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Henry's Highlights
Thursday, April 7, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Political winds in Raleigh take easterly shift


Replay the audio archive of Wednesday's Talk of the Town with Henry Hinton: Select clip

Wednesday was a busy and important day at the North Carolina General Assembly. Passage of a state lottery bill in the House of Representatives was the most high profile action of the day but it was action taken by the Senate that East Carolina University partisans should be celebrating.

For years there have been concerns that ECU has been receiving the short end of the stick when it comes to funding and representation at the state level. The Senate took a step in the right direction on Wednesday by electing a former chairman of the ECU trustees board to the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors.

Phil Dixon, a prominent Greenville attorney, received the appointment to the 32-member board. Dixon will join another former ECU chair on that board if Raleigh’s Craig Souza receives an expected reappointment from the House.

Souza is currently the vice-chairman of the Board of Governors.  There is even hope that ECU will receive a third appointment during this session from the House.  Greenville Mayor Don Parrott, another ECU alumnus, is being considered.

If the legislature should move forward with Souza and Parrott it will be the first time in many years Pirate faithful will have three appointments on the large state board.  That has been a source of concern to those who believe these appointments are strictly done for political purposes.  The board has been dominated by UNC-Chapel Hill graduates for years.

East Carolina has fought an uphill battle for equity in funding and representation.  When the General Assembly first formed the 32 member board ECU had three appointments. It was assumed that the intention of the legislature would be that East Carolina would have that type of representation for years to come.

That has not been the case.

As a result, the university’s clout has been a huge question in recent years as the system administration has become involved in ECU at a high level — some say too high a level.

Chancellor Bill Muse was removed from his post after a series of concerns by UNC System President Molly Broad.  Dr. Broad subsequently questioned his leadership after irregularities were discovered in an audit involving funding for the ECU med school.

Muse floated the notion that Broad had been concerned over a meeting he initiated with Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford about potential ECU membership in that league.

While some saw the Muse theory as a “red herring,” there were many outraged at the notion that Muse was being potentially punished for such actions. Broad later denied that her concerns about Muse were motivated by his meeting with Swofford.

It has been these kind of actions and concerns, however, that have led many in the ECU community to the conclusion that there is not enough representation at the state level for the university. With the current makeup of the Board of Governors and given the competitive environment between all in-state schools, many have been left to wonder who is looking out for East Carolina’s interests in these matters.

Appointing Dixon is certainly a response to the call by many from Greenville and the university community that ECU deserves more representation.

“I’m ecstatic,” Dixon said after the vote on Wednesday. “I was lucky because there were a lot of good candidates for just two spots (filled by the Senate). I’m real pleased and I think they recognized that ECU was under-represented.”

In an ironic twist, Dixon’s appointment came one day after Broad announced her retirement from the UNC system. It has been rumored for some time that Broad may have political problems of her own on the board. That seemed to come to a head recently and Broad is stepping down.

Dixon sees the unique timing as a chance for ECU to have some input into who will replace Broad.

“I hope to be an advocate and liaison for our university,” said Dixon. “It seems to me we may have a great new opportunity in that I may be able to participate in working on recruiting and hiring a new president for the system, which will give us a fresh start with someone to let them know what our needs and opportunities will be at ECU.”

Dixon’s presence on the Board of Governors will be greatly enhanced if Souza is reappointed and Parrott can make the grade on the House side.

Pirate faithful should send a special word of thanks to State Senators Scott Thomas, John Kerr and Clark Jenkins for championing Dixon’s appointment.

Senate President Marc Basnight was also instrumental in helping ECU get more representation on the state board.  Basnight has been lobbied hard recently to help ECU on many fronts and he has responded.

Dixon’s appointment to the Board of Governors is Basnight’s latest ECU assist. Last fall the powerful senator from Dare County was the key player in East Carolina’s medical school receiving $60 million for its Eastern Carolina Cardiovascular Institute.

Given Terry Holland’s agenda of playing in-state schools more frequently on a home and home basis, this building relationship with Basnight could continue to fuel East Carolina’s desire to be seen as an equal in the state of North Carolina.

Holland is on record that he would like to play schools from the states of North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina more frequently in the future. And he wants those schools to come to Greenville to play.

With strong new leadership in place at ECU and a renewed effort by lawmakers like Basnight, Thomas, Kerr and Jenkins giving continued support to the university, Pirate partisans can hope for brighter days ahead.

Hopefully Speaker of the House Jim Black will soon follow suit in his Chamber with the help of the local delegation to recognize the need for more ECU representation.

It has been a long time coming and this great university deserves better treatment than it has had in recent years. 


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02/23/2007 10:16:14 AM

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