There were some strange, tense moments Wednesday during a meeting of N.C. Central University's Board of Trustees. It was not this governing board's finest hour, at least in terms of understanding and following rules of order.
This was a telephone meeting, so all trustees called in from afar while Chancellor Charlie Nelms and his administrative staffers on campus spoke using a speakerphone.
The first blip came when Nelms and his staff requested that the board approve the staff's list of preferred designers for a renovation of a campus recreation complex. This is the sort of vote that campus trustee boards do routinely and generally without much discussion.
But this time, members of the board's building committee went back and forth for more than 20 minutes trying to figure out what they had jurisdiction over and whether they could hold an impromptu committee meeting as the full board was meeting.
The board was not prepared to approve the request, vexing Nelms, who at one point blurted out that the university needed this decision made and not delayed.
"This is a building built 40 years ago," he exclaimed. "It's falling apart."
The board eventually tabled the vote.
Then, a discussion of a housing crunch and the university's need to find some off-campus housing for at least 300 incoming freshmen this fall. They could end up in hotels, and that decision will be made by residential life officials.
On this issue, Trustee Eric Michaux clashed with Nelms, questioning the process and wondering why trustees don't get to oversee the decision on the housing issue.
Michaux didn't buy Nelms' explanation that the state brokers the housing deal, not campus trustees.
"Is there not any responsibility on the part of this board to make sure the welfare of the students is taken care of?" Michaux asked.
Kevin Rome, NCCU's vice chancellor for student affairs, had this to say: "Please trust us that we wouldn't put our students in a dump!"
Next, the board appeared to get confused in attempting to create a nominating committee, whose task it is to come up with its own board's slate of officer candidates. Again, this is generally not a complicated matter for a campus trustee board.
But Wednesday, confusion reigned. At one point, the board appeared to try to vote four members into three slots. Then, a question of whether there can be just three members of the nominating committee, or three or more members. Then, a question about whether the board is even supposed to vote on such matters; usually, a board's chairperson simply appoints members to these committees.
The meeting was tempestous enough that the university, in a very unusual move, released the following statement from Nelms less than an hour after the meeting ended:
"North Carolina Central University operates in a unique system of shared governance between the UNC Board of Governors, NCCU Board of Trustees and campus administration. On occasion, each group's role and responsibility may overlap. Nevertheless, I am confident that we continue to share the common goal of advancing the institution and I look forward to furthering my working relationships with these groups." - Charlie Nelms.