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.


UNC Board Of Governors to Name New System President Friday

The contentious 10-month search for a new president to lead UNC’s 17-campus university system is expected to come to an end when the Board of Governors votes on Friday.

From the sudden and unexplained ouster of current president Tom Ross in January to last week’s emergency closed door meeting, the process for appointing a new system president has drawn fire from all sides, including students, faculty, the North Carolina General Assembly, and even some on the Board of Governors.

Margaret Spellings is reported to be the front-runner for the position. She was Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush and one of the architects of the No Child Left Behind act designed to reform public education from Kindergarten through high school.

Spellings currently heads the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Texas.

The UNC Board of Governors is expected to meet in closed session at 11:00 a.m., then elect the new president in open session immediately following. WCHL will broadcast the meeting live on 97.9 F.M.


UNC Board of Governors Scrambles to Presidential Search Finish

A new President of the UNC System is expected to be in place before year’s end. And while a selection may be closer, it does not appear the decision is being made with a unanimous voice.

The UNC System Board of Governors met for more than four hours on Friday in what was dubbed an “emergency meeting.”

UNC System spokesperson Joni Worthington told WCHL via e-mail before the meeting that no candidate names would be discussed at the meeting and that no action would be taken on any candidate.

While no action was taken, it does appear that candidate names were discussed. The night before the meeting, Jane Stancill with the News and Observer published a story claiming that the 32-member board would be meeting with Margaret Spellings, the former US secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration.

At the meeting on Friday, a reporter with the liberal-leaning Raleigh think-tank NC Policy Watch snapped a picture of someone distinctly resembling Spellings appearing before the Board of Governors during the roll call, which was in the open portion of the session.

According to reports, Spellings was quickly ushered away as the Board quickly moved into closed session.

The Presidential Search Committee has met in several marathon sessions in recent weeks for what the agenda has been called “candidate review.”

Friday’s meeting was the first time all of the board met together to discuss the search. Multiple members of the Board of Governors have made it public that they felt the search for a new President was too secretive, even among members of the board, and was being guided too heavily by the Search Committee, and in particular, Board Chair John Fennebresque.

In e-mails quoted in the N&O, several members have called for the resignation of Fennebresque saying no matter how qualified the candidate who was chosen to lead the 17-campus system, it would not be welcomed due to the feeling it was the chair’s hand-picked choice.

The board has not been the only body expressing discomfort with how the board, specifically Fennebresque, is moving forward.

Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore wrote a letter to the board last Thursday expressing their concern with the search conforming to new legislation. Senate Bill 670 was passed before the legislature wrapped up a long session last month. The bill calls for the final three candidates to be put forward for the consideration of the entire board.

The tricky part is that Senate Bill 670 has not been signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory, and the governor’s press office did not respond to multiple requests for clarification of the governor’s intention with the legislation.

Worthington released another statement just before the emergency meeting on Friday saying that the board’s process follows the law “as amended” and Board policy.

The statement went on to say, “we fully understand President Berger’s and Speaker Moore’s view that the recently passed Senate Bill 670 requires that the full Board of Governors consider the name of at least three final candidates. We share their desire that the final selection not be hurried or made without consideration by the entire board.”

McCrory has until the end of the day on October 30 to sign or veto Senate Bill 670, which also places term limits on board members. If he does not sign the bill, it will become law. Coincidentally, the next scheduled Board of Governors meeting, where a new President could be named, is slated for October 30.

The board is searching for a new President to replace Tom Ross, who will be leaving that position in early January of next year. Earlier this year, the board, made up on nearly all Republicans, announced that Ross, a Democrat, would be moving from that position, although no specific reason was given for the removal. Fennebresque said at a press conference the removal was not politically motivated. The board shifted to majority and now nearly unanimous Republican makeup in the years since the legislature has seen a similar shift in North Carolina. Board members are elected by members of the General Assembly.


UNC Board of Governors to Hold Emergency Meeting for Presidential Search

The UNC System Board of Governors has called an emergency meeting for one o’clock Friday afternoon at the SAS campus in Cary.

The Presidential Search Committee has been meeting at a breakneck pace in recent weeks as they are narrowing down their search for the replacement for Tom Ross.

UNC System spokesperson Joni Worthington said in an e-mail that no candidate names will be disclosed at the meeting and the Board of Governors will not take action on any candidate.

It’s possible a new president could be named at the board’s monthly meeting on October 30.

The News and Observer is reporting the board will speak with the leading candidate Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary in George W. Bush’s administration. Jane Stancill with the N&O attributes that information to three people with direct knowledge of the search.


Charges Against UNC BOG Member Parrish Dismissed

***UPDATE: A member of the Wake County Clerk of Court’s Office has told WCHL that the charges against Parrish have been dismissed.***

A member of the UNC Board of Governors is due in court Wednesday morning.

61-year-old R. Doyle Parrish is scheduled to appear in Wake County Court on a simple assault charge following his arrest at his Raleigh home on May 12 after a report was filed by his wife Nancy Parrish – who the report lists as the victim.

READ MORE: UNC Board of Governors Member Arrested in Alleged Domestic Assault

Parrish was appointed to a four-year term on the Board of Governors by the North Carolina House in 2013. Parrish began a leave of absence from the board in July and resigned his post on the search committee, which is looking for the next leader of the UNC system after the board announced in January that Tom Ross would be removed from that position.

READ MORE: Parrish Resigns from UNC Search Committee Amid Domestic Violence Allegations

UNC System Spokesperson Joni Worthington wrote in an e-mail to WCHL on June 29 that, “While many members of the Board of Governors are likely aware of news reports about the allegations regarding Mr. Parrish, this matter remains in the hands of law enforcement and the judicial process, which are in the best position to address it at this time.”

Worthington was responding on behalf of University Governance Committee Chair Joan MacNeill, who was the recipient of WCHL’s original e-mail requesting comment.

READ MORE: Removing a Member of the Board of Governors

University policy states that the Chair of the University Governance Committee, MacNeill in this scenario, would be responsible for submitting a written specification of reasons to consider the board member’s removal.

Clear guidelines are put forward in university policy detailing the removal of a board member for missing a number of meetings or being appointed to a conflicting board, however, there is no clear policy for handling criminal charges being levied against board members.