Margaret Spellings made several stops during her visit to the UNC – Chapel Hill campus on Tuesday.
She had lunch with students and faculty in Gerrard Hall while protesters shouted “Go Home Marge” and “Come Outside” from a staged area in front of the building.
Spellings then met with students at 1789 Venture Lab on East Franklin Street, which serves as “the bridge between entrepreneurial activity on campus and the larger world,” according to its website.
Never know what you’re going to get into at 1789 Venture Lab. pic.twitter.com/auYyplQoXr
— WCHL & Chapelboro (@WCHLChapelboro) March 22, 2016
Spellings did have a message for those students who have been calling for her resignation.
“I think I would first say, ‘Give me a chance,’” Spellings said. “This is my, I think, third week on the job, maybe the start of my fourth week on the job, and I’m getting about the state, looking at every campus and hearing what people are proud of and what they think our challenges are.
“I had the opportunity to meet with students and faculty members and, obviously, see some incredible innovators here today. I would say, ‘Give me a chance, and I’m all ears.’ I want to hear, obviously, from everyone with a different point of view and we’ll attend to their concerns and issues as best we can.”
Spellings says she is taking this opportunity touring all of the UNC System campuses to listen and find out what makes each institution unique in order to advocate for them.
“What I’m hoping to do is be able to tell the legislature about what I’m seeing, about what we have to be proud of as an institution and how we need to invest in and cherish these institutions, our faculty, the people who are innovating and especially, of course, our students,” Spellings said.
Spellings says the investment she is thinking of includes increasing pay for those involved with universities.
“Staff and faculty pay is clearly an issue that’s before us and the legislature,” Spellings said. “We’re really at a tipping point to remain competitive in this country, and we need to invest in great people.”
Spellings said that she was impressed by what she called the selflessness of the faculty.
“I gave them every opportunity to talk about themselves and what they needed, and they kept coming back and back to the needs of students and the needs of this community, the collaborative nature of this place and how unique that is in an enterprise this size,” Spellings said. “That’s what I’ve been impressed really everywhere I’ve gone is the humility, kind of the servant-educator idea here. And it’s really impressive.”
Spellings says that she is hearing from students about the importance of an affordable education and be an inclusive environment.
“Being a welcoming place for everyone to feel comfortable,” Spellings said. “We’re not going to close the achievement gap in higher education unless we have places that students feel like they want to be and can thrive and be successful.”
Spellings also says that affordable education may be extended to undocumented immigrants. In North Carolina, those students pay out-of-state tuition. Spellings says she has seen undocumented immigrants paying in-state tuition be a successful model in Texas for many years.
“Obviously, the Board of Governors and the legislature need to weigh in on this,” Spellings said. “But, I’ve seen it be successful in Texas, in a state with many, many, many miles of border.”
Spellings says that she views herself as a conduit between the legislature and the people of the state that make up the University System.
Spellings will visit with UNC Nobel Prize winners Dr. Oliver Smithies and Dr. Aziz Sancar on Wednesday before continuing her tour of campuses at North Carolina A&T State University on Thursday.