East Carolina University’s interim chancellor was placed on administrative leave Monday after photos and videos surfaced over the weekend of him drinking and dancing at a bar near the Greenville campus.
The photos and videos appear to show Dan Gerlach chugging alcohol with younger patrons, dancing with young women and putting his arms around them at the Club 519 bar. He was taking selfies and interacting with “college-aged young adults” at bars near campus last Wednesday, Sept. 25, ECU said in a statement Sunday.
University of North Carolina System Interim President Bill Roper said in a statement Monday that Gerlach was placed on administrative leave pending further investigation. ECU had no comment on the leave when asked Monday.
Gerlach went to Sup Dogs, a popular student bar near campus, Wednesday night, where he ran into two adult male acquaintances who invited him to walk down the street to join them at another bar, according to ECU. The university said Gerlach is “known for taking selfies with students, staff and faculty on and off campus.”
“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. 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,” Gerlach said in a statement Sunday.
Before he was placed on administrative leave, Gerlach said he would “continue to work toward balancing the university’s budget and improving enrollment and will continue to engage with students and the community.”
ECU provost Ron Mitchelson is the acting chancellor while Gerlach is on leave, according to Vern Davenport, chairman of the ECU Board of Trustees.
Davenport, the other trustees and Mitchelson “support President Roper’s decision to conduct a thorough investigation and hope this matter will be addressed as quickly as possible,” Davenport said in a statement Monday.
Mixed reactions from ECU fans, faculty, officials
Some ECU fans and the Sup Dogs and Club 519 bars defended Gerlach on Twitter.
The Sup Dogs official account tweeted, “Any time Chancellor Dan has been in, he’s been friendly and very respectful. ECU is lucky to have him!”
Club 519, which said Gerlach was there last Wednesday night, tweeted, “Every time I’ve seen the man he’s got his arm around someone. Men and women both. That’s who he is.”
The bar also tweeted “@ECUChancellor Dan Gerlach is the first chancellor I know that’s come down from the ivory tower and been a part of OUR community. We’re lucky to have him. I’m “deeply concerned” that something else is in play here.”
Rob Waldron, owner of Club 519, said he wasn’t there that night and that he doesn’t think Gerlach has been to the bar before. But two of his employees who were at the bar are “adamant” that Gerlach is “blameless,” he said.
“The students that were in here thought it was cool the chancellor was at 519,” Waldron said. “Yeah he had some drinks, but he wasn’t drunk. He was not causing any kind of problems.”
Waldron said they did not receive any complaints from students or other patrons that they felt uncomfortable or that Gerlach’s behavior was inappropriate.
Harry Smith, outgoing chairman of the UNC System Board of Governors, said he received “a lot of phone calls” from parents, faculty and staff and there was “some angst” about the incident.
“It’s unfortunate because ECU has been through so much,” Smith said Monday. “ECU needs stability.”
Smith said it isn’t fair to judge Gerlach as guilty of anything “until we have the facts,” which he’s confident Roper, the system and the university will find.
‘Facts not emotion’
Smith said Roper “makes decisions based on facts not emotion” and that the investigative process will be thorough.
Crystal Chambers, vice chairwoman of the faculty at ECU, said she’s hearing from faculty that most of them, including herself, are “pretty shocked” by the news.
“The role of the university president or chancellor is a 24-7 role to be the face of the university,” Chambers said.
Chambers, who is a professor of higher education leadership, said historically, college president and chancellor contracts included moral turpitude clauses to address leaders’ conduct in public or in their private life.
“As a society we think about adults being able to make adult choices,” Chambers said. “I think there’s a lot of space for administrative processes to sort out what happened.”
At the end of the day, Chambers said, she doesn’t think this is going to impact ECU students’ education or the university’s bottom line.
Gerlach was named interim chancellor in April and started on May 6.
He had no experience running a university, but Gerlach was a successful businessman before being appointed to the role at ECU. Gerlach served as president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, a nonprofit focused on increasing economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities, and served as a budget and financial advisor to former Gov. Mike Easley.
Stabilizing ECU’s finances
Gerlach’s first challenge was to improve ECU’s financial condition, which is currently facing a $16 million budget cut caused by decreasing enrollment.
ECU’s finances have become more stable since Gerlach took over as interim, which was noted at the UNC System Board of Governors meeting earlier this month.
In addition to fixing ECU’s budget, Gerlach has been out in the community connecting with students and alumni.
On last Wednesday evening, Gerlach was the featured speaker at a regular meeting of Cypress Glen’s ECU Club, an alumni group at the retirement community in Greenville.
Elizabeth Jenkins, director of marketing for Cypress Glen, said Gerlach brought the group up to date on what’s been happening at the university.
“It was great,” Jenkins said. “He was a delight.”
Gerlach said in a statement Sunday that he spoke with “125 proud Pirates” there.
“Because our students are the center of the university, I’ve been working hard to show up — at performances, on tours, at Fall Open House yesterday,” Gerlach said. “Students are the reason the university exists.”
Staff writer Martha Quillin contributed to this story.