Members of the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors who met in Chapel Hill on Friday morning were greeted by dozens of demonstrators protesting the recent appointment of controversial former education secretary Margaret Spellings as the next UNC president.
A handful of protesting faculty were escorted from inside the board room by police, according to a spokesman for the protesters.
The protesters — students, faculty, staff and others within the UNC community — come from a number of organizations, including the Faculty Forward Network, Scholars for North Carolina’s Future, UnKoch My Campus, the UNC Board of Governors Democracy Coalition, Greenpeace USA, Ignite NC and Progress NC.
Leaflets passed out by the protesters said they want the Spellings appointment to be rescinded and for the school’s governing body to have a transparent process to find a replacement, a reference to what many said was a secretive process in the selection of Spellings. She was tapped last October to run the system of 16 universities, with 222,000 students, and awarded a $775,000 base salary for each of five years in a contract that also gives her deferred compensation of $77,500 annually and potential performance bonuses, and use of a presidential home.
A statement released by the protesters quoted Ajamu Dillahunt-Holloway, a student at North Carolina Central University and Black Lives Matter activist, as saying:
“Margaret Spellings’ past with the Bush administration shows that she was never in support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Her ideas for college as a business will only take away from the institution of learning.”
The News Observer quoted Carla Robinson, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, who said Spellings was a bad choice.
“She was chosen without input from students or faculty or taxpayers, and she had shown that her values are not what we want to see in continuing education,” Robinson said.
An earlier post about Spellings’s appointment said:
The News & Observer reported in August on e-mails showing that conservatives expressed delight when the board voted on Jan. 16 to oust Ross (who earned a base salary of $600,000 in his final contract year):
That day, several supportive emails and messages arrived in the inbox of board Chairman John Fennebresque. “John – this is certainly good news,” wrote U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Republican from Raleigh. “I know you will find a great replacement. Best, g.”
The selection of Spellings was so controversial, even within the governing board, that its chairman, John Fennebresque, resigned a few days later. According to NC Policy Watch, “just three days after she was hired, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors announced he was resigning from the board, following calls from his colleagues to step aside as a result of the acrimonious search process and the jumbled dismissal months earlier of Spellings’ predecessor, Tom Ross.” Fennebresque had, NC Policy Watch reported, said with tears in his eyes after Spellings was appointed that he hoped she would prove to be a great UNC leader.
Spellings oversaw the initial implementation of No Child Left Behind when she was education secretary under Bush, from 2005 to 2009, and she currently is the head of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. While education secretary, she convened the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which in 2006 released a report with controversial recommendations, including a call for colleges and universities to focus on training students for the workforce and supporting research with commercial applications. She also served on the board of directors for the Apollo Group, the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix, which paid her more than $300,000 for her involvement.
The choice of Spellings has sparked savage criticism by students and faculty, who have said that she is not a suitable president for the vaunted UNC system and that she was chosen as a political move because she is likely to accept changes in UNC priorities much easier than Ross would have. Her résumé was one target, as was a statement she made shortly after being asked how much politics would play a role in her leadership of the UNC system. She responded:
“You know, these are all political settings. That’s how we make public policy in this setting and in this state. And in a political setting that we call a democracy, obviously. … Our publics understand that, too — that our leaders, our legislators and funders and stakeholders are bought into it and that we’re moving out around that shared vision, so you bet, that’s what makes it fun. That’s what provides input. That’s what allows us to make course corrections where needed. So you bet, I think it’s a fantastic way to make policy, is in a political setting.”
The Daily Tar Heel, the UNC-Chapel Hill student newspaper, quoted students expressing their distress. For example:
“If (the board) had considered our concerns, which is the protection of students of marginalized identities, they would have made more efforts to choose a presidential candidate who is more in-line with what the students’ needs and concerns are,” said UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore Ebony Watkins, who said she was speaking on behalf of an unofficial coalition of concerned students.