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UNC Board of Trustees votes again on new provost in emergency meeting


UNC Board of Trustees member David Boliek discusses amendments to a new policy for renaming campus buildings during a UNC Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, July 16, 2020, in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Photo courtesy of Casey Toth of the News & Observer. 

The UNC Board of Trustees hosted an emergency meeting Tuesday to redo its vote to approve incoming Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Chris Clemens, following public speculation that its initial vote on Dec. 9 violated North Carolina Open Meetings Law.

Last week, the BOT voted on personnel items in open session of a special meeting, but what those items were was not disclosed in the meeting or on the meeting agenda. On Tuesday, notice of the 1:30 p.m. emergency meeting was given around 11 a.m.

The meeting's agenda listed the items of executive vice chancellor and provost and executive vice provost and chancellor's chief of staff on its agenda under "Consideration of Personnel Matters" — which was not done in the Dec. 9 meeting agenda.

The emergency meeting came after students, faculty and other members of the UNC community expressed concerns about political interference from the UNC System, BOT and Board of Governors on decision-making. Faculty Chairperson Mimi Chapman wrote about these concerns specifically regarding the provost search in a Nov. 29 op-ed in The Daily Tar Heel.

All of the trustees present at Tuesday's meeting voted yes to approve Clemens as UNC's next provost and executive vice chancellor once more — with the exception of Student Body President Lamar Richards, who voted no.

Transparency and Open Meetings Law

The BOT is subject to North Carolina Open Meetings Law, which requires that the public be notified of and have access to all meetings of public bodies, as well as full and accurate official meeting minutes.

Personnel matters are classified under Open Meetings Law as discussions that can be conducted in closed session, but votes must be held in open session. Under the law, the Board can vote on matters in reference to an agenda as long as the agenda is sufficiently worded for the public to understand what the Board is voting on.

But the matters voted on in the Dec. 9 meeting were only described as "action items" and not listed in the public agenda. This led many to believe that the secretive vote was in violation of the state Open Meetings Law.

Chairperson David Boliek, who called the emergency meeting, addressed these speculations in his opening remarks.

Boliek mentioned both the North Carolina Open Meetings Law and the Human Resources Act, laws he said are often competing legal guardrails. The state Human Resources Act mandates that information in a personnel file remain confidential.

“These two requirements do not sync up often to allow full disclosure of personnel actions at the time of a recorded vote,” he said.

The Board's actions in last Thursday's meeting were meant to "prevent the premature disclosure of confidential personnel information" associated with the appointment of the provost, Boliek said. In the event of a positive vote, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz had requested time to finalize Clemens' appointment and make a public announcement, Boliek said.

He said the Board did not violate the Open Meetings Law.

“That said, the Board has been unfairly accused of violating the law by not revealing all details about the nature of the personnel action at the time of the votes,” Boliek said. “And some have gone so far as to challenge or question the validity of our votes. Those accusations have unfairly stained this Board process and this Board.”

He said he alone called the emergency meeting to "immediately end any further attempts to question or challenge the validity" of Clemens' appointment.

Votes during the emergency meeting

Upon Boliek's request, Board Vice Chairperson John Preyer motioned to again accept Guskiewicz’s recommendation to appoint Clemens as the next executive vice chancellor and provost, with a salary of $425,000.

Preyer also said the vote was also to ratify — to the extent necessary — the actions taken to approve the recommendation previously last Thursday.

Boliek said the Board was free to disclose information during the motion because Clemens has already accepted the terms of his appointment and the news had been shared publicly.

Before the vote began, Trustee Marty Kotis III and Boliek then asked University General Counsel Charles Marshall if he could confirm, to the best of his legal knowledge, that the emergency meeting was in compliance with the Open Meetings Law.

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Marshall said he did not want to give any legal advice unless the meeting went into closed session.

“I’m comfortable with the fact that we are properly complying with the Open Meetings Law,” Boliek said.

After further discussion from Kotis, Marshall said he had no reason to believe the emergency meeting was out of compliance with the Open Meetings Law.

The BOT then approved proposed salaries for the executive vice provost and the chief of staff to the chancellor, positions that will be filled by Amy Locklear Hertel, the chancellor's current chief of staff, and Christi Hurt, UNC's current senior prevention strategy officer, respectively. Boliek said today's vote was done with prior consent from Hertel and Hurt. 

Richards abstained from the vote, and all other trustees present voted in favor.

Guskiewicz thanked the Board for approving his request to authorize two salary appointments and said Clemens would do an outstanding job as the University's next chief academic officer.

“I look forward to working with Chris as a key member of our leadership team in this new role,” Guskiewicz said.

 'I don’t want to have a do-over every time we do stuff' 

It is up to the BOT, Boliek said, to take the appropriate steps in their meetings to assure compliance with the competing strands of the Open Meetings Law and the state Human Resources Act.

He said that while he believes the Board acted appropriately last week, it was important to him as chairperson to end speculation on the validity of the appointment and salary votes.

“I don’t intend to call an emergency meeting, a special meeting, every time social media or the student newspaper decides to question something the Board does,” Boliek said. “I don’t want to have a do-over every time we do stuff. I mean, it’s just not fair to us, and it’s not fair to the University, because the University needs to move forward on these actions.”