Editorial: Fetzer out of bounds; UNC board should censure him
Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018 -- The UNC Board should examine the appropriateness of Tom Fetzer using his appointed government position to gain access to otherwise confidential information, specifically the names of candidates for the Western Carolina University chancellor's position. Then, did he violate policy and ethical conduct procedures by giving that confidential information to a private "screening" firm Fetzer personally hired to dig into the background of a candidate for the chancellor's post? This is no way to conduct business.Posted — Updated
They are, by any practical standard unethical, given Fetzer’s direct conflicts of interest in the matter and failure to act appropriately as a member of the board.
Specifically, the UNC Board should examine the appropriateness of Fetzer – one of the state’s most influential legislative lobbyists and former chairman of the state Republican Party -- using his appointed government position to gain access to otherwise confidential information, specifically the names of candidates for the Western Carolina University chancellor’s position. Then, did he violate policy and ethical conduct procedures by giving that confidential information to a private “screening” firm Fetzer personally hired to dig into the background of a candidate for the chancellor’s post?
This is no way to conduct business, does little to build confidence in the hiring process and could dissuade the best potential candidates from seeking top jobs in the UNC system.
UNC System President Margaret Spellings made a point of saying that she does the hiring of chancellors, who report to her. Also, that keeping promised confidentiality is important. “Confidentiality is paramount with executive searches at this level,” she said. And it has to be respected throughout the process.”
Fetzer has been far from a stabilizing force on the UNC Board. Frankly, he’s been more of a bomb-thrower. While Fetzer says he was just doing his job as a board member – with the actions he took – you don’t need to be a business school graduate to know that if he’d had concerns about the chancellor selection process, or individuals, he should have talked with the board chairman, President Spellings or the chair of the search committee.
He should NOT have taken matters into his own hands, hired his own investigators and then broadcast what was confidential to other members of the UNC board. It demonstrates a lack of discipline. The actions were clearly out of bounds.
Unfortunately, there should be little surprise given the overly partisan and political people that have been appointed to the UNC board. The General Assembly has given board seats to favored lobbyists, loyal former political officeholders and key political donors.
The UNC System, the students and faculty it serves, and the people of North Carolina deserve and need better if the state is to continue to provide top-notch higher education.
It is past time to reform the way members are named to the UNC board.
Leaving it only to the legislature, particularly in its current ideologically-rigid form, makes it just another place for legislative leaders to dish out political plums and patronage – not an opportunity for those who would be best to provide leadership to a world class group of colleges and universities.
Appointments should be shared equally, among the state House, Senate and the governor. This would help assure, even if all three happened to be in the same partisan political hands, some diversity in the pool of potential board members.
Up to now, North Carolina’s university system has been fortunate to have had a governing board whose members have put the interests of quality education, research and service, above petty partisanship and self-interest. This latest episode starring Fetzer illustrates just how fragile that is.
The board and the legislators who appoint it must act now to preserve its integrity. Failure to directly deal with it will jeopardize one of the most critical elements to the state’s prosperity and growth.
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