Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center highlights bad optics tied to the recent selection of a chancellor for Fayetteville State University.

University leaders could have eased a lot of suspicion if they simply answered reporters’ questions. Instead, they acted as if they had something to hide, which only served to confirm their guilt in the public eye.

However, university officials may have been found guilty in the court of public opinion even if they had acted with the utmost transparency.

Some of the media hype surrounding the appointment seems to stem from a dislike of Allison’s politics rather than from any proof of foul play. Many of those opposed to Allison’s election have been quite verbal about how they dislike his political views, such as his support for school choice, and distrust his connections to the BOG and legislature. …

… Regardless of the media’s intentions, there’s no denying that the optics surrounding Allison’s ascension to power are far from ideal.

Allison’s quick pivot from being a UNC board member to being hired for a position by that very same board, along with the fact that Allison’s mother-in-law was on Fayetteville State’s board of trustees until the day before his appointment, are ingredients for a scandal—whether real or perceived. Even if the search process was technically adhered to, the university has a responsibility to avoid even an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Going forward, several lessons can be learned from this controversy.

The first is that the UNC Board of Governors should immediately amend its policy to require a hiatus of at least a year from when a board member resigns to when they apply for a leadership position within the university system. Doing so will establish at least some distance between governing roles which will help prevent even the perception of a conflict of interest. This was not the appropriate or prudent time for Allison to take the helm at Fayetteville State.

Secondly, the FSU Board of Trustees and media relations staff need to take a hard look at how they communicate with the public. There is no excuse for their blatant obfuscation and refusal to answer questions that the state’s tax paying citizens have every right to know.