East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton paraphrased "Les Miserable" as a way to describe his upcoming departure from ECU yesterday morning during a press conference.
Staton, while paraphrasing a line from a song from the musical “Les Miserable,” said, "There are ‘some storms you cannot weather."
The decision to leave a position is difficult for most people, Staton said. In his situation, Staton said he had to look at the situation as a whole and do what he felt was best for him and the university.
“It’s tough to reach these decisions, but in the words of that song, ‘There are some dreams that don’t get fulfilled and there are some storms you cannot weather.’ And so we made the decision that we think is in our best interest and in the best interest of ECU,” Staton said.
Staton is the 11th chancellor of ECU and began his tenure in 2016. He was the first chancellor appoint by former University of North Carolina Board of Governors (BOG) president, Margaret Spellings.
Staton said during the press conference he had signed a non-disparagement agreement regarding the terms of his departure. Conversations regarding the non-disparagement agreement happened “candidly” between BOG Interim President Bill Roper and Staton and the attorney for the BOG and Staton’s attorney, and the agreement was signed some time last week.
According to Jason Tyson, director of media relations for the BOG, Staton’s annual salary was $450,000, and he will receive his regular administrative salary and benefits through June 30. By July 15, ECU will have paid $589,700, payable from non-state funds.
One question Staton received during the press conference involved rumors of Roper requesting Staton to leave his position. Staton said he was not the one to initiate the beginning process of his resignation.
Staton said he has a healthy relationship with most of the members of the BOG, and those people have been reaching out to him since the announcement of his resignation was made public.
Conversations regarding his departure from ECU have been going on for a while, but Staton was unable to site exactly when the conversations began. However, rumors of Staton’s resignation began after the announcement of the departure of Spellings.
Staton said he will stay on as an advisor to the interim chancellor until June 30. Staton added Roper will visit in the next week to begin the process of filling the position of interim chancellor.
Multiple members of both the ECU Board of Trustees and BOG have alluded to the involvement of the BOG on various UNC school system campuses. Staton said governance is “messy,” and sometimes it is very easy for governance to overstep into the management of universities.
“We need healthy governance. We need governance that is, frankly, fulfilling the policy making role the governance is supposed to play, and we need governance that has proper oversight,” Staton said. “Those are very appropriate functions, but I will say to you just in general, I’m not speaking necessarily to a particular situation, the management of the institution is really there to lead and guide the institution on a daily basis and to follow the policies that are set in place by governance.”
Kieran Shanahan, chairman of the ECU BOT, said he is disappointed Pirate nation will be losing a “great servant and leader” with the resignation of Staton. He said the criticism from the chairman of the BOG, Harry Smith, have been “meritless.”
“I think it’s no secret that the chairman of the Board of Governors has not been supportive of Cecil, now for majority of Chancellor’s tenure on the board,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan said if there is a silver lining in Staton’s departure from ECU, he is hopeful it will lead to the end of the negativity surrounding the university and will allow ECU to continue to thrive.
Steven Long, a UNC BOG member, said in a statement obtained by The East Carolinian, despite Staton’s record, which he said would usually be “cause for applause,” Staton was asked to step down by Roper. He said this decision was made to satisfy Smith’s issues with Staton’s leadership. Long said the attacks from Smith have been an issue since Spelling's time with the BOG.
“President Margaret Spellings told me months ago that in virtually every conversation she had with Harry Smith he turned the conversation eventually to ECU and his criticism of the school’s leaders. I and other members of the Board of Governors have had a similar experience,” Long said.
The East Carolinian reached out to Smith through multiple emails and phone calls, but have yet to receive a response from him. Smith was on campus yesterday though.
Long said in his statement, Smith poses a threat to the UNC system as long as he continues to be a member of the BOG. He said due to Smith’s alleged role in the departure of Staton, all of the “momentum” leading to the changes and goals Staton had set has been lost.
“Harry Smith has done damage to the University of North Carolina system and particularly to East Carolina University. Until he is gone, Harry Smith will continue to do damage to our state’s greatest asset,” Long said in his statement.