Under the Dome

UNC board members agreed not to talk about decision on Ross

There may be a reason why we don’t know more about the forced retirement of UNC President Tom Ross.

At its closed session Jan. 16, the UNC Board of Governors voted on a motion to refer any questions “concerning the employment contract and/or the joint statement” to the board’s chairman, John Fennebresque, according to the language of the motion in the meeting’s minutes. The motion passed, with only one member, Marty Kotis, voting no, according to the minutes.

The language of the motion was released after a public records request by The News & Observer. UNC’s vice president for communications, Joni Worthington, wrote in an email response that no other information would be released “because the minutes remain confidential, consistent with the closed session provisions of the Open Meetings Act and in accordance with the public records law.”

Kotis had also been the lone dissenter in the vote on Ross’ contract and the joint statement from the board and Ross, which announced his departure in early 2016. At the time, Kotis said he was opposed to the decision because of “the process and timing and lack of time for certain board members to review the materials.”

The board pushed out Ross, 64, with little explanation other than it was time for a leadership transition. Fennebresque praised Ross as “a wonderful president” with a “fantastic work ethic” and “perfect integrity.” He denied that the decision was political and said he’d had no pressure from elected leaders. The board is dominated by Republicans; Ross had been hired by a different board appointed by Democrats.

Ross said he had planned to work past 65, even though UNC presidents have customarily retired at that age. Fennebresque also said the decision had nothing to do with Ross’ age.