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Tonight, the CFCC Board of Trustees will try to remove Ray Funderburk

Ray Funderburk III at his interview with the New Hanover County School Board on June 2.
NHCS YouTube
Ray Funderburk III at his interview with the New Hanover County School Board on June 2.

Tonight, the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees will meet in an attempt to expel one of their own: Ray Funderburk. WHQR’s Ben Schachtman and Rachel Keith have more.

Rachel Keith: Ok, Ben, we’ve been working to get more information on this story since we heard about the meeting on Monday. First up, what can we expect tonight?

Benjamin Schachtman: Well, we’re not entirely sure, to be honest. But there is a state statute that guides the process of removing a community college trustee. Usually, that process is top-down, meaning it’s initiated by the state, but in this case it seems to be locally initiated — Board Chair Bill Cherry decided he wanted to do this. And, what they’re going to do is lay out allegations, we believe it’s two main allegations, against Funderburk — the board will present their evidence and Funderburk will have a chance to respond. I’m not sure if there will be witnesses, or anything like that, but I believe there will be statements, and that kind of thing.

And Rachel, yesterday you spoke with Funderburk’s attorney, Gary Shipman, and reviewed some emails between him and the board that laid out what these allegations actually are.

RBK: That’s right. The first has to do with a recent Black History Month event held at CFCC – where students of color got a chance to talk about their experiences at the college. Towards the end, Funderburk apparently spoke, and said he was disappointed that the media had not been allowed.

BS: And from some of the emails you shared with me, the college considers that defamatory in some way?

RBK: Right. The college claims Funderburk’s comments were “placing CFCC in disrepute.” Gary Shipman argued that even if that was true, that’s not the same as disreputable conduct, which is one of the potential reasons for removing a trustee.

BS: And there’s another, somewhat more complicated allegation, correct?

RBK: Correct, talking to Shipman and looking through these emails, it seems the college is accusing Funderburk of pressuring a teacher to change a student’s grade. This was a dual-enrolled student, who was struggling academically at the college, which meant they weren’t able to play baseball at their high school.

But we were able to get a hold of a letter, written by that teacher, and the complaint is far from cut and dry. The teacher says he was contacted about the grade, but notes it was by quote coaches, parents, and a trustee…

BS: And it doesn’t name Funderburk.

RBK: It doesn’t. But even if Funderburk is that trustee, the letter doesn’t say who did what — that is, if the pressure was coming largely from a coach, from parents. It also notes that while there were a lot of conversations about the grade, none were threatening. And one of the big takeaways seemed to be concerns about better preparing high school students for the pressures of dual-enrollment courses at the college.

BS: So, at least for Funderburk’s attorney, Gary Shipman, this isn’t a smoking gun.

RBK: No. And that kind of leads to the elephant in the room: retaliation.

BS: Yeah, Shipman explicitly called this retaliation — noting that Funderburk voted against a raise for CFCC president Jim Morton, his second 10-percent raise in as many years, and also pushed back on Morton’s refusal to do another staff survey.

RBK: He was pretty forthright. Here he is speaking yesterday to WECT, who has been working on this story with us:

Shipman: “He questioned why it is we're giving Jim Morton a raise ... when he questioned the process for evaluating Jim Morton for this year and suggested that there be a survey, he was shot down on that."

RBK: So, we don’t know what other information or evidence against Funderburk the board will present. But we’ll see tonight — and then there’ll be a vote?

BS: That’s right. A two-thirds majority is required, so that’s nine out of the board’s thirteen members, but only if everyone shows up.

RBK: And we know from a recorded conversation between Chair Bill Cherry and Funderburk that Cherry’s spoken with the other board members — so they’re probably counting votes.

BS: I would imagine Funderburk is doing the same thing.

RBK: OK, well, Ben, you’ll be there to see what happens. Thanks for being here, and thanks for going tonight.

BS: Happy to do it.

Editor's Note*: WHQR has reached out twice to CFCC's media relations department to get more details on the hearing process and has yet to receive a response.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR
Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.