Statement by the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina at Asheville on behalf of the Board of Trustees
March 8, 2019
The University of North Carolina at Asheville has presented honorary degrees to prominent education, civic, corporate, and arts leaders since 1986. The responsibility for the awarding of honorary degrees is vested in the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees.
In 2017, William J. Murdock was recommended as an honorary degree candidate by the honorary degree committee for his long time charitable and community work in Buncombe County and surrounding areas. He was approved for the award by the Board of Trustees in late 2017. Following the announcement of his selection in 2018, University leaders were made aware of a legal issue involving Mr. Murdock that had taken place 30 years ago. After further follow up, including directly with Mr. Murdock who had two conversations with then Interim Chancellor Joe Urgo about the prior issue, the decision was made by the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees to confirm the selection of Mr. Murdock for an honorary degree.
When choosing honorary degree recipients, UNC Asheville does so based on lifetime achievements. If there are issues in that lifetime of achievement, those issues are weighed against the candidate’s leadership contributions over time based on available information.
University leaders were recently made aware of additional questions about Mr. Murdock’s prior legal issue and his background, including awards and academic credentials. Given these recent questions and concerns, the Board of Trustees today formally accepted Mr. Murdock’s voluntary return of his honorary degree and voted to rescind this university award.
In August 2018, Interim Chancellor Joe Urgo stepped down from the position as Interim Chancellor when Chancellor Cable arrived. She became aware of the University’s process for choosing honorary degree recipients in October 2018, and noted that the absence of background checks is counter to best practices in higher education. At the direction of the Board of Trustees, Chancellor Cable has been asked to conduct a comprehensive review of the honorary degree selection process to ensure that the University adheres to the highest standards, including full background checks on any honorary degree recipients prior to the conferring of the degree.
As a related matter, Mr. Murdock was an employee at UNC Asheville from 1996-2001 as a teacher in the Super Saturday program, a six week enrichment program for motivated and academically gifted students in grades 3-8. The UNC Asheville background check policy originated in 2007. Mr. Murdock was employed before the UNC Asheville background check policy was adopted and operational. The UNC Asheville Department of Public Safety does not have any records related to anyone named William Joseph Murdock.