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Henry's Highlights
Tuesday, April 27, 2004

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

Purple Alert aims to amplify ECU's voice


East Carolina University’s quest for more attention at the state level and more love from the legislature may take a step forward if constituents take notice of a new initiative to involve them. ECU officially launched “Purple Alert” on Tuesday.

The idea was born as part of a strategy to energize the alumni base of the state’s third largest institution.

Purple Alert is going to make ECU partisans aware when there is something going on in the state legislature or otherwise that affects the university. It is being championed by the East Carolina University Board of Visitors.

“The Board of Visitors’ goal is to advocate to anyone and everyone about the good things here at ECU,” said Chairman Joel Butler. “We see our role to involve East Carolina graduates, students, parents and others interested in our success to get our message to those who provide funding for our university or make decisions that affect us.”

Other universities have started similar programs to get the attention of state legislators. In fact, some initiatives have grown to the level of actually getting the constituency to form a political action committee.

According to Butler that is not the objective of Purple Alert.

“Our goal, for now, is educating people to make their legislators and members of the Board of Governors aware of our position when there are things happening at ECU that involve a need for their help,” Butler said.

After the 2003 session of the legislature, when the university’s request for $60 million for the new Cardiovascular Diseases Institute fell short, there was a call to arms by many in the ECU community.

The failure of that request seemed to epitomize East Carolina’s lack of clout at the state level.

There is but one East Carolina graduate on the UNC System’s Board of Governors, a prestigious and powerful body that includes just a few people who reside east of Raleigh.

Funding inequities have long been a concern of administrators inside the university. Many have said that ECU is the recipient of a less than fair share because of the “squeaky wheel” theory.

Interim Chancellor William Shelton, at the behest of many concerned about such things, recently hired a consultant to work on ways to get the message out in a more effective manner.

Former ECU Student Government President Alan Thomas is the architect of the “Purple Alert” concept, which will include a website, periodic emails to those who sign up and a phone number to give the latest information on issues involving East Carolina.

“We are trying to get our constituents to get mobilized on projects that are important to ECU," said Thomas. “We want ECU people across the state to be involved and be informed.”

Thomas is the brother of State Senator Scott Thomas of Craven County and the son of former Senator Joe Thomas, formerly a powerful Democrat in the legislature.

The website can be accessed at One who joins will receive a password which can be used for access to resources and information, including a message board, talking points on ECU issues that can be used in discussing the university’s position with a local legislator, and specific details on how to contact members of the General Assembly.

The launch of the new site has been timed to precede the upcoming session of the legislature by just a few weeks. The General Assembly will return to Raleigh for its short session the second week of May.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives will once again be discussing the possibility of funding the ECU School of Medicine’s request for the Cardiovascular Diseases Institute.

The 2003 session ended with a bill that included $180 million for a new cancer center in Chapel Hill and zero for the ECU request. The Chapel Hill bill failed. Now there is renewed commitment on both sides to push for both requests in May.

The leadership on both sides have said they will support the ECU and Chapel Hill initiatives together if funding can be found. That is a huge “if.” The idea of a cigarette tax is being floated along with some other creative financing arrangements.

Both Co-Speakers of the House have said in the past they would not support a tobacco tax, so the question of funding for the ECU center is still very much in doubt.

This promotional banner appears on the website of
the Purple Alert, ECU's initiative to rally support on
behalf of causes considered vital to the university.

“We don’t want to leave any stone unturned this time,” said Thomas. “It is important for our constituency to be actively involved in the legislative process.”

With “Purple Alert” there is now a central rallying point to bring the ECU community together and galvanize the interests at hand.

The website is now operational and available to visitors.

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02/23/2007 10:13:28 AM

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