ECU leader says images of him in bar were ‘not good judgment’ and ‘won’t happen again’

East Carolina University’s interim chancellor said in a radio interview that he isn’t proud of the photos and videos of him drinking and dancing with students at bars near campus last week. On Monday, Dan Gerlach was placed on administrative leave while the UNC System investigates what happened.

“It’s not good judgment,” Gerlach told Pirate Radio Live, a popular radio show among ECU fans, on Monday evening. “I should’ve just maybe said one beer and then you know that’s it.”

After an event for ECU alumni last Wednesday, Gerlach went out to a couple of bars in downtown Greenville, where he ran into students who wanted to take selfies with him. He said he bought drinks for two off-duty police officers that he was hanging out with that night. Gerlach also said he should’ve tried to get away from a woman who is seen sitting close to him and touching him at the bar in the photos.

ECU interim chancellor Dan Gerlach (right) has been placed on administrative leave after videos and photos circulated showing him in a Greenville, NC bar. Submitted photos

“I regret that I was out this late putting myself in this position,” Gerlach said on the show. “It won’t happen again.”

Gerlach said he was sorry that his behavior caused this distraction from the progress that he said ECU has been making.

In the interview, which was the first time he’d spoken publicly about the situation, Gerlach described his effort to be visible to students and approachable as interim chancellor.

“I carried that too far, and I regret the distraction that’s been caused,” he said. “I don’t want anybody here to think that these pictures are anything more than me talking to people and encountering people probably too late at night in a bar.”

The photos and videos were first reported on Greenville media outlets on Sunday. On Monday morning, UNC System Interim President Bill Roper placed Gerlach on leave.

In the radio interview, Gerlach acknowledged that he made a mistake, but said that he didn’t think it was a fatal error. He said he’s still interested in pursuing the chancellor position full-time and that he wants what’s best for ECU.

“I made a mistake, chancellors are human beings and make mistakes,” Gerlach said. “But I don’t think it is indicative of my ability to lead the university, especially with the great team we have.”

ECU interim chancellor Dan Gerlach has been placed on leave pending further investigation after photos and videos surfaced of him apparently chugging beer at a Greenville, NC bar. Submitted photo

He said he’s eager to answer questions from the board and address concerns about his behavior.

Some ECU fans, students and others have defended Gerlach’s actions and supported his efforts to connect with students and the ECU community. As of Tuesday evening, 11,000 people had signed a petition insisting that Gerlach return to his role as interim chancellor. And hundreds more had signed a second petition.

Gerlach told the host of the show, Troy Dreyfus, that he is concerned about about how the media outlets got the photos and videos, which he said were packaged and distributed in a way to make him look bad.

“These are completely blown out of perspective,” Gerlach said. He said he wasn’t “doing anything so bad as to really justify what’s happening to me now.”

The UNC System Board of Governors held a previously scheduled special meeting Tuesday morning but did not discuss the situation involving Gerlach or his candidacy for the permanent ECU chancellor position.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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