Feb 252013




By Katherine Ayers

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Two East Carolina University professors will take their love of branding, advertising and social media all the way to the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday evening.

Tracy Tuten and Christy Ashley, both professors in ECU’s Business Department, will be studying how celebrity influence intersects with social influence in terms of social media.

“The Academy Awards are the second-most tweeted about event of the year,” Ashley said. “They’re a lot more flexible about giving people access (than other awards shows), but there’s still the most branding opportunities.”

Ashley, who teaches a class on human behaviors and marketing strategies, said the pair applied to attend the awards in September and were accepted in November. They will be seated in bleachers along the red carpet and primarily will focus on what brands the celebrities are wearing rather than on the celebrities themselves or in which movies they starred.

“We’re focused on the red carpet brands and how social media affects those brands,” Ashley said.

During the pre-show and event, people can follow each professor on Twitter at @brandacity (Tuten) and @drcashley (Ashley). During the event, they will be using the hashtag #redcarpetbrands.

Tuten and Ashley could not be more different in their expectations for the experience.

“I’m incredibly excited,” Tuten said. “If I wasn’t going to the Oscars with Christy, I would be dressed at home in my media room, having baked a red velvet cake and would have set aside my day to watch the red carpet arrivals.”

Ashley said she is so focused on the research part of the project she has not had a chance to get excited yet.

“Sometimes you do research and hypothesize one thing and it doesn’t work out, so that’s making knots in my stomach,” she said. “It’s a field study which makes the results more realistic but it’s like riding a bike with no hands.”

Tuten, who is teaching a class on advertising and social media marketing this semester, said researchers usually do a test run before an actual experiment.

“We would usually do a pre-test, fix the bugs (in the experiment) and then run a control,” Tuten said. “We don’t have that option this time.”

Tuten said she is interested in social media because it is constantly changing.

“It’s democratized the relationship between people and brands,” she said. “Any individual can reach out to a brand and have a voice.”

As an example, Tuten said a musician put together a song about his flight on United Airlines where they broke his guitar in transit, he wrote a song and uploaded it to YouTube. The airline company heard it and then flew him out to meet with their executive board.

Ashley said the most interesting piece of the brand puzzle for her is that brand loyalty will make people do “crazy” things.

“There’s a multibillion experiment that’s going on around us,” she said. “You can never really understand all the magic that’s associated with branding and as long as that’s true I’ll be interested in it,”

Before the Oscar research project, the pair had authored two papers together, both on how people communicate about brands using social media.

Contact Katherine Ayers at kayers@reflector.com and 252-329-9567. Follow her on Twitter @KatieAyersGDR.

Feb 252013


ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard speaks during a Ceremony of Unveiling for a statue serving as a memorial to students who passed away while attending ECU on Friday afternoon. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard speaks during a Ceremony of Unveiling for a statue serving as a memorial to students who passed away while attending ECU on Friday afternoon. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

By Katherine Ayers

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The East Carolina University community unveiled a memorial sculpture and garden on Friday to honor students who passed away while attending the university.

The unveiling took place after the Board of Trustees quarterly meeting where they unanimously voted to move forward with the two proposed student centers, one on main campus and one on the health sciences campus.

According to an ECU news release, the board is scheduled to hear an update on programming and funding for the centers this fall. The university will then seek approval for the centers from the UNC General Administration and Board of Governors. Construction could begin as early as Fall 2014.

ECU sophomore fine arts student Trey Martin designed the scuplture and said it includes stone from a quarry in Mount Airy to symbolize a strong foundation, a broken disk to symbolize the circle of life that got interrupted and three doves “which have lots of symbolism.” The statue stands 12 feet high, and Martin said it is designed to feel as if the doves are looking down on those who pass by.

Martin’s sculpture was chosen by ECU students from three finalists.

Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor of Student Affairs, said she thought of the idea of a sculpture garden after she realized the school had no way to honor students who had died.

“Two or three years ago, we actually had a young man who was killed in battle,” Hardy said. “I realized we didn’t have a place on campus for students to congregate and talk with each other about their (feelings).

“We needed a sculpture that would fit with this memorial garden,” she said. “We needed it to give the message of serenity, meditation and reflection.”

Matt Paske, Student Government Association president, said the memorial garden reminds people that once they become part of the ECU family, they will always be remembered.

“Every day we go to class here and during orientation, we’re told that once you’re a Pirate, you’re always a Pirate,” he said. “We’re blessed now that we have that memorial garden outside that we really can say we’re forever Pirates.”

Nancy Ball is the parent of a Geography Department masters student, Katie, who died five years ago from cancer.

“When you look at the sculpture you see two images, one depicting lost of life and one representing hope and life and beauty,” Ball said. “The garden is a tribute to the students we have lost, but it’s also a place of refuge for all our students and faculty.

“It’s a great comfort for the families who have lost loved ones to know that the Pirate Nation remembers them in this very special place,” she said.

Hardy said the university also is in the process of developing and “emergency fund” to assist the families and friends of students who die while at ECU. The fund could help parents travel to ECU from other states or help campus friends of a student travel to attend a memorial service or funeral for that student.

Contact Katherine Ayers at kayers@reflector.com and 252-329-9567.

Follow her on Twitter @KatieAyersGDR.


Feb 252013


By Wesley Brown

Sunday, February 24, 2013 

With studies suggesting polling locations can influence the outcome of an election, some City Council members suspect that the push for an early-voting site on East Carolina University’s campus is part of a larger effort to “politicize” the Greenville municipal ballot in November.

In the past, local officials seldom paused to ponder polling places, but recently the decision on whether to add a one-stop voting site in Greenville has initiated some debate by council members.

Some representatives argue such an expansion would help the city reach its goal of becoming more inclusive; others believe it is a tactic by those possibly seeking re-election to tip the scales in their favor.

Already delayed a week for more empirical data on voter trends, population density and special accommodations required of polling sites, the council will resume debate Monday on whether a location at ECU would be an egalitarian approach to increasing voter turnout.

“We are trying to engage the folks who attend school here in the election process,” said District 5 Councilman Max Joyner, who made the motion for the city to pay for an early voting site on the ECU campus. “I cannot believe that anybody would want to exclude anyone who lives in Greenville from voting.”

Thinking inclusive

Joyner said the reasoning for his request gets back to the city’s main goal of being inclusive.

A polling station at ECU would add a city-funded early-voting site in the 2013 municipal election.

Under its contract with the Pitt County Board of Elections, the city has agreed to pay for a centrally located one-stop voting site on West Fifth Street in each of the last two municipal elections.

At a budgeted cost of about $2,900, the station is housed in the Pitt Area Transit System conference room and runs for a week alongside the county-approved sites at the agricultural center and community schools building.

“We are trying to get the people who live in the city of Greenville involved and one way to do that is through putting the polling places near where they live, work and shop,” Joyner said.

At-large Councilman Dennis Mitchell seconded the motion as a way to increase voter turnout, which in the past municipal election Joyner found to be “pathetic.”

In the presidential election in 2012, turnout at ECU’s Willis Building was 17.5 percent, a precinct total that nearly matched the 18 percent of registered voters who cast a ballot in all of the 2011 municipal election.

Joyner and Mitchell said they want to keep the momentum going, but the theory that polling locations within a short distance from classroom doors and student centers can generate more interest in local government is seen by some as flawed.

In the 2011 municipal election, 114 people, or 5 percent of registered voters in Pitt County, cast their ballots at the Willis Building — a 30 percent decrease from the 2012 presidential election.

It is statistics such as that which lead District 3 Councilwoman Marion Blackburn to suspect “other motives are being served to politicize the election” with this request.

Location, location

The house-buyer’s maxim also applies to polling places.

That’s the thought of Blackburn, who has indicated that where people vote is important to ensuring an “egalitarian” election.

Scholarly studies suggest that not only does the physical location of the polls affect how many people vote, it also may influence last-minute decisions regarding which box to mark.

An analysis of the 2000 presidential election published in the journal of Political Geography found that “for each 1-mile increase in proximity to the polling place, turnout jumped by nearly half a percentage point.”

Further, a 2008 paper published by three researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Business showed more than half of the people who voted at schools supported issues and candidates who supported education-related measures.

Blackburn called the recommendation to quickly approve an early-voting site in her district on ECU’s campus “unprecedented” and “disingenuous.”

“This came completely out of left field and is taking us out of the domain of what a reasonable and responsible duty of a council is,” Blackburn said.

Originally the only city-funded early-voting site listed on last week’s agenda for the council to discuss was the previously approved station at Pitt Area Transit’s conference quarters on West Fifth Street.

The lack of public input, empirical evidence and a recommendation from the director of the Pitt County Board of Elections — the steps relied on in the past to approve one-stop stations — persuaded the council to approve a motion by District 4 Councilman Calvin Mercer to postpone a vote on the matter.

“We say we want to be an inclusive community and I thought even an inclusive council,” Blackburn said. “But this (request) concerns me greatly.”


Blackburn said to truly serve the city, the council should select a site that “genuinely allows everyone to vote,” such as the newly constructed Drew Steele Center on Elm Street.

As the only ECU graduate student on the council, Blackburn said she has been active in various campus activities and that the Drew Steele Center will increase voter turnout across all segments of the community — students, senior citizens and the handicapped population. The recreational facility satisfies the American with Disabilities Act, has ample parking, is highly visible in the community and has city bus access.

Mercer said that while he supported an increase in voting sites — including ones which are city-funded — he declined to speak for or against any particular polling place. Instead, the councilman said the selection process is not something political entities should control.

“We have elected officials who could be on the ballot in November making important decisions — like where polling places should be — that could very well determine the outcome of the election,” Mercer said. “This is a decision for the Board of Elections and I think that for this council to engage in site selection is politicizing a process in a way that is the very kind of thing that fosters mistrust in government on the part of our citizens.

“Elected officials should not be putting their thumbs on the scales in this kind of way,” Mercer said.

Mercer said he wants the council to go about site selection in a “rational process.” Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas reminded the board that a site at ECU, or anywhere in the city, could take in voters countywide. City attorney Dave Holec said before any location is approved it must be pre-cleared by the state and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mitchell said he thought the council would be all in on the site, challenging those against the recommendation, some which were for the location during national elections, to make their case Monday.

“Take a week,” Mitchell said. “I want to see the Democratic Party and any community organizers we work with closely to come stand in front of us and say they do not want this location on campus and for what reason.

“The only reason they do not want to is because it is political,” Mitchell said. “We should encourage everybody to vote.”


Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or wbrown@reflector.com. Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.


Feb 252013


Edith Warren looks at a flower in bloom in her backyard last week. Warren enjoyes gardening in her spare time. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

Edith Warren looks at a flower in bloom in her backyard last week. Warren enjoyes gardening in her spare time. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

By Ginger Livingston

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The start of the 2013-14 N.C. General Assembly finds Marian McLawhorn and Edith Warren at home for the first time in 14 years.

The former state representatives said they are watching the Republican legislative agenda with interest but are pursuing the hobbies and family activities they had postponed.

“I am past that need to constantly be out and about,” Warren said. “Being quiet with a book is just as good.”

Warren and McLawhorn each served seven terms in the General Assembly’s House of Representatives after winning their first elections in 1998.

Warren, 76, announced her retirement after redistricting moved her district’s boundaries from Martin and Pitt counties to Pitt and Wilson counties.

It is the first time since Warren started teaching 52 years ago that she has not been on a schedule.

Marian McLawhorn works on a painting at her home in Grifton last week. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

Marian McLawhorn works on a painting at her home in Grifton last week. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

“It’s a strange feeling that when you go to bed you don’t have to set the clock,” Warren said.

McLawhorn, 70, ran for an eighth term in 2012 but was defeated by Republican newcomer Brian Brown.

When election night came and she realized she lost, McLawhorn said she was disappointed “for about five seconds.” Then another realization took hold.

“I realized I had my life back,” she said. “The fact that I don’t have to be up there in Raleigh, trying to change things when I know I will be outvoted. I don’t need that anymore.”

She said she ran for re-election because she believed Pitt County needed an experienced legislator. She also was motivated by her supporters, the individuals who gave their time and money to the campaign.

McLawhorn and Warren, both Democrats, said they are dismayed by the legislation being pursued by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature.

“I am disappointed at some things they are doing,” Warren said. She was surprised a bill was introduced giving the governor and legislative leaders the ability to remove people from boards and commissions before their term is completed.

“You have no continuity, no institutional knowledge and to me that can’t be a good thing,” Warren said.

McLawhorn said she cannot believe legislators are rejecting the Medicaid expansion that would add 600,000 uninsured North Carolinians to the insurance program. The federal government will fully fund the addition for three years and then the state will cover more of the cost in the coming years.

“Here in the eastern part of the state, where we know we need better health care opportunities and have worked so hard for that, it’s been so upsetting for me,” McLawhorn said. “I hope the (state) House of Representatives has second thoughts.”

Both women also were surprised by McCrory’s statements that the university system’s funding model should be changed to reward schools with the largest number of graduates getting jobs. During a radio interview last month, McCrory also offered views about the role of liberal arts education in the public university system.

“I don’t think he meant to say it quite that way,” McLawhorn said. “Surely he didn’t mean to say it quite that way. It’s easy to get caught up in the tone of a radio show.”

A liberal arts education gives people a chance to pursue knowledge beyond their chosen career and its skill set, leading to a more well-founded person, McLawhorn said.

“I can’t even describe (my reaction),” Warren said. “I was quite surprised.”

Business and industry want flexible employees who can adapt to ever-changing work environments, Warren said. “That’s what you get from a liberal arts education.”

Warren said her greatest concern is that many Republican legislators, because they did not grow up in North Carolina, and do not recognize how the University of North Carolina system enabled North Carolinians to advance economically.

“When I think about my own situation, I grew up on a tobacco farm north of Bethel. We lived on my granddaddy’s farm, but we were sharecropper farmers like everyone else,” Warren said. East Carolina University made it possible for her to pursue a degree in education while caring for a young family.

“I think we need to be committed to that original mission of making education accessible to all citizens of the state,” Warren said.

While they are out of the daily committee meetings and vote, the General Assembly still occupies some of their time.

Both women are sorting the items and paperwork they collected as legislators, deciding what will be thrown away, what will be kept and what eventually may be donated.

“I’m going to organize,” McLawhorn said. “I’ve been watching this stuff on HGTV (Home and Garden Television), and I think, ‘I can do that.’”

Warren said she is enjoying the flexibility of her new schedule. She has the time to do things like bake a cake for a friend who is coming for an afternoon visit. She can participate in events such as Read Across America — a series of events to motivate children and teenagers to read — without the worry of missing a committee meeting or a floor vote. She also is ready to work on her neglected gardens.

McLawhorn has started painting, an activity she has watched her husband pursue for years. She said it is addictive. She is looking forward to having more time to travel so she can visit her children and grandchildren out of state. She is looking forward to never missing another family vacation because the legislative session lasted all summer.

“I’m just extremely happy to be where I am right now in my life,” McLawhorn said. “People can’t believe it until they see me and see my smile.”

McLawhorn and Warren said they still are getting calls from former constituents seeking advice on issues. They also field the occasional question about their political futures.

“I don’t see (running for office) in the near future,” Warren said.

McLawhorn said while she does not plan to run again, she won’t completely rule out the possibility.

“You just never know. I just got out of it and enjoy what I’m doing now,” McLawhorn said. “My life is full at the moment. I’m the kind of person that if I get bored I’ll find something.”

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

Feb 252013


Photo by Cliff Hollis/ECU News ServicesDirector of Student Media at ECU John Harvey, right, makes a point during a recent meeting of the Student Media Board. Harvey previously spent 17 years as a newspaper editor and 15 years leading student media at Georgia Southern University and Penn State.

Photo by Cliff Hollis/ECU News ServicesDirector of Student Media at ECU John Harvey, right, makes a point during a recent meeting of the Student Media Board. Harvey previously spent 17 years as a newspaper editor and 15 years leading student media at Georgia Southern University and Penn State.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

East Carolina University has turned to a longtime journalism educator known for training young journalists and building newsrooms to take over its student media program.

John L. Harvey, whose career includes 17 years as a newspaper editor and 15 years in student media, has been appointed director of student media at the university. He began his new duties on Feb. 4.

“I am extremely excited about this opportunity,” Harvey said. “I’ve been impressed with the students, staff and administration, their commitment and vision, and I feel confident East Carolina is ready to forge ahead in a renewed effort to build a professional and well-trained student media.”

The Office of Student Media oversees The East Carolinian student newspaper, Rebel literary magazine, Buccaneer yearbook, WZMB radio station and Expressions magazine.

Harvey, 59, most recently served as director of student media at Georgia Southern University. In his two years there, he restructured the university’s program, revamped the newspaper and its website, and established a successful recruitment and training program. The results include an overall 35 percent increase in ad revenues, 19 percent hike in newspaper readership and 310 percent growth in staff membership. This year, the newspaper, The George-Anne, earned 14 state awards, including one for best statewide website in the site’s first year of operation.

Prior to Georgia Southern, Harvey served as news adviser from 1998-2010 for The Daily Collegian, the student newspaper covering the Penn State community. During that time, his students earned more than 400 regional, state and national journalism awards.

Among the more than 1,000 young journalists Harvey has trained are professionals working in media across the country, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Baltimore Sun, CNN, Fox Sports, NPR, Glamour, Seventeen and Redbook. One former student earned a 2011 Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, the youngest journalist to ever win that award.

Harvey also was included in a 2007 PBS documentary titled “The Paper” that documented one academic year in the life of the Penn State student newspaper. The TV film aired on Independent Lens and has since been used as a training tool by several university journalism departments and the State Department.

At ECU, Harvey is expected to institute the semester-long recruiting and training program for first-time journalists developed at Penn State and used with great success at Georgia Southern. Called the Candidate Program, it provides a multi-layered approach to journalism training that both builds staffs and trains young reporters and editors. On several occasions, he has given presentations on the program at national conferences.

Harvey offered words of praise for Frank Barrows, the longtime Charlotte Observer managing editor who until recently served as interim adviser at ECU.

“Frank did a terrific job in connecting with the students and identifying areas in which the student newspaper could improve,” Harvey said. “I hope he is willing to continue that ECU connection as we go forward. He is an invaluable resource, and Student Media owes him a great debt of gratitude.”

Prior to becoming a journalism educator, Harvey held a variety of positions with newspapers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, including city editor, editorial page editor, managing editor and executive editor. He also wrote columns and editorials for 12 years, winning several Keystone Press Awards. He still writes an occasional freelance column, most recently for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Savannah Morning News.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Waynesburg (Pa.) College and a master’s degree in media studies from Penn State. His graduate thesis centered on student journalism education.

Symposium focuses on health disparities

Learn how community campus partnerships, new technologies and social media can be used to help reduce health disparities and increase access to care at the ninth annual Jean Mills Health Symposium on March 1.

The symposium, titled “Enhancing Minority Health in the New Millennium,” will include sessions on the use of social media, apps and electronic records to enhance and track health and health care, the effect of the physical environment on health, health care reform after the 2012 election, and examples of partnerships in health between communities and ECU.

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., and the symposium will be held from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. in the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU, 115 Heart Drive.

The keynote speaker will be Janice C. Probst, director of the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center. Probst is a professor in the Department of Health Services Policy and Management in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. She has extensive experience in health services research with an emphasis on rural and vulnerable populations.

The luncheon presenter will be Bambang Parmanto, professor of health information management, biomedical informatics and clinical translational science at the University of Pittsburgh. His research is in the areas of telehealth, mobile health, persuasive technologies and data mining.

Registration is $40 for the public, ECU faculty and staff, and $25 for students and includes all program supplies, refreshment breaks and lunch. Continuing education units are available. Register online atwww.ecu.edu/dcs/mills.cfm or call the ECU Office of Continuing Studies at 328-9198.

The event is presented by the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences in collaboration with the ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation and the ECU Office of Continuing Studies.

The symposium’s namesake, Jean Elaine Mills, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977 and a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in community health from ECU in 1984. She died from breast cancer in 2000.

Amos T. Mills III, Jean’s brother, created the symposium in an effort to keep her spirit of discovery and community outreach alive through an inspirational tribute to her former graduate school instructor, Dr. Donald Ensley, former chairman of the Department of the Community Health in the College of Allied Health Sciences.

Allied and public health providers, community residents and leaders, nurses, dentists, physicians, other health care providers, faith-based organizations, and ECU faculty and students are encouraged to attend.

Individuals with disabilities requesting accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact the Department for Disability Support Services at 328-6799 (V) or 328-0899 (TTY).


Upcoming events

  • Thursday: “Beyond the Bricks” documentary screening and discussion, 7 p.m., Hendrix Theatre. The forum will feature a panel discussion on efforts to improve black male achievement in eastern North Carolina, led by film director Derek Koen and Dr. Ivory Toldson, founder of the “Beyond the Bricks Project.” Free and open to the public.
  • Thursday: School of Art and Design’s Global Awareness lecture presented by Barbara Trent, filmmaker, activist and grassroots organizer, “Waging Peace in a Global World,” 7 p.m., Speight Auditorium in Jenkins Fine Arts Center. Free.



Feb 252013



Zachary “Zack” Grey Willets


Mr. Zachary “Zack” Grey Willets, 23, died Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. He was a National Guardsman and volunteered to serve in Afghanistan. He attended East Carolina University and was a student at Pitt Community College.

Memorial service at later date. Arrangements by Smith Funeral & Cremation Services. Online condolences at www.smithfcs.com.

via Zachary “Zack” Grey Willets Obituary: View Zachary Grey Willets’s Obituary by The Daily Reflector.

Feb 252013

starnewsStarNews Online

One of Vicky Smith’s work in “Collected Clay,” on display at the 621N4TH gallery in Wilmington.

By Justin Lacy
StarNews Correspondent
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 8:55 a.m.

The land of North Carolina hangs on nine wooden panels along a long wall in Wilmington’s 621N4TH gallery. It’s not just representational, with strips of the state map stretched across the panels from the mountainous west to the flat coastal east, but literal, too: The panels are caked in a wide color spectrum of North Carolina clay, collected from Boone to Wilmington by local artist Vicky Smith.

“I tried to keep it true to what clays you can find there,” Smith said of her nine-panel piece, “North Carolina Clay,” the highlight of her solo exhibition, “Collected Clay,” on display at 621N4TH through March. “That and trying to keep the landscape. The white clay in Seagrove is like the sand hills. I wanted the green to represent the trees, and the blue is getting down to the coast and all the water that we have in this state.”

With support from the North Carolina Arts Council and with additional funding from local arts councils in Cumberland, Moore, New Hanover and Robeson counties, Smith spent 10 days in March 2012 traveling across the state to meet with regional potters and collect a rainbow of indigenous clay. Upon her return, Smith added glue to the red, orange, yellow, green, blue and pink clays and arranged them to dry out on wooden panels. The result is highly textured, primordial wall art, peppered with rocks and minerals, and crackled with dried-up-mud-like fissures. Those crackles are Smith’s favorite feature, an element that’s entirely up to chance.

Smith began making functional ceramic pieces in high school. She stepped away from clay for years, but became re-interested in the medium after taking classes with local pottery guru Hiroshi Sueyoshi.

purplearrowShe studied art at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, then went to East Carolina University for her masters degree. It was in graduate school that she began using the clay found in her personal clay mine on property she inherited from her grandparents in Greene County.

“It’s just this big giant hole in the ground, but you know, it’s out in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “So, a fox will walk through there every once in a while, and I’ll have all the trees and the birds around there, so I like to keep that like it is as much as possible, so the nature can be there.”

Feb 252013
Published: February 23, 2013
UNC’s next leader has challenges ahead
By Jane Stancill — jstancill@newsobserver.com

After two tumultuous years and the departure of UNC-Chapel Hill’s top administrative team, a new leader chosen this spring will have a big hand in determining whether the university’s path forward is rocky or smooth.

The man or woman chosen to lead the nation’s first public university to admit students will have to heal the damage from athletic, academic and fundraising scandals, while forging ahead with an ambitious to-do list at a time of rapid change in higher education. The next chancellor will have to confront a new political environment in Raleigh and answer questions from an accrediting agency, all while keeping an eye on recent athletic and academic reforms meant to keep trouble at bay.

Also on the radar is a multiyear fundraising campaign, which is expected to be a huge focus for the next chancellor, requiring travel and entertainment to woo donors.

On Friday, a search committee met for hours to discuss the field of candidates vying to succeed Holden Thorp, who said last September he would resign as chancellor at the end of the academic year. Last week, Thorp surprised the campus with the news that instead of returning to the chemistry classroom in Chapel Hill, he would start as provost at Washington University in St. Louis on July 1.

His impending departure has focused attention on who will move into his office in the historic South Building. The search appears to be on schedule, though little else is known about the committee’s deliberations. Early on, members were asked to sign a pledge of secrecy.

Wade Hargrove, trustee chairman and head of the search committee, said the heavy lifting is under way to pare the number of candidates.

“We do have a very deep and impressive pool,” he said, “and I think it speaks favorably about the standing which the university at Chapel Hill has among leaders of higher education.”

It takes a special breed to want to take on the role, Hargrove said.

“It really is a difficult job under the best circumstances. … We’re in a period of scarce resources; the need for accountability by universities has never been greater,” he said. “Hard questions are being asked and there’s certainly a need for extraordinary leadership … not only at Chapel Hill but any university today.”

A push on athletics

Part of the chancellor’s challenge will be to gain momentum as an entire leadership team is hired. The university is also looking for a provost, who runs the day-to-day academic operation, and a chief fundraiser to replace Matt Kupec, who resigned after revelations that he misspent university money on personal travel with his girlfriend, the mother of a former UNC basketball star. The school’s top spokeswoman, Nancy Davis, retired this month after 30 years at the university.

Steven Bachenheimer, a professor of microbiology and immunology, said as the search for a new leader continues, faculty are concerned about the typical issues – funding to recruit and retain faculty, the possible loss of federal research dollars and how to pursue e-learning without sacrificing quality. But there is a difference this time around, he said.

Many faculty want to see the university take a national role in initiating change in Division I athletics, so that academics and athletics can better co-exist, he said.

“I think that’s really an important issue for a lot of people,” said Bachenheimer, one of three professors who conducted a special review of the academic fraud scandal and called for independent experts to review the school’s academic-athletic balance.

That conversation begins next month with the kickoff of a dialogue on campus led by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, a prestigious national group. Bachenheimer hopes the effort could lead to a larger agreement among university presidents about how to deal with big-time athletics.

“I think we’re seeing more and more instances where presidents or chancellors are worried about the value of Division I athletics, to the extent that when things go wrong, it tarnishes the image,” he said. “A lot of faculty would agree that it’s time for presidents to seize control of Division I athletics from the NCAA. I think the NCAA plays way too big a role in it.”

Survey: Preserve academics

A recent survey of alumni, faculty, staff, students and others showed there is no appetite for compromising the university’s academic reputation following the internal and external investigations into a wide-ranging academic fraud scandal in the African and Afro-American Studies department. The online survey was conducted in November and December by the university for the search committee.

Preserving academic excellence was identified as a top priority for the next leader by 73 percent who answered the survey. Participants were asked to choose five areas from a list of 20 that the next chancellor should focus on. After academic excellence, the top picks were: retaining the best faculty and staff; remaining a leader in national higher education; maintaining affordability; and securing the financial resources necessary to sustain excellence.

Only 22 percent said preserving athletic excellence should be a major goal for the next leader, while 19.5 percent said understanding the role of athletics was among the top five characteristics needed in the next chancellor.

Mimi Chapman, professor of social work at the university, said an academic background is necessary but not enough. It will take someone with a thick skin who can handle the inevitable crises.

“If you took any organization, it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t skeletons to be uncovered everywhere,” she said. “Hopefully, there are no more at UNC. It just seems like it is part of the nature of the beast that we have big complex organizations, that there is no way to know everything that’s going on every place. You have to do your best learning about what kind of systems to put in place to make people accountable, and then you have to solve problems as they come up.”

A question of salary

In a letter, Doug Dibbert, president of UNC-CH’s General Alumni Association, advised the search committee to anticipate the unknown challenges the next chancellor will confront. He said former Chancellor James Moeser had told the last search committee that the main issues for his successor would be enrollment growth, recruiting new faculty, competition for research funding and finding money for new programs.

None of those turned out to be front and center for Thorp, who instead faced an 18 percent state budget cut in 2011-12 and an NCAA investigation into athletics, plus the ensuing academic fraud inquiries.

Dibbert also cautioned the panel not to get caught up in the higher education arms race with leaders who demand big salaries. The university has a special relationship with the state, as evidenced by generous taxpayer support, equivalent to the revenue from a $10 billion endowment, Dibbert reminded.

“Anyone you might wish to consider who insists that Carolina match or better their current $700,000 or more salary should be dismissed from further consideration because that expectation alone confirms that they don’t understand our university,” Dibbert wrote. “They would not be a good fit for our campus. Further, what is viewed by the public as an excessive compensation package would likely jeopardize the generous state support we have enjoyed for many, many years.”

The salary issue will certainly come up.

N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson last month got a 14.6 percent raise, a $112,630 “retention payment” and a retirement savings plan equal to 10 percent of his salary after he was rumored to be a finalist for the University of Florida presidency.

Woodson’s annual salary is now $495,000; Thorp’s is $432,600.

Hargrove said the committee’s search consultant, Bill Funk, has told them that it is harder to find leaders who want a university president’s job.

“What we’re hearing is that provosts in many institutions are saying, ‘No, I don’t want to move up. These jobs are too demanding, they’re too complicated, … I don’t need that grief in my life,’ ” Hargrove said.

Gretchen Bataille, senior vice president of the American Council on Education’s division of leadership and lifelong learning, said about 40 percent of college presidents are former provosts. But fewer want the top post now, because they’ve seen the president’s role up close, she said.

The good news is that Thorp has put into place changes meant to prevent and detect future academic fraud, Bataille said. The next leader will have to pay attention and be transparent but can also start anew.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for someone to say, ‘I can sort of put things back right again.’ ”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

- – - – - -

UNC-Chapel Hill


$2.4 billion Annual budget

29,000 Students

3,300 Faculty members

8,300 Staff workers

300 Buildings on campus

258 Number of bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional degree programs

9 National ranking in federal research dollars

1 Chancellor sought to run the university