ECU chancellor denies that he’s resigned, heads to Orlando meeting

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Cecil StatonEast Carolina University

Cecil Staton

East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton will leave his post on Jan. 1, the Raleigh-based Carolina Journal online website reported today, citing anonymous sources.

In response, ECU spokesman Tom Eppes said via e-mail, “Chancellor Staton is currently en route to Florida, where he will be representing ECU at the [American Athletic Conference] Board of Directors meeting.  He confirms that he has neither accepted any deal nor resigned as Chancellor.”  Additionally, Staton said, “My focus will continue to be on serving ECU,” according to the email. The conference meeting is in Orlando.

Staton’s departure would end three years of controversy since the former Georgia state senator was hired to run the state’s fourth-largest UNC campus with nearly 29,000 students. The post is considered among the most influential positions in eastern North Carolina, given ECU’s economic impact on the region.

ECU reported a 1.4% decline in student headcount this fall, including a 4% decline in freshman enrollment. Total student credit hours dipped 2.4% . “We will likely receive a $5 million reduction in budget, which means that we will receive that amount less in state appropriations,” Provost Ron Mitchelson said at an ECU Board of Trustees meeting in September. “Our costs won’t go down, but we will have less money coming in.”

Also, the university’s storied football program is facing great tumult, with 14,000 fans attending the Pirates’ 59-41 loss Saturday to Memphis. The sagging attendance comes amid construction of a $50 million expansion of the 50,000-seat stadium. The team is 8-24 in Coach Scottie Montgomery’s three years in Greenville.

Staton raised eyebrows earlier this year when he wrote an op-ed for the Raleigh News and Observer complaining that ECU was “handed the largest budget cut for any of the state’s public universities: $1.1 million, with no reasonable explanation.” Such direct criticism of the university’s main funding source — the N.C. General Assembly — is rare among UNC System chancellors.

ECU Board Chairman Kiernan Shanahan previously said that the university’s board unanimously approved a statement of support for Staton.

On Friday, ECU’s board approved a $50 per student increase in athletics fees, while holding undergraduate tuition stable, pending approval by the UNC System Board of Governors. The additional fee will gen­er­ate $1.1 mil­lion, helping re­duce an ex­pected $5.2 mil­lion athletics-department short­fall by next June, the Greenville Daily Reflector reported last week.

The Carolina Journal is a unit of the conservative John Locke Foundation based in Raleigh.

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