Education leaders….get your act together

Published 6:26 pm Friday, February 7, 2020

Two members of ECU’s Board of Trustees are offering an apology. The action they claim to regret stems from their recent attempt to influence ECU’s upcoming election for student body president.

Articles from the Associated Press and the News & Observer have detailed this absurd turn of events. According to those sources, trustees Phil Lewis and Robert Moore met with a student to encourage her to run for the position, offering to help her win by donating money to her campaign and providing other assistance.

The student body president is a voting member of the ECU trustees, so allegedly the election meddling was done in an attempt to garner a swing vote on their side. Lewis and Moore were on the losing side of a 7-6 vote back in July when a chairman was selected for the Board. The current student body president voted with the majority then.

Every article I’ve read on the situation has mentioned a contentious divide in the ECU trustee board, so I guess that explains why Lewis and Moore sought to influence an election to benefit themselves. Frankly, I find the whole situation appalling. Student elections are supposed to be decided by the students, and no one running for the position should be persuaded to do so on behalf of outside influences.

I’m writing this column before any official decisions have been made about Lewis and Moore, but I hope they face some consequences. It seems clear that their priorities are more focused on trying to gain a voting advantage over their fellow trustees than on students at the school they are supposed to be supporting.

I wish I could say this is the only instance of educational leadership focusing more on squabbling with others than their jobs, but that’s not the case.

Almost immediately after taking office in 2016, State Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education started butting heads in disagreement after disagreement. I previously wrote a column two years ago noting that the superintendent and the BOE were locked in a lawsuit over which one would have more power.

More recently, Superintendent Johnson has been muddling through another argument over selecting a new vendor to provide reading assessment for K-3 students across the state. According to EdNC’s coverage of the issue, Johnson went with the new vendor despite recommendations to stay with the old one. The NC Department of Information Technology got involved, halting any progress on implementing either assessment tool. Early last month, Johnson signed a $928,000 “emergency” contract with the new vendor while the original contract remains on hold.

I haven’t seen much coverage on how this has affected the students, but it looks to me at least like a lot of petty bickering and a waste of money that could have been used somewhere more beneficial.

I must admit I’m not upset Johnson decided not to seek a second term as the state superintendent.

Lastly, the UNC Board of Governors (for the statewide public college system, not only UNC-Chapel Hill) have been wading through their own lawsuits pertaining to the removal of the Silent Sam statue. Back in November, the Board reached a settlement in a lawsuit with the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) to pay the organization $2.5 million to take the statue away from the Chapel Hill campus.

According to reporting from student newspaper The Daily Tarheel, however, the lawsuit featured a lot of backdoor dealing before it was even filed. So much so that the settlement agreement was signed about 10 minutes after the lawsuit itself was filed on Nov. 22. But Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey signed the agreement five days before anything was filed, and Interim UNC System President Bill Roper signed it one day before. Weird, right?

What’s even more astounding is that the SCV didn’t even really have legal standing to sue for the statue in the first place. Further reporting uncovered that they had to pay the United Daughters of the Confederacy group for the rights to the statue. Which begs the question: why did the Board of Governors quickly agree to a $2.5 million settlement with an organization that didn’t even own the statue?

Regardless of any personal feelings about Confederate monuments, I think we can probably all agree that the UNC system could have come up with better ways to spend $2.5 million than participating in a sham lawsuit they probably could have easily won if they fought back.

All of these examples of educational leadership seem more focused on their own self-interests or fighting with people they disagree with instead of working for our students. There is plenty of room for improvement at all levels of our educational system, and we would do well to have leaders in place that foster learning instead of holding it back.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.