UNC System President Tom Ross stepping down or being forced out?

Photo courtesy of  ncsunewsdept/flickr

Photo courtesy of ncsunewsdept/flickr

“Ross will leave earlier than he planned. His expected departure date January 2016”

By Emily Bruzzo, News Editor

Published in print Feb. 4, 2015

UNC-Greensboro isn’t the only one looking for a new leader.

On Jan. 16, the UNC board of governors announced that 31 out of its 32 members voted to replace current UNC President Tom Ross in January 2016.

Chairman John Fennebresque asserted that the decision about Ross, 64, wasn’t related to his age, had nothing to do with politics and wasn’t because Ross wasn’t doing a satisfactory job.

In fact, Fennebresque was more than complimentary of Ross’ leadership over the course of his four-year tenure as president.

With more questions than there are answers about the board’s decision, many educators, staff members and students across the system have been outraged over the lack of transparency.

Many media outlets, ranging from The Associated Press to the News and Observer, posit that Ross, a well-documented Democrat, is being forced out by the increasingly Republicanized board.

The Associated Press ran a story covering the board’s decision to restructure the committee system used for hiring new presidents, taking great care to emphasis that the conversations regarding these changes took place before the board’s meeting with Ross about his departure.

UNC system faculties, who have had a complicated relationship with Ross, have demanded that the board provide more answers.

The UNC faculty assembly submitted a resolution last week asking that the board “articulate the rationale for their stated need for a ‘transition in leadership…’”

It didn’t stop there, though.

Steve Leonard, the faculty assembly chair-elect, circulated around an email expressing his desire that the decision be reversed and his disappointment that the board refused to do so.

“This board has made it abundantly clear,” Leonard wrote, “that it does not respect the considered judgment of the University’s faculties, and that it intends to continue its current course of approving ill-conceived and ill-advised initiatives to reform policies and practices of the University.”

Leonard wasn’t the only one who wanted their voice to be heard, however.

Spoma Jovanovic, chair of UNCG’s faculty senate, circulated her own remarks in response to the UNC faculty assembly resolution, which she felt was lacking and misdirected.

“The Ross fiasco is part of a continued assault on public higher education,” Jovanovic asserted, “We may have our own thoughts, fears and concerns about what is to come, but underlying them all is that the BoG is operating with a heavy hand not just with Tom Ross, but through a focused agenda that started a few years back and continues with fervor.”

“That, I believe, should be the focus of the outrage,” Jovanovic concluded.

One of UNC-Greensboro’s professors, Hannah Mendoza, helped form a petition demanding the reversal of the board’s decision.

The petition had garnered 2,354 supporters as of Monday night, with only 146 more signatures needed to send it to the board.

Mendoza told The Carolinian, “There are many things that Tom Ross has done and said that I have disagreed with. I’m not upset about this because I think President Ross is an angel— it really isn’t about him.”

“It’s about the way that this decision was made,” Mendoza continued, “and the fact that the board of governors is clearly out to fulfill an agenda and that they regard the people of North Carolina as being so completely insignificant that they need not even put up a facade in which they pretend that our understanding or approval is important.”

Mendoza is merely one out of many UNC system faculty voices shouting the same frustration.

One UNCG professor who wishes to remain anonymous, echoed Mendoza, saying, “We could debate Tom Ross’ performance…but that’s clearly not the point. The board of governors has said he’s doing a great job; there’s no cause for his firing.”

“There’s something they don’t like about him being president of the system,” the professor continued, “and they’ve removed him so they can go with a person who will, in their opinion, do the job better. Though they’re unable to define what that means.”

“I think that what they have shown is that they can dismiss anyone without cause. And when you dismiss the president of a university system without cause, then what you are saying…is anyone we don’t agree with or that we just want to replace for whatever reason, we will do that,” the professor asserted.

“So, that’s an exercise of power, in my opinion, for the sake of power,” they concluded.

Another professor at UNCG, Jonathan Tudge expressed his concerns, saying, “Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but I don’t trust Mr. Fennebresque or the members of his board when they say that politics is not involved. It’s not politics of the  “D” or “R” version…but politics of wanting the “right” person for the job— someone who will take the university in the direction that the BoG feels is right.”

“But the BoG” Tudge continued, “clearly doesn’t trust the citizens of North Carolina…with the information about what they regard as the rightness of that person, the rightness of that direction, or, for that matter, any information about why Tom Ross should be fired.”

“Doesn’t the BoG have some responsibility for telling us the truth,” Tudge asked.

John Lepri, UNCG’s head delegate to the faculty assembly, spoke about the system from the perspective of someone who has endured many years of its politics.

“The winds of change are blowing, and it might be a long time before the wind direction shifts again so that the UNC system can regain its place among the most admired…most future-oriented state university systems,” Lepri said.

Lepri said faculties are trying to fight these negative changes.

“It is my hope, that our students will be right there with us, and that they participate in shaping the University’s future by expressing themselves to their political representatives,” Lepri said.

Lepri’s charge that students uphold their civic duties has its challenges.

The Carolinian interviewed a little over 45 random UNCG students last Friday, and only one student even knew who Tom Ross is, let only the controversy that has broken out across the system.

Most students were alarmed when they were given background information about the issue, but many said they weren’t surprised that students weren’t up-to-date on the situation.

Some students called UNCG apolitical; others said the university doesn’t disseminate information about important issues effectively.

“We have to be more aware,” one student said, when he was told about the controversy and UNCG’s students’ lacking knowledge.

“There’s too much separation between the “Tom Ross-s” and the chancellors and the instructors and the students,” he said. “It’s not like the information isn’t there. But we as students— it should be a responsibility to actively seek what’s going on around us.”

As one student said about the issues facing the UNC system, “We need the students to stand up and start screaming.”

Categories: emily bruzzo, News

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