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NC community colleges chief Stith resigning after 18 months

An image of Thomas Stith III speaking while wearing a red patterned tie and glasses. He is facing the right side of the image. A flag pole with the North Carolina flag is on the left. A man with gray hair and glasses is in the foreground.
Gerry Broome
FILE - Thomas Stith III, transition team executive director for then-Gov.-elect Pat McCrory, speaks during McCrory's first news conference since the week he was elected North Carolina's next chief executive in Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 13, 2012. Stith, now the president of North Carolina's community college system, is stepping down. He will resign effective Friday, July 22, 2022, according to a statement released Tuesday, July 19, 2022, by State Board of Community Colleges Chair Burr Sullivan.

The president of North Carolina's community college system is stepping down, as board members who lost confidence in him after barely 18 months on the job accepted his resignation.

Thomas Stith III, once chief of staff to then-GOP Gov. Pat McCrory and a former Durham city council member, will resign effective Friday, according to a statement released Tuesday by State Board of Community Colleges Chair Burr Sullivan.

The statement disclosing the resignation came days after board members met behind closed doors for three hours. Friday's closed session was in part to talk about Stith's performance related to his goals as president, and followed Stith's presentation on those goals.

The state board voted in December 2020 to hire Stith as the next president of the 58-college system, which is one of the nation’s largest. Now a presidential search will have to begin to seek another new leader. Four different permanent presidents and two interims have held the job since 2015.

An emergency board meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, with considering the selection of the next interim president on the agenda.

“The board thanks Mr. Stith for his service and wishes him well,” Sullivan said in a news release. “Despite a change in leadership, the important work of the great 58 community colleges will continue. The board remains confident and committed to meeting the higher education and training needs of our citizens and businesses, especially during this critical time."

Stith, who headed the U.S. Small Business Administration in North Carolina before taking the president's job, said in the same release that it's been an honor to lead the system since January 2021 alongside educators, other professionals and students.

“While navigating the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 crisis with careful stewardship, authentic collaboration and unshakeable faith, I am thrilled that our community college system enhanced its offerings, making students more competitive for the workforce, entrepreneurship and transfer to four-year institutions,” he said.

Stith and Sullivan didn't immediately return phone messages Tuesday seeking additional information on why Stith was leaving.

Board members had expressed concern for months about a high turnover rate among employees at the state system office in Raleigh, leading to many vacancies. It also didn't help that there had been well over 30 new campus presidents hired since 2015, increasing instability.

The board is composed of 22 members, 10 of whom are appointed by the governor and eight combined from the House speaker and Senate leader. The other four include Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson and the president of the statewide community college student government association.

Stith's predecessor as president was Peter Hans, who left to become president of the University of North Carolina system.

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