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BOT vice chair challenges chancellor search process

By Katrina Robinson, Editor-in-Chief
On December 5, 2014

Elwood L. Robinson, Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Cambridge College in Massachusetts since 2012, has been elected Chancellor of Winston-Salem State University by the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina.

Winston-Salem State’s new chancellor, Elwood L. Robinson, will assume his duties in January.

However, the overall chancellor selection process has been somewhat controversial.

Winston-Salem State Board of Trustees Vice Chair Victor Johnson has been firing accusations against Chair Debra Miller.

During a recent interview with The News Argus, Johnson said Miller had violated the WSSU BOT bylaws because she selected members for the chancellor search committee and did not have the Board’s permission.

Johnson said Miller had conducted two "illegal" Board meetings.

He said the meetings did not have quorum.

According to Section 2 of the Board’s bylaws, a Board quorum consists of a majority of Board members in office and is required for conducting business.

According to the document

Johnson provided to the Argus, that six out of 13 Board members were present at a meeting in Charlotte, Aug. 8-9. At that meeting was Bryant Bell, Student Government Association president for the 2013-2014 academic year. Bell graduated spring 2014.

The new SGA president and current Board member, Olivia Sedwick, did not attend the meeting in Charlotte.

"You must have at least seven [of 13] trustees from the Board to make it a quorum and she [Miller] had six. She tried to use the guy from last year [Bell] as the seventh," Johnson said.

A WSSU source told the Argus that Bell was on the BOT at the time the search was conducted, and he had the right to vote.

The names of the three finalist for the chancellor position -- Virginia Hardy, Harry Williams and Robinson -- were released to the Winston-Salem Journal on Aug. 23.

According to a Nov. 7 story published in the WSJ, the Board of Governors recommended Johnson be dismissed from the BOT because he released the names of the three finalist, thereby breaching the confidentiality agreement.

Johnson said he was accused of releasing the three names because Miller "…got hot at me because I told her before we put these names out there, we have to have another meeting..."

He said in a written statement to media, "I am being victimized because I wanted Board Chair Debra Miller to follow the WSSU bylaws: ‘In the event of a vacancy in the chancellorship, the Board of Trustees shall establish a search committee composed of representatives of the Board of Trustees, the faculty, the student body and the alumni.’"

Subash Shah, retired political science professor and former WSSU faculty senate chair, sent an email in May to the president of UNC Systems, Tom Ross.

In his email, Shah discussed his concerns about the quality of the three finalists and how a new chancellor would begin at the start of spring semester, midway through the academic year. Shah also discussed Miller’s decision to exclude SGA president, Sedwick, from voting.

"Does the UNC General Administration want our next chancellor to be someone who is willing to leave his/her current university in the lurch to take a higher level, more appealing job?" Shah said.

Ross said, "for the right opportunity, WSSU will see provosts who are willing to leave for a chancellor’s position mid-year."

Shah said, "The composition of the search committee, including substantive student representation, is key to a successful search. There does not seem to be any reason the search committee could not include two student representatives, both the outgoing and newly elected SGA presidents."

Ross said he understood Miller’s decision.

Miller said that the bylaws of the Board permit her to choose members of special committees.

"We followed the bylaws of the University and of the UNC Systems when it came to the search," she said.

"I think they {bylaws] speak for themselves. If there’s something wrong, I don’t want to break the rules."

Miller said there is nothing in the bylaws that backup Johnson’s accusations .

A WSSU source said Sedwick wasn’t sworn in as a BOT member until Sept. 19, passed the deadline to submit the candidates’ names to the Board of Governors.

According to the bylaws, special committees may be created by the Board or the chairperson of the Board to perform specific functions not requiring the continuous existence of a committee. The size, function, and procedures of special committees shall be determined either by majority vote of the Board or by the chairperson of the Board.

"The search committee was a special committee," Miller said.

Johnson said the committee was created to stack the odds against other prospective candidates, particularly Provost Brenda Allen.

"The ones like Allen have moved this campus forward," he said.

"When you have those people who aren’t in [WSSU] finance or athletics and such, they don’t give a d#@+% about Allen."

Johnson said that he doesn’t understand why representatives from the Board of Governors, Ann Lemmons and Joan McNeil, would disregard Miller’s "violations."

He said. "These two white women got Debra running around doing the wrong thing. They [Board of Governors] don’t like for Black people to stand up. I’m a stand up n#@%. I ain’t no house n#@%."

Johnson said that when he spoke up about what he thought were violations, a target on his back.

Shah said during a telephone interview with the Argus he was shocked to hear about the leak of the finalist’s names.

Shah said he signed the same confidentiality contract as did Johnson..

"I have been there [WSSU] for 34 years, and not once has there been a leak during a search," Shah said.

On Dec. 5, the Board will announce rather Johnson will be dismissed.

If the Board releases Johnson, he will be the first BOT member in WSSU history to be dismissed.

"I’m going to fight this all the way," Johnson said.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the Board of Governors voted unanimously to remove Johnson from the WSSU Board of Trustees. The decision was effective immediatley Friday morning, after the vote. This action is unprecedented in the history of WSSU Board of Trustees.

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