UNC System President Margaret Spellings Talks Education on CBS This Morning

UNC System President Margaret Spellings made an appearance on CBS This Morning Thursday to talk about education across the country.

The conversation was part of CBS This Morning’s Issues That Matter series examining different topics ahead of the presidential election on November 8.

Spellings has been officially leading the UNC System since March 2016. Spellings also served as United States Education Secretary under President George W. Bush.

The CBS This Morning conversation covered affordability and ways to keep higher education affordable and accessible to all students. Spellings also discussed an emphasis being placed on getting students through college at a more efficient pace and ways to make sure students are prepared for college beginning with Pre-K through the end of high school.

You can see the full segment below:


Spellings: Higher Education Is “A New Civil Right”

She’s already been on the job for more than seven months – but on Thursday, UNC held an inauguration ceremony for still-new system president Margaret Spellings.

Speaking at Memorial Hall, Spellings delivered an inaugural address that called North Carolinians to recognize higher education as “a new civil right.”

“Mass public education was an American invention, and it underpinned the American century,” she said. “It’s time to raise our expectations once again.

“Higher education is the next frontier – a new civil right.”

More on Spellings’ address at the UNC system website, NorthCarolina.edu.

Spellings takes over as UNC system president at a critical moment in higher education. The cost of a college education is skyrocketing at a far higher rate than any other good or service – and that’s making college increasingly inaccessible to more people, at a time when a college degree has never been more essential.

The UNC system has long been recognized for its efforts to remain accessible; UNC-Chapel Hill in particular is often ranked as one of the best “value” universities in the nation. But Spellings said the challenge is growing, and the UNC system must do better.

“Our system too often fails those who come from rural, low-income, first-generation and minority families,” she said. “As long as we tolerate such divides in opportunity, the fundamental promise of higher education remains unfulfilled.”

Spellings pointed especially to income disparities, racial disparities, and geographic disparities – observing that a high school senior in one county might be twice as likely to attend college as a high school senior just one county over.

“We cannot allow a child’s future to be dependent on zip code,” she said.

And she concluded that eliminating persistent inequalities – “pernicious gaps in opportunity” – needs to be a central part of UNC’s mission.

Spellings did not offer any specific new policy proposals in her address – but she did conclude with an optimistic note. Eliminating inequality is a daunting challenge, she said – but UNC is up to the task.

“That’s never been done before – not here, not anywhere else,” she said. “But it’s plainly needed if our state, and our people, are going to thrive in the century ahead.”


UNC System Board of Governors Working On How to Pay for HB2 Lawsuit

For the first time since a federal judge blocked the University of North Carolina System from enforcing the state’s controversial House Bill 2, the system’s governing body met on Friday.

During a closed session portion of the meeting, the board discussed the overall case involving several UNC System employees suing over the legislation.

UNC System general counsel Thomas Shanahan said after the meeting that the late-August ruling from United States District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder gave the system some guidance to move forward.

But Shanahan said, overall, not much has changed for the system because it never intended to enforce the law, which advocates maintain is the worst piece of anti-LGBT legislation in the nation.

“House Bill 2 did not have enforcement provisions in it; the university has, therefore, not been taking steps to enforce it,” Shanahan said. “Judge Schroeder recognized that in his ruling; what he’s essentially said is – on the Title IX claim, that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on it and so he enjoined enforcement of HB2.

“And I think immediately afterward, the university confirmed that absolutely we would be following that injunction.”

System President Margaret Spellings has said the university was caught between state and federal law and would be working to continue offering a welcoming environment to all students.

North Carolina Attorney General – and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate – Roy Cooper has said from the beginning that his office would not defend the state in any capacity in the lawsuits over HB2 – that includes the university. The system has, therefore, hired outside counsel to represent the institutions, while asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

That means that extra funding is needed to cover the legal fees.

“Regarding any time the university retains counsel to represent it, it comes out of university assets,” Shanahan said. “So that’s how we would expect to pay for it.”

Shanahan also said that means, of course, that funding now won’t be available for other university functions.

“I think we can say that any time the university is spending money on legal fees, the funds are not available to spend on something else,” Shanahan said. “So in that way, it could have an impact on other things the university could do with the money.”

Board chair Lou Bissette sent a letter to the attorney general’s office earlier this year asking that funds be set aside to cover the cost of the university’s defense in the lawsuit. Bissette said at the board meeting in July that the AG’s office had declined that request.

The board had also request the General Assembly direct the AG’s office to allocate the funding if the initial request was denied, but Spellings said at the July meeting they had heard no response from the legislature at that point.

“We asked the legislature for some resources during the legislative session and, obviously, the meter is running as this progresses,” Spelling said. “We may have to go hat-in-hand to them early next year depending on how this all plays out.”

The full lawsuit over HB2 was initially scheduled to take place in early November but has since been pushed back to May. There is no estimation at this point over how much the lawsuit will cost the UNC System.


Chancellor Debra Saunders-White Taking Medical Leave from North Carolina Central University

North Carolina Central University Chancellor Debra Saunders-White is taking a medical leave of absence.

Saunders-White has been undergoing treatment for cancer and officials with the UNC System say she requested the leave “in order to fully focus her energies on her treatment.”

Saunders-White has been leading NCCU since 2013 after her tenure as the United States deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings announced Monday that NCCU provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs Johnson O. Akinleye will serve as the acting chancellor effective immediately.

Spellings released a statement announcing the decision:

“I wholeheartedly support Chancellor Saunders-White’s decision to direct her complete attention to treatment, and NCCU is fortunate that Provost Akinleye has agreed to assume even greater responsibilities while she is on medical leave. Given his extensive administrative experience, he is exceptionally well qualified to assume oversight of the campus. The university will be in very good hands, and I am grateful that he has accepted this important assignment.”

Akinleye has served as the NCCU chief academic officer since January 2014.

Under the leadership of Saunders-White, NCCU was named HBCU of the Year in July.


UNC Board of Governors Approves Pay Raises for Chancellors

Several chancellors in the UNC System are getting pay bumps from the UNC Board of Governors.

The increases go beyond the 1.5 percent raise given to all state employees as part of the North Carolina budget passed by the General Assembly.

The adjustments include a 3.14 percent jump for UNC – Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, above the 1.5 percent state-mandated increase. That brings Folt’s annual salary to $596,448. North Carolina State Chancellor Randy Woodson received an identical 3.14 bump over the 1.5 percent from the state to bring his salary to $617,376.

Chancellors at Appalachian State University, Elizabeth City State University, North Carolina Central University, UNC – Charlotte and Western Carolina also received bumps ranging from .81 percent to 14.63 percent for Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois. System President Margaret Spellings said his increase was due to “a pay equity issue that arose from the hiring of the new Chancellor at ECU.”

Spellings said these increases were an attempt to bring all of the chancellors across the system into the market range for their positions.

“This board has, for a couple of years now, been working to get competitive market salary ranges for each of the chancellors,” Spellings said after the meeting. “And this was the next step in that journey. And we are nearly there.”

The raises came after the Board of Governors approved pay raises for chancellors in November 2015 – a move that was criticized because of the secrecy that surrounded the increases.

Board chair Lou Bissette said the board “learned a lot of lessons last year.”

“We’ve determined that we didn’t do it correctly last year, but we think we did this year.”

Bissette added the board is moving toward more transparency in general, pointing to the public comment sessions now being held and that the board meetings are now streamed online.

Bissette said the board thought there were benefits from splitting the pay increases up, rather than just allocating the full increases last November.

“Nobody felt like that was a good thing to do in one bite,” Bissette said. “And so we made those increases. And then this pretty much completes that process that was begun two years ago when we had a market survey.”

Even with the increases, the two highest-paid chancellors – Woodson and Folt – are still below the market rate for their positions, according to the system’s figures, but every other chancellor is at least at the floor of the salary range.

“Here forward, we’re going to be looking at performance-oriented increases,” Bissette said. “But we needed to get everybody at least to the bottom part of their ranges.”

Woodson does have an incentive package that allows him to reach the market salary range for his position, but Folt does not. Spellings said the possibility exists that could change.

“There are, obviously, discussions at the [UNC – Chapel Hill] Board of Trustees about vehicles for Chancellor Folt that might be akin to Chancellor Woodson’s.”

As far as the performance metrics that will be used to decide future increases, those are still to be determined. Bissette said it is hard to find one umbrella that will cover all of the system’s institutions.

“The uniqueness of our system and the different campuses, that’s what makes this system great to me,” Bissette said. “But they are all different and unique, and there are not many times you can apply an across-the-board policy.”


State Budget Brings Tuition Freeze Across UNC System

UNC’s graduating class of 2020 – the incoming freshmen of this year – can budget their four years of college spending a little easier than their older siblings. Now, the math is simple – just multiply tuition by four.

For the first time in the UNC system, students will pay the same amount of tuition during their first year of college as they will during their last, thanks to a new policy in the state budget that includes a tuition freeze across the system.

“For first year students, what it will mean is that the tuition he pays when he enrolls, when she enrolls, will be the tuition the student pays for four years,” said Steve Farmer, the vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at UNC.

The in-state tuition freeze for all schools in the system, will create a guaranteed amount for all four years – which Farmer said translates to stability and consistency.

“There’ll be great predictability from start to finish of what a student will pay in terms of tuition.”

Farmer said the university will strive to keep tuition costs low over the course of the coming years, adding that adjustments to the tuition should be small and predictable.

“We’re going to have to work hard to make sure that we establish the right tuition levels for each entering class so that we can continue to fund the kind of experience our students want.”

UNC is currently limited by a cap on financial aid. No more than 15 percent of the revenue produced by tuition can be redistributed to students as financial aid. Despite the new tuition freeze, Farmer said the amount of financial aid given to students will not be affected.

“I don’t think financial aid is at risk in the legislation at all. And at the same time I think it’s not the price that we publish buts it’s the price they can afford to pay.”

Farmer said there are several factors that influence a student’s decision to attend a certain school. He listed the cost of tuition as one factor, but said student diversity, academic rigor and extracurricular programs are also important to the student body.

“We also pay attention to cost, but we’re also obligated to pay attention to something else. And that something else is the quality of the experience that we offer our students, so every single student at Carolina benefits from our ability to make sure every student gets into Carolina to attend.”

The tuition freeze is effective this fall across all 16 universities in the system, affecting more than 40,000 incoming students.


Spellings Completes ‘Inspiring’ 100 Day Tour of UNC System

A lot has happened around North Carolina since Margaret Spellings was installed as UNC System President on March 1.

Protests were held across the state to mark her first day on the job and those have continued at UNC Board of Governors meetings. And Spellings pushed for those board meetings to be streamed live to increase accessibility and instituted the first public comment sessions in board history.

While Spellings could anticipate protests continuing during the early portion of her tenure, there were some things she could not foresee when taking the job – including North Carolina being thrust into the national spotlight over House Bill 2, which was passed by the General Assembly in late March.

While the legal battle continues over the controversial legislation that requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom and changing facility that matches their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, Spellings has now visited all 17 campuses in the UNC System, traveling 3,877 miles on her “Around the State in 100 Days” tour.

Spellings said in an interview on Monday, “The incredible diversity of the system really stands out, from a world-class – literally world-class – school of the arts to HBCUs to research institutions, healthcare innovators…anything you could possibly think of in your little pea-brain about what might be at issue in our world is really being tackled in these institutions.

“And it’s inspiring.”

Listen to the full interview with Spellings below:


Spellings said she has “loved” meeting with students across the system and that “if you don’t like working with students, this is the wrong business for you.”

Spellings said she has been impressed with how informed and engaged students have been with issues impacting each campus.

“It strikes me how much young people really are in touch with their voice, their views, their opportunities to speak out and be heard by the adults, to be partners, to understand that they own these institutions.”

Some students protested during Spellings’ visit to campuses, saying that she was only meeting with previously selected students and was not getting a full picture of concerns at the university level.

Spellings said the selections of student representatives were made at the university level and acknowledged “I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg and there’s more to do,” while saying she wanted to continue engaging with students, faculty and staff across the system.

One new avenue of engagement has been the institution of public comment sessions at the Board of Governors meetings; the first of which was held on May 30 – the Friday before Memorial Day.

“It really surprised me when I first got here that this entity – a public entity – did not really have a formal process for public and citizen input,” Spellings said.

Spellings added she expects the public input session to “develop” as there are more opportunities and students are back on campus in the fall.

Some protesters have maintained their objection to Spellings being chosen as the System President to replace Tom Ross, to which Spellings said, “And I suspect they’re going to say that for the next, you know, five years.”

Others have voiced specific concerns to the direction of the University System under Spellings’ leadership, specifically, integrating performance-based metrics to evaluate faculty. Spellings said that she welcomes discussion on policy concerns that stakeholders may have through the public comment sessions or reaching out directly to the President.

Spellings added she did sense a common concern when on her system tour.

“What I heard over and over and over is that our students and taxpayers and families and citizens want and expect us to be transparent about price and cost and financial aid and value in life and in the marketplace.

“And I think we owe them that.”


A jackass or a carpenter?

“Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”

Using a saying from UNC President Margaret Spellings’s native Texas, one attributed to Sam Rayburn, the long-time speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom Lambeth was beginning his tribute to Spellings’s predecessor, Tom Ross.

In an evening filled with irony, Spellings and the UNC Board of Governors, with genuine grace, hosted a dinner last Thursday honoring Ross with the university’s highest award, the University Award.

Tom Ross UNC System

Tom Ross. Photo via Blake Hodge.

The words describing Ross’s leadership and demeanor as a judge, foundation executive, and higher education leader contrasted profoundly with the styles of some currently competing for the nation’s highest office.

In an eloquent opening prayer, Ross’s minister, Robert Dunham, gave God thanks, “This night, among all the gifts you provide, we give particular thanks for the life and of the mind in the pursuit of truth and for learning as a doorway to a civil society. We give particular thanks for Tom Ross, who has embodied such gifts throughout his life, and especially his leadership of the University these last years. We give thanks for his integrity, his wise heart, his embodiment of decency and civility, his passion for justice and fairness. And we pray that you would strengthen him for the important task now before him in the arena of public policy and government. We pray, too, for President Spellings and the Board of Governors, whose charge it is to keep our universities true to their heritage, get poised for the future ever opening before them. In these demanding and contentious times we pray for their good judgment and wise discretion.”

Later came Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation director emeritus Tom Lambeth’s tribute to Ross that began with Sam Rayburn’s story. Lambeth continued, “Throughout our history we have never suffered from a lack of jackasses; but we have found our salvation in a host of accomplished carpenters.  Tom is one of those carpenters.

“Two legendary North Carolina governors provide for us the best human summation of the state that Tom Ross has served so well. In quoting them I can describe Tom as well. One, Zeb Vance, found us a people of sober second thought; the other, Terry Sanford, found us a people of outrageous ambitions.

“We meet tonight at a university that was this state’s first outrageous ambition. Its creation dared to assert that a relatively poor state could build a university that is both excellent and accessible. And so it is. Tom has had something to do with that.

“Somewhere between the sober second thought of North Carolinians and their outrageous ambitions we have…in the main…in the long run…come down on the right side of history. We will go there again.”

Focusing on Ross, Lambeth continued, “With his grace, his good sense, his courage and his commitment to public service, he provides for us a model of that noble aspiration to serve others. Along the way he has paid us the greatest compliment one in public life can pay to those whom he serves: he has asked us for our best.

“Tom Ross has a victorious heart. Tonight we celebrate his accomplishments of today and we can only imagine what will come with tomorrow. We can, however, be certain that there will be more to celebrate. There will surely be more.”

As I left the dinner, I had the distinct feeling that every other person there, of whatever political persuasion, was wishing that candidates for our country’s presidency would show promise to lead like Ross, with “grace, his good sense, his courage and his commitment to public service” and with “his integrity, his wise heart, his embodiment of decency and civility, his passion for justice and fairness.”


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.