President Spellings: What Should Her Agenda Be For UNC?

2016 has been a tumultuous year for UNC – with protests still ongoing against new system president Margaret Spellings, even before she’s had a chance to get into the job.

Will she be able to do her job, with those demonstrations continuing? What do university leaders see as being her agenda as system president? And what do they think she can – and should – try to accomplish?

“I think she’s absolutely going to be able to do her job,” said UNC-Chapel Hill faculty chair Bruce Cairns at last week’s WCHL Community Forum.

Cairns added that he doesn’t expect Spellings to pursue an agenda much removed from what we’ve seen before. “When you listen to President Spellings talk about what she would like to see happen,” he said, “I think it’s really about allowing us to continue to be a great public university system.”

But what agenda should Margaret Spellings be pursuing as system president? What should she be trying to do?

UNC senior Hayley Fowler is a reporter for the Daily Tar Heel who’s been following the controversy from the beginning; she says Spellings needs to assure students that they do have a voice in how the university is run.

“I think for students, it’s becoming increasingly important that she continue to build their trust and reach out to them personally,” she says. “The students that have been protesting don’t feel that they have a voice and they haven’t had access to the Board of Governors or Margaret Spellings herself…

“I think they’re working on opening that line of communication and dialogue, and that’s something that should be a priority moving forward, if they want to engage students in the conversation.”

But it’s not just students who want to build stronger relationships. Durham Tech president Bill Ingram says there’s also an expectation that Spellings should be working to build closer ties between the UNC system and North Carolina’s community colleges.

“She’s not the only new higher-education leader in North Carolina – Jimmie Williamson will be the new community college system president on July 1,” Ingram says. “Her ability to work with Dr. Williamson and others, and for her to encourage relationships between the (UNC) campuses and the community colleges, will be essential to her success.”

Even if Spellings is able to forge those relationships, it’s not likely the protests and demonstrations will be going away anytime soon. Many in the UNC system say they see Spellings’ appointment as political – Republicans on the Board of Governors selecting one of their own – and that concern is never going to go away, regardless of what Spellings does or doesn’t do on the job.

But is a political appointment necessarily a bad thing? John Locke Foundation communications director Mitch Kokai says there may be a benefit to having a Republican as UNC system president, even if the university’s agenda doesn’t change.

“Margaret Spellings comes in as someone that the Republicans who run the General Assembly will listen to,” he says. “I think a lot of folks (in the NCGA) saw Tom Ross as part of the Democratic establishment…(and) there was always a level of distrust that they won’t have with Margaret Spellings…

“And so I think she may come in, not even have any major, drastic differences in what she wants to see for the UNC system – but you’ll see doors be opened more often, just because of her pedigree.”

Kokai, Ingram, Fowler and Cairns made those comments during the “Higher Education” panel of the WCHL Community Forum. Revisit the entire forum here.

Chapel Hill Among 5 UNC System Schools Ranked Top 50 for African-Americans

UNC has been ranked the ninth best public university in the United States for African-Americans in a new list compiled by MONEY and Essence magazines.

The ranking methodology included the percentage of African-Americans in the student population, graduation rates for African-Americans, net price of a degree, early career salary and student debt load.

UNC was the ninth-ranked public university and registered 23rd among public and private schools.

UNC associate vice chancellor for diversity and multicultural affairs and chief diversity officer Taffye Benson Clayton said in a release:

“We are pleased to be acknowledged as one of the top institutions of higher education for African American students. As the nation’s first public university, with a distinct southern history and a global footprint, we are gratified by the growth and important milestones achieved in matters of race, diversity and inclusion at Carolina. We are encouraged by this recognition and aspire to accomplish even greater successes for African American students and all students on our campus.”

Several other institutions in North Carolina made the list. Duke ranked third overall. North Carolina A&T State University was ninth overall and second among public universities. Elizabeth City State University (37), North Carolina Central University (43) and Winston – Salem State University (48) also made the Top 50 list.

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 President Margaret Spellings Clarifies Stance on HB2

Margaret Spellings said on Friday that she wanted to “clarify perhaps some confusion about the guidance that went out” to the UNC System campuses in a memo dated Tuesday, April 5.

The memo told campuses that the controversial House Bill 2 did not limit the universities abilities to adopt nondiscrimination policies toward their own employees but did write that the campuses “must require every multiple-occupancy bathroom and changing facility to be designated for and used only by persons based on their biological sex.”

The memo drew criticism from LGBT advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality NC, which have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Spellings said she did not believe the legislature thoroughly understood the ripple-effect of House Bill 2 when it was passed during a special session of the General Assembly.

“It was, we believe, hastily drawn, perhaps without fully considering all of the implications that were at hand,” Spellings said.

Spellings said that the memo that was sent to campuses was in response to a number of questions coming in to the system offices, and that it was intended as a “just the facts, ma’am, kind of a document.”

“It is in no way an endorsement of this law,” Spellings added. “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.”

Spellings said that she has spoken with members of the General Assembly about the impact of the law on the system and reiterated to them the importance of having university campuses that are welcoming to all, as is the reputation of campuses in North Carolina.

“We want to maintain that full and open kind of culture and climate in our institutions,” Spelling said.

Spellings said that she is “channeling” the concerns she is hearing from students, faculty members and university leadership from different campuses while she is on her tour of all of the system campuses since being installed as President in March.

“I think there’s a general anxiety for starters,” she recalled. “And then I think there are issues, and this is the kind of thing I’m hearing, that professional conferences are in question, recruitment of faculty and staff – far beyond those who are directly affected by the law, those people who are transgender – but students and faculty broadly who think, ‘Well, if this is a place that is unwelcoming of that particular class of people, what does that mean for others?”

Spellings clarified that system leadership was not consulted on the law and the implications that it carried.

“Were it up to me, I would not recommend enactment of such a thing,” Spellings said. “Because I do think it creates this idea that is far beyond the particular aspects of this bathroom transgender matter.”

Spellings said that she is concerned over the impact the legislation will have on the university system.

“I think it sends a chill through these institutions for staff, faculty and student recruitment.”

Spellings added she would be in touch with the US Department of Education in hopes to learn their intentions regarding the law’s impact on federal funding and grants.

As far as enforcement of this legislation when it comes to making members of each campus community use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, UNC General Counsel Thomas Shanahan the law is “silent on enforcement, doesn’t address it at all and doesn’t give the authority to anyone to enforce it, in its language.”

That statement led Spellings to say, “We don’t intend to enforce anything.”

ACLU Responds to UNC System Memo Regarding HB2

The plaintiffs challenging North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 issued a statement saying they were “disappointed” in the leadership from the University of North Carolina after a memo was sent to the system Chancellors from new President Margaret Spellings.

Spellings wrote in the memo that the legislation, which requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, “supersedes nondiscrimination regulations imposed upon employers and public accommodations by political subdivisions of the state.”

While Spellings wrote that “The Act does not limit the ability of local government and universities to adopt policies with respect to their own employees,” she acknowledged that the 17 system campuses “must require every multiple-occupancy bathroom and changing facility to be designated for and used only by persons based on their biological sex.”

Spellings did encourage campuses to “Consider assembling and making information available about the locations of designated single-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities on campus.” These single-occupancy facilities can be used by anyone under the new law.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality NC have all filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the law.

The groups released a joint statement on Thursday saying, “It’s incredibly disappointing that the University of North Carolina has concluded it is required to follow this discriminatory measure at the expense of the privacy, safety, and wellbeing of its students and employees, particularly those who are transgender.”

The groups say that House Bill 2 is in violation of federal of puts the state of North Carolina at risk of losing billions of dollars in Title IX funding.

Joaquín Carcaño is a 27-year-old transgender man who is an employee of UNC – Chapel Hill and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging HB2. He said in the statement:

“Not only does this policy fail to protect my rights as a loyal and hard-working employee and make it harder for me to do my job, it sides with ignorance and fear. All I want is to use the appropriate restroom, in peace, just like everyone else. But now I am put in the terrible position of either going into the women’s room where I don’t belong and am uncomfortable or breaking the law.”

The lawsuit is asking for the federal court to immediately block the law while the case proceeds. There is no timetable for that decision to be handed down by the court. Once it is, the case will turn to looking into the constitutionality of the law.

50+ UNC – Chapel Hill Faculty Members Sign Petition Against HB2

More than 50 UNC – Chapel Hill faculty members have signed a statement asking for the repeal of House Bill 2, the controversial legislation pushed through the North Carolina legislature in a special session last week.

The bill, among other things, repeals a Charlotte City Council decision to extend the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to the LGBT community.

The letter from the faculty says, in part, “The recently passed House Bill 2 makes it impossible for UNC-Chapel Hill and its surrounding communities to protect valued faculty, staff, and students from discrimination simply because of who they are.”

The faculty members, who acknowledged they were speaking for themselves and not UNC – Chapel Hill, added, “We are gravely concerned that House Bill 2, and the disturbing message it sends, will make it difficult for Carolina to find and retain the best faculty, staff, and students.”

The list of faculty members includes Barbara Rimer, dean of the Gillings School of Public Health, Doug Shackelford, dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, former dean of the School of Law Jack Boger and former Chancellor James Moeser.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said at the Board of Trustees meeting last Thursday, less than 24 hours after the bill was signed into law, that the university still needed to learn more about the law but the university’s goals would stay the same.

“Our spirit is for inclusivity and meeting needs and doing it in a way that has been very successful here and that’s what we will be doing our homework and trying to understand [the bill] and continue to meet the needs of people that come to the campus,” said Folt.

New UNC System President Margaret Spellings issued a statement on Tuesday after the UNC System and its Board of Governors were named in a lawsuit filed on Monday challenging HB2.

Spellings said, “I want to underscore UNC’s long-held commitment to making sure that the University of North Carolina and its campuses are welcoming, inclusive and safe places for students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds, beliefs and identities. I know that many across the UNC system are concerned about the implications of HB2. This law was passed last week, and since then we’ve been working to consider its full impact on the University community and UNC system operations.”

Spellings said the university stands “ready to work with the Governor and General Assembly as the lawsuit progresses. As we continue to assess the law’s scope, reach, and potential impact.”

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running against incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory in November’s election, has announced that his office will not defend the state in the lawsuit over House Bill 2. The NC Department of Justice will instead defend nondiscrimination policies from the DOJ and the state Treasurer’s office. Cooper said on Tuesday that part of that argument would be that HB2 is unconstitutional.

Spellings Outlines Takeaways from UNC Visit

Margaret Spellings made several stops during her visit to the UNC – Chapel Hill campus on Tuesday.

She had lunch with students and faculty in Gerrard Hall while protesters shouted “Go Home Marge” and “Come Outside” from a staged area in front of the building.

Spellings then met with students at 1789 Venture Lab on East Franklin Street, which serves as “the bridge between entrepreneurial activity on campus and the larger world,” according to its website.

Spellings did have a message for those students who have been calling for her resignation.

“I think I would first say, ‘Give me a chance,’” Spellings said. “This is my, I think, third week on the job, maybe the start of my fourth week on the job, and I’m getting about the state, looking at every campus and hearing what people are proud of and what they think our challenges are.

“I had the opportunity to meet with students and faculty members and, obviously, see some incredible innovators here today. I would say, ‘Give me a chance, and I’m all ears.’ I want to hear, obviously, from everyone with a different point of view and we’ll attend to their concerns and issues as best we can.”

Spellings says she is taking this opportunity touring all of the UNC System campuses to listen and find out what makes each institution unique in order to advocate for them.

“What I’m hoping to do is be able to tell the legislature about what I’m seeing, about what we have to be proud of as an institution and how we need to invest in and cherish these institutions, our faculty, the people who are innovating and especially, of course, our students,” Spellings said.

Spellings says the investment she is thinking of includes increasing pay for those involved with universities.

“Staff and faculty pay is clearly an issue that’s before us and the legislature,” Spellings said. “We’re really at a tipping point to remain competitive in this country, and we need to invest in great people.”

Spellings said that she was impressed by what she called the selflessness of the faculty.

“I gave them every opportunity to talk about themselves and what they needed, and they kept coming back and back to the needs of students and the needs of this community, the collaborative nature of this place and how unique that is in an enterprise this size,” Spellings said. “That’s what I’ve been impressed really everywhere I’ve gone is the humility, kind of the servant-educator idea here. And it’s really impressive.”

Spellings says that she is hearing from students about the importance of an affordable education and be an inclusive environment.

“Being a welcoming place for everyone to feel comfortable,” Spellings said. “We’re not going to close the achievement gap in higher education unless we have places that students feel like they want to be and can thrive and be successful.”

Spellings also says that affordable education may be extended to undocumented immigrants. In North Carolina, those students pay out-of-state tuition. Spellings says she has seen undocumented immigrants paying in-state tuition be a successful model in Texas for many years.

“Obviously, the Board of Governors and the legislature need to weigh in on this,” Spellings said. “But, I’ve seen it be successful in Texas, in a state with many, many, many miles of border.”

Spellings says that she views herself as a conduit between the legislature and the people of the state that make up the University System.

Spellings will visit with UNC Nobel Prize winners Dr. Oliver Smithies and Dr. Aziz Sancar on Wednesday before continuing her tour of campuses at North Carolina A&T State University on Thursday.

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.