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GREENVILLE — East Carolina University's chancellor will leave his job in early May after fewer than three tumultuous years in Greenville.

The university announced Monday that Cecil Staton's last day as chancellor will be May 3, the date of ECU's spring commencement. He'll remain at ECU as an adviser through June 30.

ECU didn't give a reason for Staton's departure. But at a news conference on campus Monday morning, however, Staton told reporters that it was not his idea to step down.

“Let me just simply say: I did not initiate this,” Staton said, according to the News & Observer of Raleigh.

The newspaper also reported that Staton said he signed a “non-disparagement” agreement last week with ECU and said he wouldn't criticize the university.

Online publication Carolina Journal reported Monday that ECU will pay Staton $589,700 in severance by July 15.

The Daily Reflector of Greenville reported Sunday that the announcement of Staton's departure comes shortly before the UNC Board of Governors will name four new members to the ECU Board of Trustees. That decision is expected later this week.

Staton started work July 1, 2016, as ECU's 11th chancellor after two years as a vice chancellor for the University System of Georgia and a year as interim chancellor at Valdosta State University. He previously ran three media companies, served five terms in the Georgia state senate and worked for more than a decade as a college professor at two Georgia colleges.

The university in its Monday news release credited Staton with leading a rebranding effort to raise ECU's stature beyond eastern North Carolina, launching a $500 million capital campaign and overhauling the athletics department by hiring a new athletics director and head coaches for the struggling football and men's basketball teams.

But there has been plenty of grumbling during Staton's tenure.

The News & Observer reported in early 2018 that critics blamed Staton for a run of poor football seasons and for his role in buying a $1.3 million off-campus house for the chancellor. Carolina Journal reported in late 2018 that Staton was seeking a buyout — a report that Staton denied — after butting heads with Harry Smith, an ECU graduate and chairman of the UNC Board of Governors.

In January, the Daily Reflector reported that 130 people — former trustees, Greenville political and business leaders and members of the university's foundation — defended Staton in a letter to former UNC System leader Margaret Spellings.

Staton will remain in Greenville through June 30 as an adviser to UNC System President Bill Roper and ECU's interim chancellor, who has not yet been named.

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Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.​

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