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UNC-CH political liaison moves to athletics department


Newly elected UNC Board of Trustees Vice Chair John Preyer, right, speaks with re-elected assistant secretary of the board, Clayton Somers, left, at the board’s meeting at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Newly elected UNC Board of Trustees Vice Chair John Preyer, right, speaks with re-elected assistant secretary of the board, Clayton Somers, left, at the board’s meeting at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Julia Wall

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The North Carolina political operative who orchestrated UNC-Chapel Hill’s controversial Silent Sam deal now has a new job in the university’s athletics department. It’s the second time Clayton Somers has filled a newly created administrative job at UNC.

Somers, a former chief of staff to Republican N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, first joined the UNC System in 2017 as secretary of the university and vice chancellor of public affairs at Carolina. Then-chancellor Carol Folt created the position to improve the relationship between the university and state and federal governments. As vice chancellor, Somers served as a liaison to the state legislature and leaned on his experience and close relationship with Moore.

In the first six months of that job, Somers got a $50,000 pay raise — a nearly 18% salary increase — just before the state budget took effect that year. Most other state employees got a flat $1,000 raise in that budget. Those raises bumped his salary up to just over $330,000, which is more than double his salary while working for Moore.

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While serving in that position, Somers put together the Silent Sam Confederate monument settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2019. The $2.5 million settlement, secretly negotiated behind closed doors, brought sharp criticism to Chapel Hill and was later overturned by a judge.

somers-clayton Clayton Somers

A move to the athletics department

Somers continued to serve as vice chancellor and the board’s assistant secretary until January of this year, when he moved to the athletics department. For the past year, Somers has earned a $350,603 salary, making him the second highest paid administrator in the department behind Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham.

Somers’ job title is administrative director. When asked about Somers’ job description, a university spokesperson said he has been serving on Cunningham’s leadership team and assisting “as needed” on special projects, department risk management issues and name, image and likeness strategy. He has also served as a liaison for ACC and NCAA governing bodies, according to the university.

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This isn’t Somers’ first job in athletics. He served as general counsel for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association from 2012-2014.

“He’s a talented lawyer with a lot of skills,” UNC-CH board chair Dave Boliek said about Somers and his new position.

While he’s employed by Carolina, Somers is also supporting the UNC System Board of Governors in an advisory, part-time role as the system “works through the changing landscape of college athletics to create financial sustainability in the universities’ athletics programs,” according to a system spokesperson.

‘Special adviser to the athletic director’

University officials did not publicly announce Somers’ new job and he’s not listed on the staff directory on the athletics department’s website. They did not answer additional questions about how or why the job was created or answer requests for an interview with either Somers or Cunningham.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a message to university leadership in January saying Somers accepted a fixed term position in Carolina Athletics as “special adviser to the athletic director.” University officials did not say how long that term is.

In the message, Guskiewicz applauded Somers’ work as vice chancellor, saying he was “a tireless advocate for a wide range of state and federal initiatives that have helped secure generous resources for the University to support our students, faculty and staff.”

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The vice chancellor for public a­ffairs position apparently no longer exists.

Chris McClure, who was UNC’s chief strategy officer, replaced Somers in his roles as secretary of the university and the assistant secretary of the Board of Trustees in January. McClure is also an administrative director in the chancellor’s office. He serves as the senior advisor to the chancellor and makes $265,750 a year.

This story was originally published June 14, 2022 1:29 PM.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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