UNC Approved to Create New Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Position

UNC – Chapel Hill is adding a new position that will report directly to Chancellor Carol Folt.

The creation of the vice chancellor for public affairs & secretary to the university was approved by the UNC System Board of Governors at its meeting on Friday.

Folt wrote in a letter advocating for the position that the new hire would report directly to the chancellor and serve as a member of Folt’s “senior team.” The new vice chancellor would be charged with monitoring and advocating “for opportunities across state and federal resources for critical University programs.”

UNC – Chapel Hill brought in $755 million in federal funding and $481 million from the state over the last fiscal year to fund research and initiatives at the institution, according to Folt’s letter. She said the “sheer size of UNC – Chapel Hill’s portfolio” warranted the creation of the new position.

Folt also wrote that the new position would allow the university to better align priorities with the UNC System after its newly created senior vice president of external affairs was announced last month.

Joel Curran has been serving as the vice chancellor for communications and public affairs at UNC over the last two-and-a-half years – a newly created job as of 2013. Folt wrote that Curran came on board “at a time when our well-chronicled academic issues were re-escalating,” referring to the Wainstein Report into the university’s paper-class scandal. Folt said that she also asked Curran to take over management of the Office of Public Records at UNC – Chapel Hill earlier this year, pointing out the university is “easily one of the highest-volume processors nationally among our peer institutions” in regards to public records. That status is very closely connected with the Wainstein Report; Folt noted the university has posted more than one million pages of the five million-page investigation over the last nine months. These reasons are another factor as to why the university needs the new vice chancellor position, according to Folt.

The new position will also serve as the secretary of the university’s Board of Trustees.

The newly approved vice chancellor will be responsible for a four-person staff, according to materials submitted with the request for the position approval.

The proposed salary range for the position is between $171,026 and $342,052. There is no word yet on when Folt would like to have the new vice chancellor in place.


HB2 and HBCUs Among Topics at First UNC Board of Governors Public Comment Session

For the first time ever, public comment was taken at the conclusion of the UNC Board of Governors meeting just before the Memorial Day Weekend.

About 30 minutes after the regular meeting wrapped up on Friday, several members of the board migrated to another room at the Center for School Leadership Development at the Friday Center to hear from members of the public.

Over the last 18 months, the board has come under increased scrutiny following the removal of Tom Ross as System President, the subsequent search for his replacement that led to Margaret Spellings and controversial pieces of legislation from the General Assembly that some feel has targeted the HBCUs across the 17-campus system.

The first person to speak was no surprise to those who have been following the contentious board meetings in recent months – Altha Cravey, a professor at UNC – Chapel Hill.

Cravey has been a constant face at board meetings and rallies on the UNC campus to voice opposition to the newly installed President Spellings.

“I want to thank the board,” Cravey began, “and I want to thank the individual members here today, each of you, for being here with us and for listening to public comments.

“I think this is a really important step.”

Cravey asked the board to move at a slower pace when making changes to the system. Cravey was also critical of laws that were recently passed or are currently being considered by the North Carolina General Assembly.

“They are a thinly veiled attack on our historically black universities,” Cravey said. “And we will defend them; the public will defend will defend them and professors and students will defend them.”

Cravey also asked the board not to hire outside legal counsel to fight HB2, which the board announced just moments before that they had done, but instead to ignore the state law and follow federal guidelines.

Public comment period at UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Public comment period at UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Several themes developed among the nine speakers. Many said thank you to the board for installing the public comment sessions before voicing grievances over legislation and what some view as the “corporatization” of the University System.

Spellings told reporters that there is a policy in place to get the comments in front of the entire board for future consideration.

“Our plan is for a readout of the public comment period to be presented to the board at the subsequent meeting,” Spellings said. She added there are “boundaries” to the public comments being allowed, saying it would not focus on “grade assignments or anything like that” but rather “public policy that we can deal in.”

Board chair Lou Bissette said these sessions will be a mainstay going forward.

“We’re going to do this at every regular meeting,” he said. “And I think it’s going to be great for us and for people who want to come in and give us their thoughts.”

Nine speakers signed up for the public comment session on Friday, but that number is likely to grow as the fall approaches and students are back on campuses across the state.


UNC Board of Governors Hires Legal Counsel, Asks Attorney General to Pay For It

With the ongoing legal battles over North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, the UNC System has hired outside legal counsel.

UNC leadership announced on Friday that the system had hired two Washington D.C.-based law firms to represent the system and the Board of Governors concerning the lawsuits over HB2; the law, which was passed in late March, requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom and shower facility that matches their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.

Left to right: Lou Bissette, Margaret Spelling and Thomas Shanahan speak to reporters. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Left to right: Lou Bissette, Margaret Spelling and Thomas Shanahan speak to reporters. Photo via Blake Hodge.

The system is locked in a legal fight with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina and Lambda Legal, which are representing a group of plaintiffs including a transgender UNC – Chapel Hill employee – and a lawsuit from the United States Department of Justice.

Board chair Lou Bissette said after the board meeting on Friday that there were no assumptions over how much these services would cost the UNC System.

“If we, somehow, find a way out of these lawsuits early on, the cost would be less,” Bissette said. “If we’re in there for a long time – you know what legal fees are today – so the sky would be the limit.”

UNC general counsel Thomas Shanahan said that the two firms – Jones Day and WilmerHale – were chosen because of their expertise in the areas where UNC will require guidance.

The board has hired the outside legal services after the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office has refused to represent the state in any legal proceedings involving HB2.

Bissette sent a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper on Friday asking that his office “begin setting aside funds sufficient to pay the attorney’s fees and expenses that the University will incur in defending these matters and work with us to ensure that the expenses are paid in full.”

“I’m not picking on him,” Bissette said of the request. “It’s a serious matter for us. It’s a lot of money.

“When you’re involved in lawsuits with the US Justice Department, you have to have adequate representation. And we intend to have adequate representation, but it’s not inexpensive.”

The board also passed a motion asking for the AG’s office to respond to the letter within 60 days. At that point, the board would ask the General Assembly to direct Cooper’s office to refund the legal fees.

A spokesperson with Cooper’s office issued a statement to WCHL after receiving the letter from Bissette saying, “The Attorney General would encourage the UNC Board of Governors to help fight HB2 by urging the governor and legislature to repeal the law which would quickly solve the problem.”

Margaret Spellings. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Margaret Spellings. Photo via Blake Hodge.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings reiterated what she has said before regarding HB2, saying that the 17 campuses are stuck between complying with state and federal law. Spellings added that there has been no change in policy at the UNC System and, therefore, they have not violated federal law, as the lawsuits claim they have.

“It is our position, as we’ve said repeatedly, that our policies that commit to a free and open atmosphere of nondiscrimination certainly stand,” Spellings said. “We are not in violation of Title IX or Title VII and do not believe that we have committed any acts against Title IX or Title VIII or any of the federal laws.

“There’s really no issue.”

A motion was filed on behalf of the UNC System in federal court on Friday asking for a stay of the proceedings on the grounds that there is no enforcement policy in HB2 and that the University System has no plans to enforce the law.


Tom Ross Honored with University Award by UNC Board of Governors

UNC President Emeritus Tom Ross is the 2016 recipient of the University Award.

It is the highest honor given by the UNC Board of Governors and recognizes exceptional service to higher education in North Carolina; the award is coming from the same board that came under fire for removing Ross as System President over the last 12 months.

Ross was honored with a banquet Thursday where friends, family and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson spoke about his accomplishments.

A Greensboro native, Ross graduated from Davidson College and the UNC – Chapel Hill School of Law. He became UNC System President in 2011 after serving as the president of Davidson and executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. He also served 17 years on the bench as a Superior Court Judge and worked as the director of the NC Administrative Office of the Courts.

Ross served as the UNC President from 2011-2016, during which time he recommended new chancellors for 11 UNC campuses and broadened system-wide efforts to maximize efficiencies such as expanding online offerings, promoting shared services and increasing private fundraising. He also commissioned the first statewide analysis of the economic impact of higher education in North Carolina, which affirmed UNC’s critical role as an economic driver for the state economy.

Ross’ other honors include the Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, Distinguished Alumni Awards from both Davidson and the UNC – Chapel Hill School of Law and the UNC – Chapel Hill Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award.

He will continue his public service as the President of the Volker Alliance. On July 1, he joins the New York-based, non-partisan organization that seeks to advance effective implementation of public policies and rebuild the public’s trust in the government.


UNC Board of Governors Awards UNC-Chapel Hill and Western Carolina University Professors

The UNC Board of Governors awarded UNC Chapel Hill’s Dr. Aziz Sancar and Western Carolina University’s Professor David A. Shapiro with the highest faculty honor.

The O. Max Gardner Award, named after a North Carolina governor, recognizes faculty who have “made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race.” The award includes a $20,000 cash prize and is the only award which faculty members across all 17 campuses are eligible.

Sancar is the Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine. He won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on self-repairing DNA and has mentored over 100 students in the fields of biology and chemistry.

At the University of North Carolina, Sancar worked on bacterial light-dependent photolyase and nucleotide excision repair. He studied the mechanisms of both systems and discovered the roles they play in sunlight damage to human skin and cancer cell damage to DNA. This work culminated in a map of the entire human genome which his lab published in 2015.

He has received many honors for his accomplishments including the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, the American Society for Photobiology Research Award and the Vehbi Koç Award from the Koç Foundation of Turkey.

Sacar was born in 1946 in Savur-Mardin, Turkey. He is the seventh of eight children in a family that emphasized education. He first studied at Istanbul Medical School, then moved to the U.S. to continue his education at Johns Hopkins, the University of Texas at Dallas and Yale University.

In Chapel Hill, Sacar and his wife Dr. Gwen Sancar, founded the Carolina Turk Evi – a Turkish House near the campus which hosts Turkish scholars and seeks to promote increased ties between the U.S. and Turkey.

David A. Shapiro. Photo via NC.edu.

David A. Shapiro. Photo via NC.edu.

Shapiro is a speech-language pathologist and board-certified specialist in fluency and fluency disorders. He is president of the International Fluency Association and he expanded the organization’s membership from the U.S. and United Kingdom to countries across the globe.

His advocacy efforts assist people with fluency disorders in developed and developing nations. His work helps those whose speech impediments ostracize them from their communities and can lead to discrimination, injury and even death. He has working in over 30 countries on six continents, ranging from the Czech Republic to several African nations, and from Japan to Norway.

Shapiro studied at the State University of New York at Albany, the University of Vermont-Burlington and Indiana University-Bloomington. He taught at a number of different universities across the U.S. before finally coming to Western Carolina University where he has mentored and trained hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students.

Shapiro wrote a book, “Stuttering Intervention: A Collaborative Journey to Fluency Freedom,” and has written or co-authored more than 85 academic papers and articles in seven languages. Over the years he has received more than $1.3 million of grant funding, and in North Carolina, received the UNC Board of Governors’ Award for Excellence in Teaching. Other awards include the Clinical Achievement Award from the NC Speech, Hearing and Language Association, a fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Award of Distinction for Outstanding Clinician from the International Fluency Association.

Shapiro received his award May 27 from UNC President Margaret Spellings and Board of Governors Chairman Lou Bissette during the Board’s May meeting. Sancar, who is out of the country, will be recognized at the July meeting.


UNC Board Of Governors To Take Public Comment At Friday Meeting

In an effort to increase transparency and give protesters an outlet for their frustration, the UNC Board of Governors is instituting a new policy and will take public comment in their meeting Friday, something organizations across the state are preparing for.

“We will have members of Youth and College, I’m sure Faculty Forward will have folks there,” said Tyler Swanson from the NAACP. “We’ll make sure the same thing we’re speaking to all day is the same thing Ms. Spellings will hear, if they give us the opportunity to speak.”

Since the announcement of Margaret Spellings as the new UNC System president, hardly a board has gone by without student or faculty protest.

These protests have included chants and demonstrations and some have ended in arrests. Multiple groups, including Faculty Forward and the NAACP, have questioned the hiring of Spellings, due in part to her role as Secretary of Education during the implementation of No Child Left Behind.

The plan to take public comment was initially discussed in the board meeting March 4.

“(Spellings) stated there is going to be opportunities for the community, students, faculty to address the Board of Governors,” Swanson said. “Well they’ve had two, three meetings and that hasn’t happened.”

The public comment session will begin at 1:00 p.m. or 30 minutes after the board adjourns its Friday meeting, whichever is later.

Each speaker will have three minutes to address the board and it is estimated that 15 people will be able to speak in the time allotted for public comment. Attorney Al McSurely said if the board doesn’t listen, they have a backup plan.

“We don’t come to UNC for two damn chairs,” he said. “We come to UNC to express our feelings. If they won’t meet with us, if they won’t listen to us, then of course some of our people are going to go into civil disobedience.”

Public comment will take place in Room 128 of the UNC Center for School Leadership Development.

Sign-up for speakers will begin approximately 20 minutes prior to the start of the public comment session. Slots will be designated on a first come, first served basis.


Board of Governors Vote to Delay NCGAP

The UNC Board of Governors voted April 15 to recommend delaying a controversial new college admissions program until 2018.

The Guaranteed Admission Program, or NCGAP, will tighten admissions requirements at UNC System schools and direct more students into community colleges. The program is intended for students with the lowest admission criteria to first go to community college, after which they would automatically be accepted into a four year school in the UNC system.

Any change to the program would have to be passed by the General Assembly. Since NCGAP is already law, if it is not changed during the upcoming legislative session, it will go into effect in 2017.

But according to a new report, the program could disproportionately affect minority, rural and low-income students. The report said, however, it will likely lower cost for students and the state.

The program is designed to prevent students who don’t graduate from a four year school from accruing debt, which board member Champ Mitchell said is an important issue.

“The legislature was trying to address a very real problem. The problem of graduation rates that aren’t high enough,” said Mitchell, “which means we are putting people into school and letting them borrow money and then come out with a degree and not a good way to repay it.”

There are two current possibilities for implementing NCGAP.

One would change the minimum high school GPA for admission to the UNC System from a 2.5 to a 2.7.

The other possibility would have each UNC system school reduce the number of students they admit by 2.5%.

Several members of the board voted against delaying the program, including board member Thom Goolsby. He said NCGAP could help improve the community college system.

“They get into the guaranteed acceptance program, they take the courses, they get the two years in community college and they transfer. I think most of the people in the state think that’s the way the community college system works right now, and apparently it doesn’t, that’s a big problem,” said Goolsby.

Board member Marty Kotis was concerned there are not enough resources dedicated to the program.

“So one of the big problems that I have is that we are not identifying the resources we need to implement NCGAP in our budget and I think that’s a big mistake,” said Kotis. “I think that we need to provide for those resources in our budget and show the legislature what we need in order to accomplish the existing law.”

The Board of Governors recognizes that failure rates and affordability are big issues for the UNC System, but differences remain on if NCGAP in its current form is the best solution.


Protesters Once Again Shut Down UNC Board of Governors Meeting

The UNC Board of Governors meeting on Friday was once again brought to a halt by protesters.

The meeting was being held in Chapel Hill at the Center for School Leadership Development on the campus of the Friday Center after it was moved from the campus at UNC – Asheville due to “potential for large numbers of protesters.”

Between 75 and 100 protesters made it to the Friday Center on Friday and about 20 were allowed into the meeting.

Listen to the report from WCHL’s Blake Hodge below:


Chanting could be heard throughout the meeting from those protesters who were not allowed into the packed room.

During the President’s Report from Margaret Spellings, about 30 minutes into the meeting, protesters inside the room interrupted Spellings as the newly-installed President updated the board on her visits to campuses across the System.

Warning: Video contains strong language:

The chanting continued through request from board chair Lou Bissette for them to stop and the meeting went into a recess.

UNC Chief of Police Jeff McCracken then gave the protesters the option of voluntarily leaving or being arrested.

The protesters walked out voluntarily.

There was a heavy police presence, with an estimated 40 law enforcement officers from varying local agencies on hand.

Protesters at UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Protesters at UNC Board of Governors meeting. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Bissette made it very clear when speaking with reporters after the meeting that the board is ready to move past the continued protests.

“I don’t like it,” Bissette said of the protests. “I particularly don’t like the rudeness and a lack of common decency that a number of these protesters have, but I understand it. I’m a big boy. I’ve been around a long time.

“They’re protesters. They’re doing what they think they need to be doing, although I don’t agree with it.”

Protests have been a common scene at board meetings over the last year as the board announced that President Tom Ross would be leaving that post, in a move that many protesters viewed as politically-motivated.

Bissette said the board will be implementing a public comment period during the board’s next meeting to allow concerns to be voiced.

“Where people can sign up and come in and tell the Board of Governors what they want us to hear,” Bissette said. “The problem now is, these people out there, they’re not advancing their cause because they’re out there screaming.”

Bissette said he is hopeful that the public comment period will alleviate some of the protesters concerns.

Lou Bissette. Photo via Blake Hodge.

Lou Bissette. Photo via Blake Hodge.

“I think for some people who really want to convey their feelings and have a dialogue, I think that’ll help,” Bissette said. “For those who want to scream ‘F You’ and ‘Margaret Spellings has got to be gone by the end of the year,’ it probably is not going to affect them.”

Bissette did have a simple message for those protesters saying they would only be satisfied when Spellings is removed from the role of President of the UNC System.

“If that’s the case, they’re not going to be happy for a long time,” Bissette said, “because she’s not going anywhere.”


UNC Board of Governors Moves Meeting Amid Planned Protests

The UNC Board of Governors has changed the location for its scheduled meeting on Friday amid “potential for large numbers of protesters,” according to UNC System spokesperson Joni Worthington.

The meeting was scheduled to take place at UNC – Asheville but instead will now be held at the Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill.

Worthington wrote in an e-mail that UNC – Asheville Chancellor Mary Grant spoke with newly-installed System President Margaret Spellings and board chair Lou Bissette over the weekend about the “potential for large numbers of protesters at the Board meetings and the disruption that might cause to academic and other activities at UNC – Asheville.”

Worthington wrote that the campus and system leadership came to a “mutual decision” to relocate the meetings.

Worthington did add that Spellings’ visit to the Asheville campus as part of the statewide tour of UNC campuses will go on as scheduled this week.

Spellings and the search that led to her appointment replacing Tom Ross have been a lightning rod over the last year, including four students being arrested at a January meeting. Protesters staged walk-outs on campuses across the state on March 1 to align with Spellings’ first official day as President.

Protests have reignited in recent days since the passing of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2. After Spellings sent a memo out to all of the UNC campuses last week regarding the circumstances surrounding the legislation, LGBT advocacy groups criticized the President. Spellings then spoke with reporters last Friday attempting to clarify hers and the System’s stance on the law. Spellings called the legislation “hastily drawn, perhaps without fully considering all of the implications that were at hand.”

Spellings added that her memo was “in no way an endorsement of this law. That’s not my job. I’m not a member of the North Carolina General Assembly. I’m a state office holder who is charged with upholding the laws of this state. We are not in a position to pick and choose which laws.”


UNC Protesters Greet Margaret Spellings on Campus Visit

Margaret Spellings in visiting the UNC campus on Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, student protesters were well aware of the visit and were there to greet Spellings as she entered Gerrard Hall to have lunch with select members of the student body. UNC director of media relations Jim Gregory says Student Body President Houston Summers and vice chancellor for student affairs Winston Crisp “put together the invitee list from a diverse representation of student organizations.”

A group of protesters, fluctuating in size from a handful to about a dozen, stood holding signs outside of the building. The size of the protest was smaller than other recent organized efforts, but the message remained the same.

Protesters shouted, “Go Home Marge” and “Come Outside” as Spellings was meeting with students and then faculty on the UNC campus.

Spellings did not come face-to-face with the protesters when she was entering the building.

Spellings is scheduled to make other stops during her visit to the campus, meeting with more students on Tuesday afternoon and meeting with 2015 Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar on Wednesday morning.