RALEIGH — Protesters at N.C. State University shouted down the head of Wells Fargo Bank on Wednesday, accusing CEO John Stumpf of backing foreclosures, high-interest loans and predatory lending they say are killing the national economy.
Stumpf, who leads the country's fourth-largest bank, spoke as part of an executive lecture series at NCSU's Poole College of Management. About 30 minutes into his speech, NCSU junior Danielle Carr rose from the crowd and yelled "John Stumpf!" - a cry echoed by about 20 others scattered around the crowded auditorium.
"We won't take your home," the protesters told him, "but we will take a minute of your time. Your leadership has led to the death of the American dream. Wells Fargo is guilty of widespread predatory lending and holds over 5.7 billion in student debt."
Stumpf left the lectern as the disruption continued for about 5 minutes.
Police reported no arrests among the protesters, a combination of Occupy Raleigh, Occupy Durham, Occupy N.C. State and other groups. Security guards and campus police led roughly a dozen of them out of Nelson Auditorium, which held about 400 people.
As they left the building, Stumpf resumed his speech to applause.
"We take this very seriously," he said. "Our company is trying very hard to create opportunities to get this economy moving again."
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo took and later repaid $25 billion in federal dollars as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Stumpf rose to chairman, president and CEO in 2010 - two years after Wells Fargo acquired Charlotte-based Wachovia. That year, he earned $18.9 million in salary, stocks and other compensation, according to Forbes.
Stumpf began his speech on a genial note, praising both N.C. State's legendary basketball team coached by Jim Valvano, and the university's comeback win Saturday over the University of Maryland on the football field.
Stumpf noted that many students had sent him emails before the Wednesday afternoon speech, inviting him out afterward.
"I don't know where East Village Bar and Grill is," he said, getting a laugh from the crowd, "but I was offered drinks and things." He went on to discuss the Wachovia merger, the housing bubble and the decline of American manufacturing when the first protester stood.
A coordinated effort
The Raleigh group followed the style made popular by the Occupy Wall Street movement, a call-and-response format in which one person speaks and the rest repeat those words in unison, making sure everyone can hear.
"Wells Fargo foreclosed on hundreds of thousands of homes last year, many of them illegally," the protesters said, referencing an ongoing U.S. Treasury investigation into several banks' practices. "You have issued no admission of guilt or apology."
The protest group had printed its lengthy speech inside a mock pamphlet designed to look like an advertisement for Stumpf's speech. His picture appeared on the front, and inside, the message included statistics on rising tuition and a reference to lawsuits facing Wells Fargo.
Plans had been coordinated in advance by the various Occupy groups in the Triangle.
"It's kind of been this hush-hush idea," graduate student Ryan Thomson said. "We got some students from the Design School helping."
Students gathered outside the College of Management nearly two hours before Stumpf's speech, drawing both honks and middle fingers from Hillsborough Street drivers.
"Instead of giving a lecture, he ought to offer an apology to the N.C. State students who are probably going to graduate without any job opportunities," said Jeremy Sprinkle, communications director for the AFL-CIO, who held a sign on Hillsborough Street along with the Occupy groups.
Inside Nelson Auditorium, College of Management Dean Ira Weiss called for order, and the first several rows of spectators began applauding to drown out the protesters' shouting.
After the protesters were led from the room, they kept up their demonstration, their numbers rising to 50.
Some cars honked support as they passed.