Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Wilson Times on the investigation into photos that East Carolina University Chancellor Dan Gerlach took with students at bars:
For the second time in six months, the bigwigs in Chapel Hill appear to be gunning for an East Carolina University chancellor’s job.
Former Chancellor Cecil Staton announced his departure from ECU in March following widely publicized tensions with University of North Carolina Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith. Now the interim chancellor who succeeded Staton, Dan Gerlach, has been sidelined.
UNC System Interim President Bill Roper placed Gerlach on administrative leave Monday while officials mount a meritless investigation into Gerlach’s fondness for the Greenville nightlife.
The Pirates’ popular captain might be forced to walk the plank because he was spotted taking pictures with ECU students and drinking alcoholic beverages at a restaurant and bar. Gerlach is widely known as a leader who enjoys chatting with students and posing for selfies. His campus celebrity status has inspired apparent jealousy among the stuffed shirts in administrative academia.
Gerlach went to Sup Dogs, a restaurant near campus, saw a couple friends and accompanied the men to Club 519, a nearby bar. At both establishments, East Carolina students recognized him, spoke with him and posed for snapshots. Not unlike many restaurant and bar patrons, he had a couple drinks. That’s the extent of this supposed scandal.
Media outlets reported that alumni and community members complained after the selfies, taken last Wednesday, surfaced over the weekend. A few folks apparently didn’t like that Gerlach was pictured with his arm around female college students. An arm around the shoulder, of course, is a common gesture for a posed photo.
“When I first started here, and even before, one constant concern that I heard was that our students needed a leader of the university to be present and approachable, someone who can speak to them in their language,” Gerlanch said in a prepared statement released Sunday. “That’s what I’ve set out to do at ECU. I regret that these photos are being perceived as anything more than what they are.”
The News & Observer of Raleigh interviewed management at Sup Dogs and Club 519. Both establishments said the chancellor’s behavior was appropriate and neither received any complaints from other patrons.
Club 519’s official Twitter account posted a tweet supporting Gerlach, noting that he’s the first ECU chancellor who’s “come down from the ivory tower and been a part of OUR community.”
Roper and the UNC System say Gerlach isn’t being punished. He’s merely on leave while an investigation runs its course. The higher-ups want to seem impartial, but if they hadn’t rushed to judgment, Gerlach would still be at work.
An investigation is warranted when someone is accused of wrongdoing. Trouble is, no one’s cited a single law, rule, code or contract provision Gerlach may have violated. No facts are in dispute. The photographs speak for themselves. No one pictured with Gerlach has lodged a complaint. It doesn’t take a hotshot detective to piece this puzzle together.
Placing Gerlach on involuntary leave and publicly announcing he’s under investigation without providing him a summary of the allegations against him seems like a flagrant violation of his due process rights.
A government agency can investigate you for anything _ but it can’t investigate you for nothing. In First Amendment cases, courts have ruled that groundless fishing expeditions have a chilling effect on free speech and may be unlawful even when they don’t result in any formal charges or disciplinary action.
This is a stall tactic and a public relations move, not a legitimate probe. And Pirate Nation isn’t buying it. Students are rallying behind Gerlach on social media and signing petitions demanding his reinstatement, The Daily Reflector of Greenville reports.
Roper and the UNC Board of Governors have shown themselves too eager to meddle in East Carolina’s affairs. If the ECU Board of Trustees can’t handle a few phone calls from uptight alumni without the big bosses from Chapel Hill butting in, then why have local trustees in the first place?
The stodgier folks among us don’t have to like Chancellor Gerlach’s extracurricular activities. They’re free to voice their disapproval. They shouldn’t be entitled to chase him off campus with a sham investigation.
We call on the UNC System to reinstate Gerlach immediately. By pressing this nonsense case, officials are only making him more popular by the day.
The Winston-Salem Journal on the first death reportedly related to vaping in North Carolina:
For many of us, especially nonsmokers, the recent tragic illnesses and deaths associated with vaping probably seem somewhat distant. But the first reported death in North Carolina linked to vaping, which occurred at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro last week, brings the tragedy home in a way it hadn’t been before.
It’s time to take action against vaping, which has now become a death sport.
The test results from last week’s death are still somewhat preliminary, it should be noted. The patient was a Virginia resident, and North Carolina health officials are working with the Virginia Department of Health to determine if the death meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria for the debilitating injury associated with the use of electronic-cigarettes that we’ve been seeing lately.
But given the information at hand, it’s reasonable to conclude that the death is part of that scourge.
The illness is more than just smoker’s hack. Symptoms are similar to pneumonia, and include shortness of breath, fever, cough and nausea or vomiting. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should take them seriously and seek medical help right away.
Scientists are still learning about the illness, and they’re not sure whether it’s caused by the e-cig devices themselves or with specific ingredients, some of which may be contaminated. In many cases, patients have acknowledged using products that contain THC, the main ingredient that produces a marijuana high, but vapers shouldn’t assume that vaping is safe under any circumstances. There’s too much we don’t yet know. …
Earlier this month, Cone Health officials confirmed that its doctors had treated at least six patients with the disease, one of whom was placed on life support.
The illness is all the more dangerous because of vaping’s popularity with teenagers _ usage increased by 135% between 2017 and 2019, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey; 27.5% of U.S. high school students are thought to use e-cigs regularly. That’s more than 5 million. It’s a fad that will draw more teenagers who want to be cool or rebellious.
If they haven’t already, parents must now talk with their children, making them aware of the possible consequences of vaping _ even if they think their kids don’t vape. Unlike cigarettes, vaping may not leave a tell-tale odor. And they must stand ready to assist children who have become addicted but now want to quit. Nicotine is an insidious drug, notoriously difficult to kick. Our children need every bit of support we can muster for them.
For assistance quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, contact your doctor, call the North Carolina Quitline at 800-784-8669 or go online to www.quitlinenc.com.
This situation is dangerous. We can’t mess around with it.
The Times-News on planned plant closure that will displace about 650 workers:
There’s one bright spot in Wednesday’s (Sept. 25) news that German auto parts manufacturer Continental plans to close its Fletcher brake systems plant, displacing about 650 workers.
The plant will shut down by the end of 2022, but the layoffs won’t happen immediately, a company spokesman said. Officials blame a decline in orders for the hydraulic brake systems for the shutdown.
“There are many factors that will influence the timing, but we don’t anticipate any reduction in workforce until mid-year 2021,” said Mary Arraf, senior manager of communications for Continental’s North American region.
That will give local economic development and Blue Ridge Community College officials time to plan to help workers retrain and find new jobs. They wasted no time.
Hours after the closing was announced, BRCC officials met with Brittany Brady, president of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, to start working on a plan. “We feel confident that among the 130 manufacturers in Henderson County, (Continental’s) skilled workforce will not have problems finding jobs,” she said.
Continental is one of the county’s largest employers, accounting for more than 11 percent of the county’s industrial workforce, estimated at about 5,800. The loss is a blow for workers, their families and the community that have benefited from the plant’s presence for 22 years. The facility first opened in 1997 under the name ITT and became part of Continental in 2006.
The closing is the first for a major industry in Henderson County in more than a decade. The most recent shutdown of a similar size industry was almost 15 years ago when office furniture manufacturer Steelcase closed its Fletcher plant, costing 480 jobs.
The county has added hundreds of industrial jobs since then, another factor that should work in favor of Continental employees as they seek new jobs.
“This is certainly not the response we ever want to hear from our industry, but this does give us time to put a plan in place and give the company time to maybe realign their plans for a positive outcome in Henderson County,” Brady said.
Asked if the company might reconsider the closing, she replied, “A lot can happen in 24 months.”
The announcement was a “complete surprise,” she said, noting that Continental had made several major expansions at the plant. …
“There is nothing this community could have done to prevent this,” Brady said, adding that the corporation loves Henderson County. “At the end of the day this was a business decision due to the shift in the automotive market,” she said.
The plan that local officials are working on may involve helping workers find placements with other employers, and retraining them when necessary.
The county’s economic development leaders and BRCC officials deserve credit for jumping into action to start work on that plan. The goal should be to ensure that all workers who live in Henderson County are able to find new jobs here.
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