on intramural politics, trustees at ECU and the UNC system administration need to focus on finding, hiring — and keeping — a top-notch educator and administrator to run East Carolina University. Our public universities deserve leadership that focus on the needs of our students, faculty and the communities they serve. They shouldn’t have to constantly worry about UNC system bureaucrats or demonstrating their loyalty to the leadership of the General Assembly.
The mixed messages out of the UNC Board of Governors were apparent when last week Board member Tom Fetzer led a governance committee vote to take no action against Lewis and Moore for their activity. Two days later, the full UNC board reversed Fetzer and voted to censure ECU Trustee Moore. Lewis resigned as a trustee before the full board could force his removal.
Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey said the ECU trustees have been dysfunctional for years and that “if I could remove the entire board today, I probably would.”
The entire matter has led the UNC board to embark on a formal review of discipline procedures as well as look into making sure campus student elections are not subject to trustee tampering and interference.
The UNC board is micromanaging the actions of its president and chancellors. The current legal mess over the disposition of Silent Sam is the latest example. They transform manageable problems into a chaotic crisis.
Rather than spending energy plotting and infiltrating student politics ECU trustees need to devote their energies to recruiting a new chancellor. Find a great leader and then get out of the way.