UNC trustees meet in closed session, but topic is unclear

jstancill@newsobserver.comMarch 18, 2013 

— The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees met behind closed doors Monday morning in an emergency meeting to discuss personnel and legal matters.

“We had a very constructive meeting,” Chairman Wade Hargrove said of the event, which lasted a little more than an hour.

The board convened by conference call, though about half of the members attended at the South Building, the administrative headquarters of the campus. There was little public discussion at the meeting; the board cited provisions of state law that allow for public bodies to close their meetings to discuss personnel matters.

Chancellor Holden Thorp was not in attendance, though he was in the building.

Thorp’s absence may offer clues that the meeting does not pertain to two issues that have dominated the university’s attention recently – investigations of academic fraud related to the African and Afro-American Studies program and a federal investigation into the university’s handling of sexual assault cases.

A complaint about UNC-CH’s sexual assault policies and procedures was filed by several students, a former student and a former administrator in January and has been the subject of unflattering national headlines. The university’s response is due Thursday to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which is investigating. Hargrove had no public comment on the issue Monday.

The other big issue on the university’s agenda is choosing a new leader to succeed Thorp, who announced his intention to step down last September.

A 21-member search committee has met for months to identify the next chancellor. The search committee has deliberated behind closed doors, and its members signed confidentiality agreements that prevented them from speaking about candidates.

The committee was charged with finding candidates to refer to campus trustees, who then vote on a slate of three finalists to send to UNC system President Tom Ross. Ross will make his choice and take a recommendation to the UNC system’s Board of Governors, which will vote to elect the chancellor. A selection is expected this spring; the Board of Governors’ next scheduled meeting is April 12.

“It’s coming along very well,” Hargrove said of the search. “We have a very impressive group of candidates that the board is considering and the search is really progressing very well.”

Hargrove said there had been high interest in the chancellor’s job.

“Notwithstanding the issues with which the university has been dealing over the last couple of years, the level of interest across the country and within the university community in this position has been very reassuring and very impressive by any standard,” he said. “We’ve been told that by others. We’ve been told that by our consultant. The candidates we have been reviewing – their resumes, their background, their level of experience in higher education and in other activities – all confirms that.”

The trustees have a regularly scheduled meeting next week. Hargrove declined to comment on why it was necessary to hold an emergency session Monday.

“We felt we needed to have a meeting today,” he said.

Hargrove said a new chancellor would be named “well in advance” of July 1. Thorp is expected to leave in June for a job as provost at Washington University in St. Louis.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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