The University of North Carolina system issued a news release saying that Chancellor Cecil P. Staton will step down effective May 3. He’s slated to remain in an advisory capacity until the end of June.
Staton said in a statement released by the university system that he’s enjoyed his time at ECU and that there are “no limits” to what the university can achieve.
But when asked at a news conference if he was asked to step down, Staton responded: “Let me just simply say I did not initiate this.” He declined to elaborate and noted that he had signed a non-disparagement agreement.
Board of Governors member Steve Long issued a statement, sent to North State Journal, blaming the head of the statewide board. Long said Staton was pushed out by board Chairman Harry Smith over “politics, not the chancellor’s performance.”
Former ECU Foundation chairman and alumnus, Henry Hinton, told North State Journal he agreed with much of Long’s assessment, and the idea that enrollment declines could be blamed on Staton was “a red herring.” Hinton said Staton was “100 percent one of the most honest and ethical guys I know.”
“Enrollment is down at Wilmington. Enrollment is down in Asheville. It’s down for two reasons,” Hinton said. “One is the NC Promise Program. That put two institutions in eastern North Carolina with $500 tuition. How can that not effect East Carolina?”
The other reason, Hinton said, was the efforts by the bigger schools in the UNC system, especially Chapel Hill and N.C. State, to recruit more in-state students that had traditionally enrolled at schools like ECU.
Staton was hired in April of 2016 to lead ECU which has an enrollment of nearly 29,000, including about 23,000 undergraduates. He previously spent years as a faculty member and administrator of universities in Georgia.
Staton’s announcement comes months after the departure of the leader who hired him, former University System President Margaret Spellings. And the former chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, Carol Folt, left the university in January after the statewide board moved up her intended departure date by several months.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.