What's Wrong With Common Sense?

Friends, anyone reading newspapers, watching television or listening to radio for the past few months knows that Chancellor Moeser has a problem. He has had a remarkable run of actions that have antagonized various groups of people with connections to UNC which just about covers everyone within the confines of North Carolina and, in some instances, beyond. This is particularly true if the individual pays taxes in North Carolina. The Chancellor's problem is he is viewed by many as someone who is out of touch with the real world and his most recent caper with Susan Eringhaus has caused many to question his judgment. We don't know what we don't know and some concern is being expressed over what he is capable of or what else he has done based on the Eringhaus situation.

Having worked for three major universities (UVA, Vanderbilt and Duke ), I have a great deal of understanding for the very difficult job the Chancellor has in trying to keep his various constituencies happy. Everybody thinks their interests and activities are the most important thing associated with the university and they have little patience with those who feel otherwise. In this respect, universities are like the real world.

Chancellor Moeser's PR problems began, in my opinion, when he "suggested" to the Department of Athletics that the arrival of the Jumbotron for Kenan Stadium be postponed for one year in deference to the budget situation being experienced by UNC and the rest of State government. Personally, this decision didn't bother me too much because I have never been convinced that a jumbotron in Kenan is, on balance, going to be a good thing. It has the potential to be the elephant who got his foot in the door. There are those, however, who feel that the postponement of the installation of the jumbotron was unnecessary since the cost of same did not involve the expenditure of state funds. This was particularly painful to these folks in view of the fact that the budget crunch did not appear to affect N.C. State's construction work at Carter-Finley Stadium. Surprisingly, most UNC people felt we did the right thing in postponing the jumbotron at a time when members of the Carolina family were losing their jobs. Not everyone, however, shared the Chancellor's view on the jumbotron.

The second thing that didn't sit well with some members of the Carolina family was the "mess" over the Qur'an. The bottom line issue in that debacle was not whether UNC would allow Islam to be taught at UNC since it was already being taught. The choice of this particular book could legitimately be challenged on grounds that it failed to present a balanced view of Islam but that is not the most important consideration either.

The major problems associated with UNC's prominent position in the national news over a several week period was the shoddy way the matter was handed administratively. It was originally described as being "required reading" for incoming freshmen and transfer students but when objections were voiced over the selection of the book, the Chancellor's office and other university officials backtracked by saying that no action would be taken against those who did not attend. They even allowed objectors to write a paper explaining their objection and then they would not be required to attend the meetings. Then he blockbuster. It was announced that only 60% of incoming freshmen had ever bothered to attend previous meetings held to discuss other books in previous years as a part of Chancellor Hooker's reading program. I'm sorry folks. I know I'm old fashioned but when I hear that something is "required", I assume there will be a negative consequence if the requirement is not met. Otherwise how does it qualify as being required? Administratively, some felt we looked like fools and I'm one of those who felt that way.

The most serious event though is the most recent one and I'm talking about the Susan Eringhaus removal from her position as Vice Chancellor and General Counsel to the University. Some say it was not a removal but I think otherwise. Even though most of us would be willing to be removed from any job we have ever had if we could receive severance pay equal to what Ms. Eringhaus received, it appears that she had no choice but to accept the Chancellor's decision to restructure her office and her job duties changed. The problem arose when it became known what the confidential agreement between the Chancellor and Ms. Eringhaus contained. She would receive her current salary of $188,000 until Aug. of 2004, an office on campus, per diem expenses for travel and living in Washington, D.C. while she was on temporary assignment to the Association of American Universities and the American Association of Medical Colleges in the amount of $40,000, and employment in the UNC School of Law after she completes her 8 months stint in Washington. Remember, this is the person who was concerned about how the Jumbotron would be viewed in financial hard times. Obviously, Chancellor didn't intend for this information to get out but it is naive to think that it would not. Oh yeah, the wife of the Dean of the Law School has been appointed temporary Counsel to the University while efforts are being made to fill the position on a permanent basis. Finally, Chancellor Moeser got a ruling from the Office of the State Attorney General that the confidential agreement is a public document which freed the Chancellor to openly discuss it. I'm not a lawyer but Susan Eringhaus is and I have to wonder if this could lead to a lawsuit since the agreement has been violated and the Chancellor was acting as a legitimate representative of the University.

Toss in for good measure that the recently departed Dean of Student Affairs was given a full year's salary when she left several months ago.

This couldn't come at a worse time since UNC is now well into its Carolina First fund raising campaign. We have done extremely well during the silent phase of the campaign but we still have approximately 1 billion dollars to go to meet our goal. I'm sure these recent actions will cause many to reconsider their contribution to the campaign and I can't say that I blame them.

Chancellor Moeser wrote an explanation of the Susan Eringhaus episode several days ago to faculty and students. I have to give the Chancellor credit for admitting he made a mistake. Whether he can be effective now that it has happened is in question. If he does leave, I'm sure it will be presented that he "wants to explore other employment opportunities" and not that his job performance had anything to do with it. Stay tuned.

"I haven't physically seen the memo but it was e-mailed to me by a credible source and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity."

The memorandum to faculty and students is as follows:


A Message to the Carolina Community

From Chancellor James Moeser

For the past several weeks, you have been reading news stories and editorials criticizing the arrangement that I concluded with Vice-Chancellor and General Counsel Susan Eringhaus. My ability to comment or respond to these criticisms has been limited by the conditions of a confidential agreement between Vice-Chancellor Eringhaus and me and the normal protections of the law regarding personnel matters. We have now received an oral opinion from the Office of the Attorney General that the agreement is a public document, thus freeing me to speak more openly.

It was my decision that it was time for a change in the structure of the legal office. After informing the Board of Trustees in closed session, I communicated my decision to Vice-Chancellor Eringhaus and asked her to work with me on a smooth transition.

I want to make it clear that there is not- and never was - any question about Vice-Chancellor Eringhaus' high level of competence. She is an excellent attorney and she has served the University with honor and distinction for 32 years. To assure a smooth transition, I asked her to remain as Vice-Chancellor until Dec. 31st whereupon she would begin an off campus assignment with the Association of American Universities and the American Association of Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C. I agreed to provide her with an office on campus and to reimburse travel at state mileage allowance at coach air travel rates and per diem expenses up to $40,000 so that she could honor existing commitments and cover weekly air travel and expenses while in Washington, D.C. This period of leave is not unlike the research leaves accorded to other senior administrators before they transition back to faculty status or to other responsibilities. Following her off-campus assignment, she will return to campus in full-time service as a faculty member in the School of Law through August 2004.

I deeply regret the controversy surrounding this issue. Vice-Chancellor Eringhaus is a person of consummate legal skill, knowledge an integrity, and my desire was to allow her a transition to the faculty where I believe she will continue to serve the University with skill and dedication. In fact, I was so focused on that that I failed to take into account the impact of this arrangement on the campus community and the state at large. The use of private funds does not diminish the impact. The arrangement was an error in judgment on my part and has undone the very purpose of the agreement itself.

It is important to admit mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, resolve not to repeat them and to move on. What can we learn from this? While the University has very clear policies and procedures for the non-appointment of faculty and SPA (note: I assume this stands for State Personnel Act) employees, the University has minimal guidelines for severance of senior administrators. I have discussed this with UNC President Molly Broad and we agree that we need clear policies and procedures.

I realize I have some fence mending to do in my relationships with faculty, staff and students at Carolina, and, indeed with the people of the state. This episode has reminded me of how much the University is loved by its people here on campus and everywhere around the state. I too love this university and earnestly want your confidence and support to continue to lead it in these difficult times.

My hope is that we can continue with the important business of making this university the very best it can be. I pledge to you to stay focused on that goal. It is important to Carolina and even more important for the state, for the people who own this university.

Thank you for this opportunity to communicate with you directly.

James Moeser