Emails place blame for Miller job search on "disgruntled old - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Emails place blame for Miller job search on "disgruntled old frat alums"

Supporters of UNCW Chancellor Gary Miller have written the UNCW Board of Trustees and UNC System President Thomas Ross this month. Supporters of UNCW Chancellor Gary Miller have written the UNCW Board of Trustees and UNC System President Thomas Ross this month.
UNCW Board of Trustee Michael Drummond (Source: UNCW) UNCW Board of Trustee Michael Drummond (Source: UNCW)

Gary Miller may still be the chancellor of UNC Wilmington for now, but emails obtained by WECT show at least one member of the Board of Trustees considers Miller's departure a certainty.

Trustee Michael Drummond has used language such as "this by the way is in no way the reason Gary is leaving" and "we need to find a good leader to help make the university the best in the country" when corresponding with citizens about the news of the chancellor's recent job search.

One line from an email Drummond sent to a citizen was redacted by the university's legal counsel before being handed over to WECT. The university explained, "the information redacted may constitute Private Personnel Information not subject to inspection or public examination."

Drummond said he did not want to comment on the potential release of personnel information to the public when reached via email this week. This is the second incident in which the university has questioned whether private personnel information was released pertaining to Miller. In an interview earlier this month, State Representative John Bell claimed that Chancellor Miller had a poor performance review, citing information from more than ten people. Bell, in his position, would not be entitled to that information.

Miller's job search has been a topic of conversation in southeastern North Carolina for much of this month. Over the last several weeks, Miller has been named a finalist for leadership positions at universities in New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. The job at Youngstown State went to another candidate and Miller withdrew his name for consideration for the Buffalo State job. He could find out as early as Monday about a position as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay.

Miller has not spoken to the media about the reasons for his job search. His supervisors, the UNC Board of Governors, including President Thomas Ross, aren't making public statements. In previous investigative reports, WECT revealed rifts between the chancellor and the UNCW Board of Trustees over decisions involving athletics, a lawsuit against the university and the handling of the suspension of a fraternity on campus.

In emails to President Ross from the public this month, the latter issue continues to be a point of contention.

"Needless to say, I am shocked and appalled at the treatment given Gary by the Board of Trustees. This is a board that is out-of-control. Their actions are blatantly political, mean-spirited and dangerous. Clearly, they are operating outsides the bounds of best governance policy. It is reprehensible that a few disgruntled 'old frat alums' can wield so much power," wrote Bill Anlyan, who identified himself as the former Vice Chancellor for University Advancement under then-Chancellor Jim Leutze. 

"The biggest issue, the fraternity, is the most disturbing to me. It is very unsettling when personal interests and vendettas such as those of sitting Board of Trustee members who are members of the fraternity in question, have free rein to interfere with a best practices process put into place by students to ensure the safety of all students. The collaboration with a current faculty member who belongs to the same fraternity and has an ax to grind with the administration, certainly brings to mind the "good old boys" network. They have no regard for what is fair or appropriate, it is 'my way or the highway,'" wrote Linda Upperman Smith, a former member of the board of trustees.

"The VAST majority of my personal and business acquaintance look at this situation as politically motivated execution of someone who failed to support a reversal of action that impacted less than 100 students on campus," wrote Pete Hexter to the Board of Trustees. Hexter is a local fundraiser and a founder of the Landfall Tradition, which raises money for the UNCW golf programs.

In all, Ross' spokesperson turned over four letters from the public. WECT has only received a partial response to our request with the Board of Trustees, which included three emails from the public.

The citizens mentioned an issue that WECT has reported on in depth involving the suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

  • Chancellor Miller upheld the suspension of SAE after a disciplinary hearing in 2012.
  • In 2013, the General Assembly created a new law allowing students to have legal counsel at those hearings after the SAE experience. Rep. Bell, a UNCW SAE alumnus, sponsored the bill.
  • A founding member of the SAE fraternity on the UNCW campus, Parks Griffin, was a large contributor to Governor McCrory's campaign and ran the governor's inauguration committee.
  • The former president of the suspended fraternity, Ian Gove, went to work in Governor Pat McCrory's office in 2013 and started in the office responsible for finding appointees to boards and commissions. The governor's office denies Gove was ever part of the decision making and Gove's online resume on LinkedIn was changed to take that duty off after WECT's inquiry. 
  • In August 2013, Governor McCrory appointed two new trustees for UNCW. Michael Drummond and Dennis Burgard both are former members of the SAE fraternity at UNCW.Burgard confirmed in a phone interview that Parks Griffin and others approached him about a spot on the BOT about five years ago.

Burgard has told WECT in previous stories that this is all coincidence. Drummond has never done an interview with WECT and has repeatedly denied requests for comment, but did respond to citizens who implied a connection between the chancellor's current troubles and SAE.

"Do you really think that two trusties that just joined the board eight months ago have rallied twelve BOT members to recommend that we remove Gay Miller? Thank you for believing in us so strongly but I know thats not the fact in this case," Drummond wrote in part of a response to Hexter.* "Third, I am tired of SAE, Dennis and myself being scapegoats in this matter."

"If you fell you want to talk to me about the SAE incident and get the whole story I will be glad to talk. This by the way is in no way the reason Gary is leaving," Drummond wrote to Smith.* 

At one point on May 12th, Drummond encouraged the chair of the UNCW Board of Trustees, Wendy Murphy, to issue a statement on the Miller job search other than honoring his desire to seek other employment.

"I am working very hard to keep our campus away from negativity and from looking like a circus," Wendy Murphy responded to Drummond in saying that the message should continue to be that Chancellor Miller is looking at opportunities.

That message continues to come from the Board of Trustees as the month ends. But in emails, concerned citizens claim a Miller departure would have repercussions in the community.

"With his (Miller's) departure, based on what I have heard over the last 30 days from a large part of those who I know support UNCW….there is going to be a very significant fallout," Hexter wrote to the trustees.

"I will not blink twice about reclaiming my father's endowment and sending it to my father's alma mater, ask to have my father's name removed from the university, and cease my fundraising efforts on behalf of the university if the direction of this board continues to have negative implications for the campus," Smith wrote to President Ross.

*As a general rule, WECT reprints emails verbatim without grammar or spelling correction. Drummond later clarified in the emails that his spelling errors were due to him responding from an airport during a business trip.

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