UNC Chemistry Professor Receives Teaching Excellence Award

UNC chemistry professor Michael Crimmins has been awarded a 2016 Teaching Excellence Award by the UNC Board of Governors.

Crimmins has been a faculty member with the Department of Chemistry at UNC for 34 years. He also serves as the director of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program, which aims to increase diversity among science leaders and provide a pathway for students to become professional scientists.

“Michael Crimmins has made exceptional contributions to teaching throughout his career,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “He continues to provide extraordinary leadership in the implementation of innovative educational methods and is a beloved mentor who motivates students to achieve. I am especially grateful to him for the important work he is doing to build our Chancellor’s Science Scholars program and develop the scientists and innovators of tomorrow. Carolina is fortunate to call Michael our own and we are incredibly proud of him for earning this prestigious and well-deserved honor.”

Students have spoken highly of Crimmins ability to help them succeed in classes that could be intimidating, like organic chemistry.

One professor from each of the 17 UNC system campuses was awarded with a Teaching Excellence Award.

Crimmins will receive the award during UNC’s spring commencement ceremony.


Spellings: My Responsibility is to Serve Needs of Every Student and Tax Payer

Tuesday was a busy day in higher education across North Carolina.

It was Margaret Spellings’ first day as President of the UNC System after a process more than a year in the making. And protests were held on six campuses across the UNC System rallying against Spellings’ hire.

It has been a much-criticized 14 months for the UNC System Board of Governors, from pushing out Tom Ross, to a closed search process for his replacement to the selection of Spellings as Ross’ successor. The chair of the 32-member board during much of that transition abruptly resigned following the announcement Spellings would be the new System President.

Spellings spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge on Tuesday about what she is feeling finally being in place as President and how she is going to work to mend fences with those already asking for her removal.


Protest Held on Margaret Spellings’ First Day as UNC System President

Hundreds of students and faculty members at UNC gathered on Tuesday to protest the newly-minted UNC System President, Margaret Spellings.

It didn’t take long for the chanting to start, just after 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning as the crowd grew in front of Wilson Library on the UNC campus. The protest was part of a coordinated walkout at six of the 17 UNC System campuses.

The protest was held on Tuesday to align with the first day that Spellings was officially at the helm as President.

UNC Protest. Photo via Blake Hodge.

UNC Protest of Margaret Spellings. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Protesters targeted Spellings’ history, including actions taken while she served as the U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush and her involvement with for-profit colleges and a student loan collection agency.

“Spellings claims to value public education, but her actions and her words say otherwise,” one protester said. “College students are not customers. This University System is not a business.

“We will not let her turn our University System into a profit-making machine for the white elite men of this state.”

Another speaker took aim at the process that began with the firing of President emeritus Tom Ross and led to the hiring of Spellings.

“The Board of Governors doesn’t care about us,” she said. “It doesn’t care about our opinions. And it’s only natural that the selection process that didn’t include us would result in the selection of a president who doesn’t represent us and should not be fit to govern us.”

Other speakers spoke about the “attack” on the Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the UNC System and Spellings’ record of funding HBCUs during her time as Education Secretary and her criticism of PBS in 2005 for spending public money on a cartoon with lesbian characters.

UNC geography professor Altha Cravey has been an outspoken critic of Spellings and again stated her objection to Spellings referring to students as “customers.”

UNC Geography professor Altha Cravey. Photo via Blake Hodge.

UNC Geography professor Altha Cravey. Photo via Blake Hodge.

“If you look at Margaret Spellings’ long public record, you’ll see that this is at the heart of her ideology – the idea of performance-based funding, performance-based metrics,” Cravey said. “You don’t need any student voice. You don’t need any faculty voice. You’ve already got the metrics – you’re measuring things every quarter, every year – you already know which programs to close.”

The contract in place that will pay Spellings $775,000 per year – $175,000 more than Ross made while president – also drew criticism from the crowd in a year that state employees received a one-time $750 bonus but no raise.

The first Board of Governors meeting with Margaret Spellings as president is scheduled for Friday at Fayetteville State University.


NAACP Requests Records Over Hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC System President

A group delivered a public records request to the UNC System General Administration offices on Tuesday regarding the firing of Tom Ross as System President and the subsequent hiring of Margaret Spellings.

Members of the North Carolina NAACP Youth and College Division along with members of Faculty Forward gathered at the C.D. Spangler Building on Tuesday morning asking for information about the hiring of Spellings to lead the 17-campus UNC System.

Longtime Chapel Hill civil rights attorney Al McSurely said that the group felt the board violated the state’s open meetings laws when hiring Spellings, the former U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush.

“We believe this caucus secretly met in person, electronically and by phone to make decisions in an effort to avoid the strict sanctions of the open meetings law,” McSurely said.

McSurely said that he expected a response that some of the records requested are personnel files and therefore not subject to open records laws. He countered that they are “more than personnel matters, this goes right to the heart and soul of this university.”

McSurely added that the power the Board of Governors holds is given to them by the residents of North Carolina and the board members should be held accountable for their actions.

“We also pass laws – that’s the people, over at the people’s house – to prevent a small band of ideologues, bent on stealing rather than guarding our state treasure, to at least conduct their thefts in broad daylight,” McSurely said.

NAACP and Faculty Forward Protesting Hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC System President. Photo via Blake Hodge.

NAACP and Faculty Forward Protesting Hiring of Margaret Spellings as UNC System President. Photo via Blake Hodge.

The group was protesting the 2015 firing of Ross that led to a much-criticized search process culminating in the hiring of Spellings. Kierra Campbell is a senior at UNC. Campbell said she was speaking out against Spellings for the President-elect’s connection with for-profit higher education.

“I came to UNC to get an education,” Campbell said. “I came to UNC to get a liberal-arts degree, and I’ve grown as a holistic person because of my education at UNC.

“And I believe any privatization of any type of education system is not going to allow other students to get the same opportunity.”

Altha Cravey is an associate professor at UNC and a member of the group of faculty speaking out against Spellings known as Faculty Forward. Cravey said she believes Spellings’ attitude toward students and faculty will be a detriment to the University System and the state.

“Margaret Spellings talks about students as customers,” Cravey said. “She does this repeatedly, and this is indicative of the ideology she holds that education is a private thing and not a public thing.”

Campbell said that she takes issue with Spellings and the process which resulted in her election as President.

“You’re hiring someone to represent us, to represent our needs, to fight for us and this woman doesn’t know us,” Campbell said. “She doesn’t know what students need. She doesn’t know what it’s like being on a campus. She’s not even a previous educator.”

Campbell added, “[Spellings] cares about the interest who put her in that power. She cares about corporate interest, and she cares about making money. And that’s what she’s good at, and that’s what she knows how to do. She doesn’t know how to take care of me.”

McSurely said the group was hopeful that the information would be delivered before the March 15 primary election is held in North Carolina.

Spellings’ first day as System President is set for Tuesday, March 1. The first BOG meeting under Spellings’ leadership is slated for March 4 at Fayetteville State University.


UNC Protester Says Group Will ‘Always’ Ask for Margaret Spellings’ Dismissal

Four protesters were arrested at the UNC Board of Governors meeting last Tuesday.

The group was protesting the election of Margaret Spellings at UNC System President.

The magistrate did not find probably cause for charges against one student. But the other three individuals were charged with counts ranging from disorderly conduct to resisting an officer and even assault on a law enforcement officer causing serious injury.

One of those arrested was Femi Mimi Brown Shittu, who spoke with Carolina Connections’ Alex Thomas about the incident and the protesters’ plans going forward.

The protesters are due in court on February 4.

The next meeting of the Board of Governors is slated for March 4 at Fayetteville State University. That will be the first meeting under the direction of Spellings.

Carolina Connection is the radio news magazine produced by students in the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. You can hear Carolina Connection Saturdays throughout the semester at 8:30 on 97.9FM/1360AM WCHL, immediately following the Chapelboro Week in Review.


UNC Board of Governors Elects New Chair and Interim President Amid Protest

The UNC System Board of Governors attempted to go about its business in a normal fashion on Friday morning but was interrupted by protests.

Protesters gathered outside before the Board of Governors meeting on Friday morning objecting to the selection of Margaret Spellings as the new System President.

Some of those protesters made their way into the meeting and did not take very long to make their voices heard.

As the roll was being called, UNC geography professor Altha Cravey began reading a script from the group Faculty Forward voicing opposition to Spellings.

UNC Professor Altha Cravey protesting during the UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

UNC Professor Altha Cravey protesting during the UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Cravey was escorted out by UNC Police. One-by-one, six other protesters stood up and picked up the script where the one prior had left off while being escorted away.

The protesters were greeted by cheers from the near 100 others gathered in the lobby, who were shouting throughout the board meeting – loudly enough to be heard through the closed doors.

Two board members, Marty Kotis and Steve Long, expressed frustration with the continued shouting throughout the meeting and asked what disciplinary sanctions could be pursued, specifically against faculty members.

Board chair Lou Bissette says that he does not believe those sanctions will be sought by the board.

The protesters were issued a warning for trespassing but no arrests were made.

Michael Behrent is an associate professor of history at Appalachian State University. He was one of the faculty members escorted out of the meeting.

“We went into the Board of Governors with clearly laid out statements explaining why we think the Board of Governors not only made a serious mistake that does disservice to the people of North Carolina by appointing Margaret Spellings but also hired her in a completely untransparent way,” he says.

Behrent adds it is the protesters’ stance that Spellings represents “everything that is troubling in the direction of public higher education in this country.”

He says that goes against North Carolina values.

“We have a proud tradition in this state of high-quality public education for the benefit of the citizens of this state and for the common good,” Behrent says. “Margaret Spellings has never embraced those kinds of traditions and it’s, therefore, extremely troubling that the Board of Governors has chosen her.”

Spellings, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, was not at the meeting.

One of many signs at UNC Board of Governors meeting protesting hiring of Margaret Spellings as System President. Photo via Blake Hodge.

One of many signs at UNC Board of Governors meeting protesting hiring of Margaret Spellings as System President. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Behrent says the mission of the protesters Friday was to bring their message to the citizens of the Tar Heel state. He adds he knows it will be very difficult to keep Spellings out of the President’s role.

“I think that when the word gets out about what the real consequences are, the underhanded actions of these leaders in our state are, I think the people will understand what’s going on,” Behrent says. “And I think it will be very difficult, if she is installed, for Spellings to govern effectively.”

Board chair Lou Bissette says “there is absolutely no chance” that Spellings will not move into the position of President of the UNC System on March 1, despite protesters saying Spellings was the “embodiment of corporatization of higher education.”

Bissette says the 32-member board is not interested in moving toward privatization of the UNC System.

“I can tell you the board is not interested in that concept,” he says. “And I’ve had many contacts with Margaret Spellings, and I don’t believe that she’s interested in that concept.”

Outgoing President Tom Ross says he will be doing everything he can to ensure Spellings is successful leading the university system.

“I think the university deserves that,” he says. “I would say that to the faculty that this is the President that the board has selected. And she is the leader of the university. And we all need to make sure that she gets the support she needs to be successful, because the university depends on that.

“And we have a great public university and we need to do all we can to protect it and preserve it.”

Ross adds it is “no secret” that he would like to keep serving as President but says it is the board’s prerogative to choose a new leader.

Ross says he has spoken with Spellings about the hostile environment that appears to await her and that Spellings’ decision to travel to all of the system campuses, once installed, to interact with students and faculty is “the right thing to do.”

Ross adds he thinks it is important for everyone, including faculty, to keep perspective on this appointment.

“She applied for or was recommended for, I don’t know which because I wasn’t involved in the search, for the job,” he says. “And whatever the noise is around how the process was done, whatever the concerns are about what happened that created the opening for the job, she didn’t have anything to do with that.

“And so it’s not fair to imprint on her those concerns that are really separate and apart.”

Friday marked Ross’ last meeting leading the board. His last day in the position will be January 3, 2016.

Current senior vice president for academic affairs Junius Gonzales was selected as the Interim President to serve as the bridge between Ross’ departure and the arrival and installment of President-elect Spellings on March 1.

The board also unanimously elected Lou Bissette as the new board chair. Bissette joined the board in 2011 and was appointed to a second four-year term earlier this year. He has served as vice chair under John Fennebresque, who resigned earlier this year after drawing criticism over the search process that led to the election of Spellings.


UNC Board of Governors Receives Briefing on Open Records Laws

The UNC System Board of Governors heard a briefing on North Carolina open records laws on Thursday.

The UNC Board of Governors has been under fire throughout the year for different reasons: firing Tom Ross, how they handled that firing, the secretive search process for Ross’ replacement and possible violations of open records laws, to name a few.

Board vice chair Lou Bissette said he was hopeful that a 90-minute briefing on North Carolina open records laws would be helpful to the 32-member board, especially because so many of the members are coming from the private sector.

“It’s a very specific set of statutes, there are a lot of issues related to it and it was just a great refresher course for me,” Bissette said. “And for those who’ve been in the private sector all of their lives, it was probably really an eye opener.”

The presentation was given by Frayda Bluesetin and Robert Joyce of the UNC School of Government.

The briefing covered a large variety of topics but had a certain focal point on disclosure of pay raises. After all, the decision to have the open records presentation came after a controversial board meeting in late October when the board decided in closed session to give pay raises to 12 chancellors across the system but did not make the information public during the subsequent open session of the meeting.

Bissette, who is leading the board after former chair John Fennebresque resigned earlier this year, said after hearing the report Thursday, he may have made a different decision about disclosing the raises, conceding that it now appears that information was public record.

“It would appear to me that in that case it probably was,” he said.

Bissette said he was happy with the meeting held on Thursday and the information that came forward when board members were able to ask questions regarding specific circumstances and what the law would require of them.

“It just tells me, and I’m a lawyer you know, that these things are not totally black and white,” he said. “There are a lot of gray areas.

“And what we want to do in the future – we don’t want to violate any statutes, any confidentiality statutes – but where we can, we want to err on the side of openness.”

Bluestein said it is not unusual for individuals who are new to a public service role to have issues complying with open record and open meeting laws.

“I think the records arena is a danger zone because they’re creating them themselves all the time,” she said. “And it’s just so incredibly broad.”

Bluestein said another danger zone was drifting off topic during closed session portions of a meeting.

Bissette said the board would likely be looking to implement new policies to avoid falling out of compliance in the future.

The full board will meet on Friday morning beginning at nine o’clock. A protest is scheduled to be held at eight o’clock objecting to the recent selection of Margaret Spellings as the new System President.


Secrecy Surrounding Chancellor Raises Draws Criticism

The UNC Board of Governors decided in closed session on Friday to give pay raises to several chancellors across the UNC System.

Now that information is finally being made public.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson were two of 12 recipients of a pay increase, according to information released on Monday. Folt will now have a base salary of $570,000 and Woodson will make $590,000 per year as his base salary. The chancellors who did not receive a pay raise were among the most-recently hired chancellors in the system or had received a pay raise earlier this year.

But the way in which the board authorized those pay raises drew criticism on Friday.

Just a week before, the board had elected Margaret Spellings to succeed current President Tom Ross, when Ross is removed from the post early next year. It was a meeting happening just four days after the board Chair John Fennebresque, who led the controversial search for Spellings, had resigned.

And the meeting was fairly straight forward, until the board emerged from a two-and-a-half-hour closed session.

Before the board adjourned, George Sywassink delivered the Personnel and Tenure Committee report including that the board had authorized changes to salaries of some chancellors in the UNC System. But the information regarding who would receive the salary increase and how much the salary would be adjusted was not addressed or affirmed in open session.

Jonathan Jones is the Director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, and he says that is where the board does not see eye-to-eye with the North Carolina open meetings law.

“The real problem there is that any time the Board of Governors, or any other public body that’s subject to open meetings law, takes action in a closed session,” Jones says, “they have to come out and affirm that action in a public session.

“If they take a vote in a closed meeting, when they adjourn that closed meeting there has to be an open portion. And during that open portion of the meeting, they have to affirm whatever it was they just decided in the closed session so that the public knows.”

System spokesperson Joni Worthington told reporters the information would not become public record until the individuals affected were informed, according to what she had been told by the system’s general counsel Thomas Shanahan. Jones says there are no provisions for this in the law.

“Neither the public records law nor the open meetings law has any kind of exemption for notifying employees of an action that was taken in closed session that might affect them,” Jones says. “Once they take that action, it does become a public record and it should be accessible.”

Jones went on to say, “The meetings law is clear. You can’t take an action in closed session without affirming it in an open session.”

Worthington wrote in an e-mail to WCHL that, “Our legal counsel does not believe that the Open Meetings Act supports the opinion that all actions taken by a public body must be taken in open session.”

Worthington went on to say that the system is “mindful that State law requires us to keep employee personnel information confidential, with certain exceptions.”

Worthington adds, “Although employers may release information on current salary and prior salary changes, we do not think that information about salaries that have been authorized [but] not yet administratively implemented or even communicated to employees can be considered current.”

Jones says this is not the first time in recent weeks the board has possibly run afoul of open-records requirements, including the “emergency meeting” called in mid-October.

“They held an emergency meeting a couple of weeks ago to discuss a candidate for the Presidency of the UNC System,” Jones recalls. “That clearly was not an emergency. The meeting in and of itself did not comply with the laws requirements for an emergency meeting.”

Jones adds the “emergency meeting” was held at the SAS campus in Cary where the building locks after five o’clock.

“Meaning that folks who showed up after five o’clock couldn’t get to the meeting,” Jones says. “That’s also a serious problem and a violation of the meetings law.”

At that same meeting, the board was criticized for the rushed adjournment that followed a lengthy closed session.

“Every meeting that you have in closed session, when you decide to end the closed session you have to come out into open session again even if the only thing you’re going to do in the open session is adjourn the overall meeting,” Jones says. “When they did that during that emergency meeting, they held the open session before anyone in the public who was waiting to come into that portion of the meeting could get into the room.”

Jones says this track record does not bode well for the perception of the BOG.

“We’ve got this series of meetings over a period of time, two of them kind of close to each other, involving different issues,” Jones says, “where it just looks like the Board of Governors either doesn’t understand the responsibility under the open meetings law or is not committed to doing its work in a transparent way.”


Fennebresque Out as Chair of the UNC Board of Governors

John Fennebresque has resigned from his post as Chair of the UNC Board of Governors.

Not only has Fennebresque stepped down as chair, according to a news release, Fennebresque has resigned his seat on the board effective immediately.

UNC System spokesperson Joni Worthington sent the release announcing the resignation just before one o’clock Monday afternoon. The board elected a new System President on Friday.

Several members of the board had called for Fennebresque’s resignation for the process he led to name a new President, which drew criticism from board members, legislators and faculty members for being too secretive.

Fennebresque is quoted in the release saying, “It has been my honor and privilege to serve on the UNC Board of Governors, and I am delighted we could bring in a nationally proven and accomplished leader to serve as the next President of this great University System. Margaret Spellings has the experience, vision and courage we need to navigate the forces transforming higher education. She is skilled in working with education professionals and a variety of constituencies to bring people together, and she has expressed her strong desire to more vigorously focus attention on providing educational opportunities for all people.”

Fennebresque went on to say that following the completion of the search for a new President, “I believe now is the time for a fresh start for our University system and its 17 campuses, as well as for this Board of Governors.”

Fennebresque first came under fire in January when he announced President Tom Ross would be removed from the position. When speaking with reporters following the decision, Fennebresque only had complimentary things to say about Ross and never gave a firm reason for the decision to remove Ross. Fennebresque did rebut claims that the move was political; Ross is a Democrat and the board has shifted to a nearly-unanimous Republican makeup in the years since Republicans have claimed a majority in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Ross said in the release, “While John Fennebresque and I may have had our differences at times, he truly loves the University of North Carolina and has been a tireless, passionate advocate for it. He has served the UNC system with great dedication and commitment.”

Fennebresque was named to his second term on the 32-member board earlier this year. All board members are appointed by North Carolina lawmakers – half are appointed by the House and half appointed by the Senate.

The statement adds Fennebresque’s seat on the board will remain open until the Senate reconvenes and a replacement is chosen to serve the remainder of the term through 2019.

Current BOG vice chairman Lou Bissette Jr. will assume the chairmanship until the board can elect a new leader, according to the release, which will come after a required 30-day waiting period.


It’s Margaret Spellings As New UNC System President

Following a highly contentious 10-month process, the UNC Board of Governors has unanimously elected former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings as the new UNC system president, to replace Tom Ross.

Spellings will have a five-year contract with a base salary of $775,000 per year. (Ross’ base salary was $600,000 in 2015.)

Board member Ann Goodnight said more than 230 people submitted applications for the position. In September and October the search committee interviewed 14 of those applicants, finally submitting four names to the full board at its meeting last week. (Spellings was reportedly in attendance at that meeting, though, sparking speculation that the Board had effectively decided on her already.)

Spellings hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition to serving as Education Secretary, she’s worked in education and public policy for three decades, beginning in Texas. She currently serves as president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

Governor Pat McCrory issued a brief statement welcoming Spellings to the position:

“As governor I welcome Margaret Spellings to North Carolina and look forward to a great working relationship to further connect our students to unlimited educational and career opportunities so they can each fulfill their potential in our great state.”

WCHL will have more on this developing story throughout the day.