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.


Heavner: Welcome, President Spellings

Let’s welcome President Spellings, our new university system president, and Margaret, our new neighbor in the Southern Part of Heaven.

Margaret Spellings

Margaret Spellings. (Photo by Blake Hodge)

This neighbor thing is important to every mission.  A single parent whose children are grown, she arrives with very few local connections.  It’s not just her job that’s tough. Public figures are challenged in making new friends with no agenda.  Let’s let her know that, in our neighborhood, she’s a welcome new neighbor.  That’s who we are.

She’s moved into the biggest house on the hill with the biggest job in the state, the most important and the toughest in our North Carolina public life.  North Carolina today is different and better than the rest of the south because our University is those things. She’s now its chief steward.

She now must shepherd UNC through times of galloping change, roiling in a tsunami of new technologies, the anger of old grudges and the ideology of inexperienced board governance that has yet to find its way.

Her unabashedly Republican leadership puts her politics out of sync in our village where 83% of registered voters are Democrat or Independent. It is, though, likely aligned the state’s voter majority.

Protesters have demonstrated, calling for her to be fired before she takes her job.  Yet, experience tells us that past performance and applicant’s promises are unreliable predictors of what emerges when the applicant is the incumbent.

Passionate student demonstrators are well intentioned in their protests.  At this point, they are misguided.

It was distressing to hear their student leader declare on WCHL that it doesn’t matter what she does in the job, “She will never be comfortable,” she promised, “We will always ask for her dismissal. And that’s that.”  That wince-worthy promise stirred comparisons to Mitch McConnell before President Obama had ever signed in.

Students come here to learn.  Someday, this young lady will learn that there are better ways.  The day may come when civil disobedience is appropriate.  Not yet.

There is an immutable propensity toward reciprocity in human relationships.  People tend to deal with others as they believe they are being dealt with.

It can be overcome and our new president is no stranger to political controversy or being the target of it.  Yet, trying to fire her now because of something she might do simply makes it harder for anyone involved to talk to others when creative and useful dialogues are our best path to progress.

Until our new president shows herself to be intractably intransigent in refusal to embrace the rights and to understand the sensibilities of those she calls her customers, let’s help her understand even as we cheer her success.

The governors of UNC were egregiously awful in the way they managed the presidential transition they instigated.  Some of its most prominent members, embarrassed by the experience, say they understand that now.  They are still learning governance. Ms. Spellings, meanwhile, is not responsible for the sins of the fathers who hired her.

For now, she and we should live the values of southern manners.  The big yellow house has big, wide front porches for howdies and a back porch perfect for sweet tea and good conversation.  It’s a place to for visiting, finding common ground.  It’s a good place for explaining and persuading; pondering, listening and learning.

That may fail.  But, our chances of getting the best come from expecting the best.  That also does not include a mindset to lie back, wait and see what she’s got.  In some ways, that’s more deadly than outright opposition.

She is smart, has a reputation for outworking everyone around her and doing so with a sense of humor.  We are more likely to advance agreement if we pursue it while finding joy in our common humanity and frailty.

This place is about learning.  She has said that her first job is to go to all the schools, to visit with the people of the state, to listen and learn.

If we are true to the roots we claim, we, too, will be liberal in pursuit of new ideas.  If the university functions at its best, our philosophies and policies are best derived from research and reason.

In Texas, the big jobs in education and public service went to Republicans.  As they say out there, just as here, the lady didn’t just fall off a turnip truck.  She found success where there was opportunity for advancement.  Now, her bread is buttered here.

And for sure, there’s no way that this board will ever chase their choice away.  So, she has a lot of latitude to do things her way. Let’s help her find it.

What’s the prescription, dear Tar Heels?  Bake a pie, take a casserole. Pursue trust. And Margaret–May we call you Margaret?–we welcome you to the Southern Part of Heaven.  You will be welcomed here by those who contribute to what makes our town swell and our University great.

We welcome your ideas and know you’ll listen to ours.   You do need to get one thing straight, though, here and now.  Our real barbecue is vastly superior to that stuff you slather over beef out there in wild and wooly Texas and call it that.   Indefensible.

Let’s show you at Crooks.  That will be a public demonstration to celebrate.


UNC Board of Governors Penalizes UNC – Chapel Hill Over Out-of-State Admissions

One item on the UNC Board of Governors meeting agenda last Friday sparked a 30 minute debate and led to a $1 million penalty for the system’s flagship university.

The debate generated from a recommendation of the board’s Committee on Budget and Finance calling for an exception to be granted over UNC – Chapel Hill exceeding the cap on out-of-state freshman enrollees for the second consecutive year. The cap is set at 18 percent and the out-of-state population of first-year UNC students was at 19.5 percent.

“We’re in one of these situations again where we have a policy and we aren’t enforcing it like it’s written,” board member Craig Souza said. “And that concerns me.”

Budget and Finance Committee chair Harry Smith said that there was historically about a 50 percent exemption rate for universities facing this penalty.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said an “honest” error in forecasting resulted in the higher out-of-state numbers and that there was no intent to exceed the cap. Folt added that, with the recent negative media attention focused on the university due to the long-running scandal, administrators were uncertain if the high offer acceptance rate the university has enjoyed would continue.

“The good news is people really were sticking with the interest in Carolina,” Folt told the board, “and that is good. But I do take very seriously all the limits and the rules of the board.”

Board member Champ Mitchell also pointed out that the board had raised tuition for out-of-state students and that factored into projecting a lower enrollment rate.

“One of their thoughts at the time was that with these very large increases their acceptance rate would fall,” Mitchell said. “No surprise to me personally – perhaps because of my love for my alma mater – the acceptance rates went up instead of going down.

“That was part of the miscalculation.”

Mitchell added that it would be important to more accurately project enrollment numbers going forward.

“We have to keep in mind our constitutional mandate to educate the young people of this state nearly as free as practicable,” Mitchell said. “And if we don’t, I will guarantee you the General Assembly of North Carolina will help remind us with a shot upside the head.”

The board divided along lines of those wanting to allow the exception for this cycle and those of the opinion that if the policy is not being enforced, then the policy is useless.

In the end, the board voted to reduce the budget for UNC – Chapel Hill by $1,041,017 and the funds be reallocated to the board’s UNC Need-Based Grant Financial Aid Program.

Board member Marty Kotis pointed out that with the fine UNC will still have a positive net financial outcome because out-of-state tuition of the enrolled students over the limit more than covers the cost of the penalty.

Board chair Lou Bissette said at a press conference following the meeting that the one-size-fits-all cap that is in place right now needs to be examined.

“I think we all think that we need to do some work around the cap issue,” Bissette told reporters. “I do, particularly at UNC – Chapel Hill. And I think President Spellings will be addressing that with us as we go forward.

“I think there are a lot of issues there.”

Bissette said trying to craft a blanket policy for all of the 17 campuses is a “complicated issue.”

“We have some universities, like UNC – Chapel Hill, that have a huge number of out-of-state applications,” Bissette added. “And they’re at the 18 percent level every year, as is North Carolina A&T State University – and we did raise their limit.

“Then there are other universities who maybe have seven, eight, nine percent out-of-state applications.”

Bissette said this means that the policy impacts different universities in different ways.

“We’ve got 17 great universities,” Bissette said. “But they’re all different. And they all have different needs.

“So we want to look at that cap in light of those differing missions and needs.”

After the vote to penalize UNC – Chapel Hill, Chancellor Folt said she understood the discussion amongst the board was about the principle of having a policy and choosing not to enforce it and that she respected that position.


Protesters Greet Margaret Spellings as Board of Governors Tries to Increase Public Input

Protests have been held over the last few months, even this week, speaking out against new UNC System President Margaret Spellings.

But all was relatively composed, on Friday, at Fayetteville State University for the first meeting since Spellings was installed.

Some protesters attended the meeting and held signs that read “Invest in Instruction” and “Justice for Students” and some others stood and turned their backs while Spellings was delivering the President’s Report. Those with their backs turned provided the only vocal protest by shouting “Spell check” as they were walking out of the meeting, which has become one of the favored terms among protesters as a play on Spellings’ name.

Spellings met with the protesters, who were with the group Faculty Forward, as the board went into closed session.

“When I introduced myself to them, I thanked them for their respect and their decorum,” Spellings said. “And I think it was the perfect way to voice their concerns.

“So I feel like I’m off to a great start. We had a very pleasant conversation, and I’m glad they were here.”

Board chair Lou Bissette also said the board would be looking to increase public input by possibly implementing a public comment period.

“What we’re thinking about now is having a session after each regular board meeting,” Bissette said. “It would probably last for 30 minutes to an hour, where individuals from the public, from the students, faculty would be able to come in and make their comments to the board.”

Bissette, the former Asheville Mayor, said the public comment period would likely take the shape of city council or county commission public comment input with a sign-up sheet and allotted time. He added several members of the board would attend each public comment section but not the entire board.

While there was no public comment period at the meeting on Friday, it was the first meeting to be streamed live via UNC-TV. Board leadership said this move was made to increase access for public who wanted to follow the meeting but could not attend.

The board also implemented a list of protocols for those who attend the meetings.

“We have a public meeting. We do not have a public hearing,” Bissette said. “And so we have to maintain some order in our meetings. And today, I thought, was an incredible day. I think the protesters were there. They got their point across but yet did not disrupt the meeting.

“And I would hope that that’s the way we could treat each other going forward in the future.”


Protests At Margaret Spellings’ First Board of Governors Meeting

Margaret Spellings’ first Board of Governors meeting was Friday morning at Fayetteville State University.  Protesters interrupted the meeting.

WCHL’s Blake Hodge was at the meeting and will have a full report later today.

Spellings, the new UNC System President, became a lightning rod among many students and faculty members before she officially started on Tuesday.  Hundreds gathered on the UNC campus in front of Wilson Library Tuesday to voice their disapproval of the decision to hire Spellings.

The Board of Governors meeting can be streamed below.


Former UNC BOG Chair Arrested Carrying Gun in Airport

Former chair of the UNC Board of Governors John Fennebresque was arrested Thursday morning at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport after he apparently tried to take a gun through a security checkpoints, according to WSOC.

Local police told the Charlotte TV station that Fennebresque told them he forgot the gun was in his bag.

Fennebresque was charged with possession of a weapon on city property, according to police. WSOC says it was unclear if the gun was loaded.

Fennebresque resigned from his seat as chair of the BOG following a much-criticized 2015 that began with the firing of Tom Ross and ended with the election of Margaret Spellings as the new System President.