Students and alumni at East Carolina University are showing their support for Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach after he was placed on administrative leave for allegations which are being further investigated.
Students, faculty, staff and members of the community took to social media to voice their opinions on the subject matter. Hashtags such as #IStandWithDan and #DanTheMan began to circulate on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook yesterday.
Zachary Zynda, a senior industrial technology major, created a petition on Change.Org titled “Save ECU Chancellor - Fight Fake News” yesterday and said he is hoping to reach 10,000 signatures.
Zynda said he created the petition because he saw the situation being “blown out of proportion” over the weekend. Students can sign the petition online at change.org.
“He (Gerlach) doesn’t hold himself higher than us (students),” Zynda said. “We’re all equal and just having a good time, and then it gets blown out of proportion and the guy gets put on (administrative) leave for being out among the students.”
As of 8 p.m. Monday, the petition had reached nearly 6,000 signatures and the numbers continued to rise.
Amirah Pitt-Bey, a senior finance major at ECU, said she supports Gerlach’s decision to go downtown. Pitt-Bey said she appreciates his choice to go to the downtown area because he has plenty of options of places to drink, but he chose to go where he could interact with students.
“I think he had full intentions of kind of seeing why we enjoy going downtown to get a better understanding of the real ECU, like actually being out, instead of being on campus or acting on our best behavior because that’s probably not all that we do,” Pitt-Bey said.
Pitt-Bey said she is in ECU Ambassadors, an organization on campus which hosts various events. She said the first time she met Gerlach he came to speak to the ambassadors.
He was very personable and humorous in her experience, Pitt-Bey said. She said Gerlach expressed his support for the ECU Ambassadors and was straightforward with his intentions for ECU.
“He said he wants to work with us and focus on the students and ensure that our experience at ECU is the best he can make it while he’s here,” Pitt-Bey said. “He hopes can be here for a good while.”
Pitt-Bey said her interactions with Cecil Staton, the previous chancellor before Gerlach took the interim position, were “completely different” than her interactions with Gerlach.
Gerlach approached every ambassador individually and asked each student where they are from and their names, according to Pitt-Bey. She said Gerlach probably still remembers her as “the girl from Maryland.”
Pitt-Bey said she hopes people will focus on his accomplishments as chancellor during this time, she said she feels he has done more as interim chancellor than many previous chancellors have done. Pitt-Bey said she hopes these allegations do not affect his chances at becoming chancellor of ECU in the future.
“Me and other people, I feel like we’re really upset about it (the situation). I would definitely want him to be our permanent chancellor (and) I know other people would as well just from the experiences that we’ve had with him (and) the different feel that he has provided to our campus, this shouldn’t be something that should affect his chances,” Pitt-Bey said.
Catherine Williford, an ECU alumnus, said she believes Gerlach’s intentions were innocent. She said students and alumni support him for his involvement in the community, including drinking downtown.
Williford said Staton was chancellor when she was enrolled at ECU and a major complaint of students during her time at ECU was his lack of involvement with students. She said she is envious of students now who are attending ECU while Gerlach is an interim chancellor.
“I didn’t have that support when I was in school, with Staton, that was everyone’s main complaint is that he just seemed like he was too good to hang around the students,” Williford said. “I didn’t feel any support from administration and this (Gerlach’s time as Interim Chancellor) is the opposite.”
Williford said she is disappointed Gerlach is in the position he is in now because he is the chancellor everyone was hoping for.
“I hate this is kind of tarnishing his name because I really hope he will be able to become chancellor and I think it would be a really cruel decision to not consider him for that position because of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which I think is what this whole situation is,” Williford said.
Alumni are experiencing feelings of outrage and confusion about the pictures and stories published about Gerlach, according to Williford. She said she thinks the pictures were portrayed incorrectly.
Abdullah Alabdali, a junior finance major at ECU, said he believes Gerlach was trying to engage students in an interactive setting outside of campus.
Alabdali said he does not know Gerlach on a personal level, but he believes Gerlach’s intentions were not malicious and Gerlach has been a productive chancellor so far.
“He’s driving ECU in the right direction (and) I think, and obviously this whole issue has united the whole ECU community, and even the Greenville community,” Alabdali said. “He definitely makes ECU a place where everybody feels like they belong, so that’s why I stand behind him.”
Alabdali said he understands the chancellor being put on administrative leave but he hopes the facts will prevail and Gerlach will still be considered as chancellor in the future, which was a consensus he received from peers he spoke with about the subject.