As the news of Chancellor Cecil Staton’s departure from East Carolina University hit campus yesterday, many have been reacting and reflecting on the chancellor’s time at ECU.
Jordan Koonts, the current Student Government Association president and a Board of Trustees member, said he feels while Staton’s departure has created a “sad day,” it is important to note Staton’s core intentions were to do what was best for ECU as a whole.
“It’s a sad day, it really is, not only for our school, for our system, for our state, because we’ve lost a visionary leader who unfortunately came in at a tumultuous time and faced some problems that weren’t of his own. But I know, at his core that he and Catherine also did what they knew or felt was best for ECU. That was always their number one desire,” Koonts said.
Koonts said Staton had support shown for him and his administration through various letters, votes and voicing of opinions, even though the negativity may have seemed louder than the positive support Staton had received.
According to Koonts, students need to remember Staton only wanted what was best for ECU, alongside the Board of Trustees, and he would like to believe the Board of Governors have the same goal.
“I want the students to know that there are countless people working behind the scenes to ensure their success, and ensure the success of the system,” Koonts said.
Koonts advised Colin Johnson, the next SGA president and future BOT member, to remember why the SGA president is there, which is to serve the students and do whatever they feel is right as long as it is done for the right reasons.
Koonts believes this advice could also be passed along to whoever the new chancellor might be, as Koonts hopes they share in Staton’s passion and desire to better ECU.
Jeff Popke, chair of the Faculty Senate, said Staton’s departure was not surprising given the rumors that have recently been circulating. Popke described Staton’s leaving as unfortunate since some of the negativity surrounding Staton leading to this point didn’t align with the core academic mission of ECU.
The real cause of Staton’s departure remains unknown, but Popke thinks Staton did not want to leave the university at this time. Popke believes that Staton may feel he can no longer be an effective leader nor advocate for ECU.
“My own spin is that he is still committed to the institution and would prefer to stay. In fact, he said, as you probably have seen in his statement, that he did not initiate this, but I think he feels that it’s in the best interest of him personally and the institution that we have a fresh start and so a lot of this has to due with the relationship between ECU and our Board of Trustees and the (University of North Carolina) Board of Governors,” Popke said.
Popke said he feels Staton is leaving ECU with “unfinished business.” Popke, speaking from a faculty perspective said he believes Staton was an advocate for the interest and importance of the faculty and the university’s core mission of serving students and doing research to make an impact on Eastern North Carolina.
Popke said he thinks it would have been worth the wait to see what Staton might have done if he had been able to remain in his position.
According to Popke, Staton aspired to a vision of bigger and better things for the institution and his vision was just becoming realized by others. Some of the examples Popke gave were the increases in the amount of funded research and the various campaigns to increase donorship therefore helping ECU no to be so reliant on the legislative appropriations.
“Those I think are two big areas that were a longer term goal that were kind of only part way to forwishen so I wouldn’t say he necessarily achieved what he set out to but I think he has put us in a good position to continue on the trajectories that he has established,” Popke said.
Kieran Shanahan, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, said Staton helped greatly in gaining funding for the university and what he has done for the university will be remembered in him and his wife, Catherine’s efforts toward ECU.
“What’s amazing, and I think history will remember, what he did in such a short period of time. In terms of rural initiatives, the international outreach, the $200 million plus he’s secured in funding for the university going forward and really a host of initiatives he put in place,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan said Staton was a great example of a chancellor who was able to connect to students on campus and alongside his wife, Catherine, they were both tireless advocates for ECU.
Shanahan said Staton is leaving during a troubling time and the Board of Governors have sent a terrible message to students about fairness and despite this, ECU will survive and prosper in the future.
“While it’s a troubling time and the Board of Governors would act in a way that sends, I think, a terrible message to students about fairness. Notwithstanding that East Carolina is a great university and it will survive and it will prosper in the future,” Shanahan said.