A plus-sized UNC advisory board—beset with controversy before the first gavel—convened for the first time Wednesday, mulling over the state universities' curriculum and changing demographics.
The UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions, which includes 31 leaders in education, business and politics, is expected to consider the future of the state's 17 public universities, but its makeup garnered more headlines than its actual charge before Wednesday's session.
Critics are fired up over a handful of appointments, including the selection of publicly right-tilting businessmen like Art Pope and Fred Eshelman. UNC Board of Governors Chairman Peter Hans and UNC President Tom Ross made the appointments.
Pope, CEO of Variety Wholesalers Inc., has spent millions on conservative think tanks, advocacy groups and political campaigns backing right-wing causes. Ditto for Eshelman, a pharmaceutical bigwig who spent $3 million launching the conservative Rightchange.com. UNC-Chapel Hill's pharmacy school is named for Eshelman.
In Pope's case, he's also been a vocal advocate for charter schools and his groups have lobbied for budget cuts for public schools.
Neither played much part in the early proceedings Wednesday, with Pope arriving just before noon for a meeting that began at 9:30 a.m.
The commitee also includes the appointment of legislative leaders like powerful Republicans Thom Tillis and Phil Berger. Berger is president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate. Tillis is speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives. Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a Durham Democrat, is also a member of the committee.
Committee leaders are facing pressure to include more student and faculty representation on the panel. Wednesday's roll call included one UNC student and one faculty member, although officials have indicated more members may be appointed.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, who announced last week that he would end his scandal-plagued tenure next spring, said little Wednesday, although at one point prior to the committee session, a faculty member could be heard pleading with Thorp to change his mind about his resignation.
Committee members heard a presentation Wednesday morning from UNC-Chapel Hill business professor James Johnson Jr., whose overview of prevailing demographic trends in North Carolina showed the state's universities can expect radical change in student population in the coming years.
According to Johnson, North Carolina's Hispanic population grew by 829 percent from 1990 to 2007. In that time frame, the Asian population grew by 332 percent. Compare that to growth among white and black residents—127 percent and 133 percent, respectively.
"They're going to be far more diverse," Johnson said.
Johnson also urged leaders to focus efforts on narrowing the gender gap in academic achievement, pointing out boys and men are struggling mightily in the job market and academics compared to their female counterparts.
"This is imminently fixable," Johnson said. "And if we don't fix it, we're going to be in trouble."
The advisory committee is expected to present its recommendations to the UNC Board of Governors in January.
Chancellor Holden Thorp—beset by academic and athletic scandal in his short tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill—seems to at least have a chunk of the university's employees in his corner.
The school's Employee Forum, a group representing university staff, is holding a "peaceful" rally supporting the troubled chancellor this morning in front of South Building, the school's administrative HQ.
Thorp announced Monday that he would step down from his post at the close of the 2012-13 academic year after two years of an athletic scandal that began with the school's football program and expanded into the academic sphere.
In a statement Tuesday, the forum expressed "heartfelt dismay" at Thorp's decision, urging UNC President Tom Ross, the UNC board of trustees and the UNC System Board of Governors to back Thorp.
"We have found a true friend in Chancellor Thorp since he began working with us in 2008," the statement said. "Chancellor Thorp is a leader and visionary who has greatly improved working conditions for staff."
The forum credited Thorp with raising employee wages, addressing longstanding troubles in the university's housekeeping department, increasing efficiency in the university and allowing "unprecedented access to him and his office."
The forum is also circulating petitions urging the chancellor to reconsider his resignation. The petitions will be available to sign from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in the UNC-Chapel Hill Pit, Wilson Library and South Building.
Today's rally is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at South Building.
Dueling petitions regarding the chancellor are already circulating on social media websites like Facebook. One, simply titled "Fire Holden Thorp," had 1,458 likes as of Friday morning, as well as a smattering of anti-Thorp messages.
Another Change.org petition directed at Ross urges the system president to reject Thorp's resignation. As of Friday morning, 54 people had signed the petition.
After years of much-bemoaned inactivity on the touchy subject of Rogers Road, leaders in Orange County seem to be on the move these days.
Two weeks ago, Orange County commissioners passed a sweeping resolution to pledge $500,000 for a long-sought community center in the low-income neighborhood vexed by an aging landfill. That comes after Chapel Hill leaders closed neighbors' makeshift community center on Rogers Road last month over numerous fire safety concerns.
Tonight, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will take up a proposal to provide public sewer to the community.
Extending sewer service to Rogers Road residents would cost approximately $5.8 million, according to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA). It's unclear how leaders in Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will divvy up the cost.
The sewer proposal comes from a task force of local government leaders and members of the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association (RENA). Cost-sharing plans include dividing up expenses based on population, landfill usage and tax revenues.
There has been no consensus yet on how to pay the sewer bill, but officials acknowledge the need. Rogers Road residents blame health ailments and polluted water on the landfill, which was built prior to more modern regulations requiring dump lining to prevent harmful contents from seeping into the groundwater.
Rogers Road has been the landfill site for local governments for 40 years, after initially agreeing to house the dump for a decade. Leaders have postponed closing the landfill for years. County commissioners now say they will shut down the site next year.
Tonight's Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall.
Embattled UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp is on the way out.
WRAL reported Monday morning that Thorp will step down at the close of the 2012-13 academic year, ending a watch that has been plagued by allegations of academic improprieties, primarily associated with the school's football program.
The school confirmed the news in a press release later Monday morning. This comes after Thorp met privately Friday with the UNC Board of Governors, the panel in charge of the state's public universities. The release said Thorp on Sunday told UNC President Tom Ross of his plans to resign.
"I will always do what is best for this university," Thorp said in the release. "This wasn't an easy decision personally. But when I thought about the university and how important it's been to me, to North Carolinians and to hundreds of thousands of alumni, my answer became clear."
Thorp has held the position since 2008. A UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and former chemistry professor, Thorp was among the youngest university leaders in the nation when he accepted the chancellor's post at the age of 43.
But the school's reputation has been sullied in the last two years by allegations of improper benefits for football players, as well as an ongoing investigation into academic misconduct—including altered grades and infrequently-taught courses—in the university's Department of African or Afro-American Studies. The classes in question were popular among UNC athletes.
Most recently, the school has been in the headlines over accusations of improper travel spending among UNC fundraisers.
Thorp acknowledged the UNC scandals in Monday's release.
"Over the last two years, we have identified a number of areas that need improvement," he said. "We have a good start on reforms that are important for the future of this university. I have pledged that we will be a better university, and I am 100 percent confident in that."
Ross said he would work with UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees Chairman Wade Hargrove to find a successor to Thorp.
The Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School is a long shot to open in August. Its founders are struggling to find a suitable temporary location for the school as they navigating the zoning approval process for a permanent site.
Amid opposition from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board and the local NAACP, the North Carolina State Board of Education approved fast-track status for the Lee School in February, clearing the way for the group to open later this year.
But now, as a backup plan, they say, the school’s brass has submitted a request to the state to open in 2013.
Danita Mason-Hogans, a member of the Lee board of directors, said the group identified one site in Chapel Hill and one in Carrboro but neither area was zoned for a school. She said she did not know the exact locations.
“There are some problems with both of the spaces based on the number of students we’d like to have in the school,” she said. “We had full intentions of opening in August. Now it looks like that may be put on hold.”
Talk of teaming up, including a possible merger, riled the community for 18 months. The Raleigh-based YMCA of the Triangle, which runs a dozen Piedmont-area YMCAs, does not list sexual orientation as a protected class in employment materials.
Jennifer Trapani, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA Board of Directors, said the decision to no longer seek a partnership was mutual. The controversy played a part in the discussions, but it was not the only factor in Friday's announcement.
"Our community is obviously very important to us. Our YMCA is an organization for our community, so we were trying to listen to everyone's comments and concerns openly," she said.
"We were very convinced that they are not an organization that discriminates at all, but still, the uneasiness from our community made them and us concerned."
When issuing an official press release from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources—or pretending to—it's wise to include the agency secretary's name.
That was among the tells when the Indy received a "press release" alleging that DENR has apologized for its controversial draft report on fracking, in which the agency said it could be done safely in North Carolina if the right protections were in place. The release also falsely stated that DENR had reversed its position.
More reasons to doubt the release's legitimacy:
A) That's too good to be true.
B) The email came from firstname.lastname@example.org (DENR addresses have a .gov suffix) and the "Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs" (which does exist).
C) I sent the email to DENR for verification; an agency spokesperson said that the email is fake.
I then plugged the originating IP address into to several databases that trace these addresses, but the results were inconclusive; the email could have been sent from several computers or mobile devices, or the databases could be wrong. Nonetheless, the cities of origin came back as Clayton, Rocky Mount and Elizabeth City, so the best guess is "east of Raleigh."
As the Indy reported last week, the draft report contained 444 pages of scientific research that cast doubt on fracking—research that contradicted the report's political conclusion that it could be done safely.
A public hearing about the report is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at East Chapel Hill High School, 500 Weaver Dairy Road. DENR is also taking public comment via email until April 1: email@example.com
The Indy has long reported on the potential environmental and socio-economic damages from fracking. Readers could rightfully argue that we've been skeptical of fracking to the point of advocating against it.
But even if we agree with the underlying argument that fracking is a bad idea—issuing a fake press release? It's not a very convincing way to get your point across. Very 2008. Yawn.
And the name of the DENR Secretary is Dee Freeman.
N.C. House Minority Leader Joe Hackney announced his retirement this morning, opting not to wage a re-election campaign against long-time colleague Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange.
The two veteran legislators were drawn into the same district, the 56th, by the Republican-produced new maps last year.
Hackney has served 16 terms, 32 years, in the General Assembly representing the 54th district, which includes Orange, Chatham and Moore counties. He was elected Speaker of the House in 2007 following Jim Black’s removal. He severed as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners are committed to closing the local landfill, a burden that the Rogers Road-Eubanks community has been saddled with for 40 years now, in June 2013.
But, at last night’s Assembly of Governments meeting, leaders from the three Orange municipalities who dump garbage there as part of an interlocal agreement said they want to work together but differ on how to move forward. They have just 17 months to decide.
Chapel Hill is hiring a consultant, hopefully next month, to study its options and wants to consider keeping trash local and converting it to energy.
Carrboro is balking at the cost, both in dollars and in pollution, of the county’s plan to transport waste to Durham’s transfer station and then onto a landfill in Virginia. The Board of Alderman unanimously supports studying the feasibility of building a waste transfer station in Chapel Hill near the northwest intersection of N.C. Hwy 86 and I-40.
Hillsborough is OK with whatever everyone else decides so long as it doesn’t cost significantly more than what is being done now.
All want to offer remediation for Rogers-Eubanks and agreed to form a task force to work on creating a lasting community center for the neighborhood and on providing the water and sewer connections for neighbors that were promised when the site was built in 1972.
The Chapel Hill Town Council voted Monday night to continue discussing the next steps to take in the investigation of the recent police raid on squatters in the vacant Yates Motor Company building, but there was little enthusiasm for an advisory group’s proposal to hire an independent investigator.
The Community Policing Advisory Council (CPAC) had recommended that an independent investigator could provide more factual evidence about the Nov. 13 incident. The CPAC and some residents had expressed concern about possible biases in a report about the incident filed by Town Manager Roger Stancil.
Ronald Bogle, chairman of CPAC, said he left the meeting “confused about the exact intentions of this council.” He also expressed concern about the role and expectations of the recently created CPAC, a volunteer board. Bogle told the Town Council he would “respect any decision you make” about pursuing an independent investigation.