Richards, who declined an interview request, also alleged Kotis violated previous guidance from Board of Trustees Chairman David Boliek, who advised trustees not to become involved in the ongoing election.
“Trustee Kotis’ actions amount to a material violation of the responsibilities and expectations of board members when interacting with students and representing this university—and therefore should result in his removal as a trustee of our great university,” Richards wrote in a Feb. 18 letter to two UNC System leaders.
Kotis said he asked a “softball” question to all the candidates about how they planned to work with trustees. He said he politely followed up later in the debate with one of the candidates. He also said he had never been told he couldn’t attend the event. He added that he had been identified to the candidates as a trustee during the debate and believes it’s his duty as a board member to better understand how student government elections are conducted.
“I’m 100% comfortable that I did nothing wrong as part of this process,” Kotis said.
Boliek said in a statement that he told trustees members not to get involved in student elections.
“In early January at least one candidate for Student Body President emailed members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to ask them to review her platform and for an endorsement,” Boliek said. “I reminded our board at the January meeting that it is the policy of the Board of Governors and, thus, policy of the Board of Trustees to not get involved in elections for Student Body President.”
Josh Ellis, a UNC System spokesman, said Richards’ complaint has been received and will be reviewed by the university system’s governance committee, which is headed by Chairman David Powers.
Kotis said he submitted his initial question in advance and was called upon by a moderator to ask it after raising his hand. A screenshot he provided showed the question he originally submitted was about how candidates planned to “work effectively with the Board of Trustees and Chancellor.”
Kotis said he wanted more clarity from one of the candidates after the first round of audience questions had been exhausted. He took exception to a comment Sam Robinson, one of the UNC student body presidential candidates, made during the debate that characterized the trustees as partisan and not politically diverse.
Kotis provided a screenshot showing this in a chat box: “Question for Sam—he mentioned a lack of political diversity in leadership on the BOT—given that the chair of the BOT and secretary are both Democrats and the vice chair is Republican—all of whom were elected by the full board can he elaborate on that assertion?”
Richards’ complaint accused Kotis of ending his question with, “Can he elaborate on that incorrect assertion.”
Kotis says he never wrote “incorrect.”
Kotis said he’s aware of the guidance Boliek issued in January but said his attendance at the meeting is not comparable to endorsements or financial contributions to candidates that would violate policies that he helped craft as a member of the UNC Board of Governors.
The ECU student had recorded the conversation, which prompted the resignation of two ECU trustees.
Kotis, whose term on the UNC Board of Governors ended last year, had pushed hard for both of the ECU trustees to be removed. He said in a February 2020 meeting that he was "about to throw up” over the incident.
Kotis said his involvement in the 2022 UNC student presidential race was simply attending a debate and asking a couple questions, which he does not consider a violation of the policy.
“I know what overinvolvement by a trustee is, and I know what it’s not,” Kotis said. “I know the code very thoroughly. One of the things that Lamar did not do was cite any portion of the code that I violated because there’s not a portion of the code that I violated.”
Richards wrote in his complaint that the event was a “student-only debate” and that Kotis’ participation could cast undue influence on the process.
“If a Trustee feels as though they can flagrantly disregard the foundational pillars of shared governance and attend a student-only debate, ask questions of student-candidates, and push back when answers provided are not to his liking, I fear for what the future of our University and System looks like,” Richards wrote.
Kotis said he would have dropped off the event if he had been told not to participate.
“If there was [a Student Government Association] debate next year, I would talk about whether or not they would want me in there or that it’s appropriate to be there,” Kotis said. “I’m not looking to be anywhere, frankly, that you’ve got people who hate the idea of someone being there, but I also have to balance that with my desire to be an involved trustee.”
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