Trustee selections raising concerns
By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
The chairman of the ECU Board of Trustees raised concerns on Wednesday that the UNC Board of Governors chairman is ignoring recommendations to fill seats on the board in order to increase his influence and micromanage university affairs.
Kieran Shanahan — who also confirmed he is not seeking another term on the board — said trustees nominated candidates to fill four-year terms starting in July for consideration by the governance committee of the Board of Governors. Reports from Raleigh have indicated Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith is ignoring the recommendations, Shanahan said.
“What’s happened is the chairman of the Board of Governors seems to be circumventing that and sort of hand picking his own people without input from us and without following the process,” Shanahan said after a special called meeting of the trustees in Greenville.
Smith, an ECU graduate and Greenville businessman, said in a later interview that the governors are following a robust selection process to the letter of the law to choose candidates in the best interest of the university.
“I’m a bit surprised he is concerned, given his desire not to continue serving,” Smith said of Shanahan. “We have a process for all 17 of our schools where we vet, in great detail, the trustees. That would be skillset, commitment to the university and we have a team approach on that.”
Smith and the leadership at ECU have a combative relationship. Smith has criticized decisions over athletics and other matters at the university and he and Chancellor Cecil Staton have been at odds. The trustees board has expressed support for Staton, and recent athletics hires have heartened ECU fans.
More than 100 community leaders and ECU backers wrote a letter to the governors board in January that heaped praise on Staton and condemned “continuing frivolous charges” angling for his removal.
“He announced several months back that he wasn’t going to get involved in East Carolina but he never really stopped,” Shanahan said of Smith. “The board of governor’s people are supposed to meet and talk to the people we’ve suggested. None of that is happening. The word is already getting out to legislators on Jones Street and others that they’ve already got their slate.
“They’re not following the process,” Shanahan said. “They’re ignoring out attempts to try and follow through on the process. You have a very hyperactive chairman on the Board of Governors that’s trying to micromanage a university. Not following the process they’ve set up is very disheartening.”
The trustees board has 12 members plus the student government president who serves as an ex-officio member. Members may serve two four-year terms. Six terms end each odd-numbered year, according to UNC bylaws.
The General Assembly appoints two members — the House speaker recommends one and the Senate president pro-tem the other — and the Board of Governors selects four members to fill the terms.
Board members Edwin Clark and Deborah Davis have served two four-year terms and are not eligible for reappointment, according to ECU. Members Mark Copeland, Leigh Fanning, Kel Norman and Shanahan are eligible for new terms. Shanahan, who told fellow board members last month he would not seek reappointment, confirmed that was the case on Wednesday.
“It has been my distinct honor to have served on the ECU Board of Trustees and humbling to have served as its chairman,” Shanahan said in a note to other members. “... I will nonetheless continue to advocate for ECU, its mission and its importance to eastern North Carolina.”
Shanahan did not identify who the board nominated to fill the posts. He did say they nominated a person with medical knowledge to replace Davis, a former president of Pitt County Memorial Hospital, now Vidant Medical Center. He also noted that she and Fanning were the board’s only female members and hoped that the diversity they bring to the board would be maintained.
Smith said that he and the liaison to the trustees have communicated with the trustees vice chairman, Vernon Davenport, to discuss nominations and said a Friday meeting is planned
“His vice chair has been in communication with the liaison, so I think Kieran is somewhat out of the loop,” Smith said. “He should communicate with the liaison at ECU and I think that’s the proper path for him to do that.
“We’re doing 17 different boards right now; it’s not just East Carolina,” Smith said. “The governance committee handles all 17 schools. If you’ll notice, we have the same noise of one school. We’ve not had another chairman in the entire UNC System complain at all. Mr. Shanahan has not contacted the liaison and had a discussion with him. The proper process is for Keiran to contact the liaison at ECU and he’s not contacted him. If he’s got a concern, he should follow the proper governance process.”
Officials said the board appointments were not part of the discussion during Wednesday’s called meeting, most of which was held in closed session after the board voted to keep admission application fees for undergraduate and grad schools at $75.
The closed session reportedly was held to discuss personnel matters, an “ongoing confidential audit” and to consult with the university attorney.
Shanahan, who called into the meeting, said that discussion in the closed session was routine.
Editor Bobby Burns contributed to this report. Contact Tyler Stocks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9566.