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DTH lawsuit discussed in closed session by BOG Governance committee

UNC-system Board of Governors member David Powers listens to president-elect Margaret Spellings’ speech.

UNC-system Board of Governors member David Powers listens to president-elect Margaret Spellings’ speech.

The UNC Board of Governors Committee on University Governance met Thursday, reviewing the rights of University faculty to participate in political activities and — in closed session — discussing the recent $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the pending lawsuit filed by DTH Media Corp.

The group approved keeping minutes for the meeting. 

Read more: Here's what you need to know about the DTH lawsuit and its legal implications

Open Session

At the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, Chairperson of the Committee David Powers led an open review of the UNC System Policy manual sections detailing the rights of University faculty to participate in political activities and hold public office.

The policy allows civic participation by UNC System faculty and political conversations in the classroom but prohibits conflict of commitment for employees that might hold government positions. 

“First and foremost, public employees don’t give up their constitutional rights by engaging in public employment,” General Counsel Thomas Shanahan said.

The policy outlines permissible activities, he said, including the faculty's right to vote and express political opinions.

He said employees are able to hold minor political positions but are not permitted to work in politics full-time or receive an additional salary in such positions of more than $10,000. 

Powers said this distinction is an especially important insight of the 2020 election season. 

There is a further limitation, Shanahan said, on the role of senior University officers — including chancellors, vice chancellors and presidents — in the political sphere. 

“These individuals cannot solicit, accept or receive financial contributions on behalf of any candidate for partisan office,” he said. 

Shanahan said this includes senior University officers openly endorsing or advertising for any candidate.

“It becomes difficult, if not impossible, to separate their identity with that of the University,” he said. “It can look too much like the University is speaking.”

Committee member Pearl Burris-Floyd said she agrees with the BOG’s policies on political involvement.

“I think it is a policy that has a lot of merit, and it doesn’t deny individuals who desire to seek public office from pursuing that," she said. "... I think that this allows people to pursue their dreams and provide skill sets that are sorely needed within the general assembly.”

Powers also spoke on the appointment of the new Board of Trustees members for the Vidant Medical Center, a health care organization in partnership with East Carolina University. 

ECU interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson and ECU Brody School of Medicine Dean Mark Stacy were approved to take seats on the board. 

Closed Session

In a closed portion of the meeting, the committee was scheduled to highlight two important legal cases central to the BOG: the controversial settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans over the Silent Sam monument and a lawsuit filed by DTH Media Corp. last week. 

Members of the BOG have defended their agreement to hand the Silent Sam monument over to SCV, along with a $2.5 million trust of non-state funds for the purpose of the monument's care and preservation. 

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Students and faculty have expressed frustration with the BOG and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz for the lack of transparency on the deal — an issue noted in the DTH Media Corp. legal complaint that claimed the BOG violated the N.C. Open Meetings Law during the deal's negotiation.