Tom Ross Chosen to Lead Group Hoping to Rebuild Public Trust in Government

UNC System president emeritus Tom Ross has been named president of the Volcker Alliance.

The organization announced the move on Tuesday. The Volcker Alliance is a “nonpartisan organization formed in 2013 to address the challenge of effective execution of public policies and to rebuild public trust in government,” according to its website.

Volcker Alliance founder and chairman Paul Volcker released a statement announcing the appointment:

“The strains and pressures on government at all levels are plain to see. Tom Ross’s broad experience in education, government, and philanthropy will be brought to bear on all our efforts to improve government performance.”

Ross led the UNC System until January 2016, following a tumultuous 2015 that began with the UNC Board of Governors, appointed by a GOP-led General Assembly, announcing it would be looking for a replacement for Ross, a Democrat.

Ross is quoted in the release:

“I admire and am inspired by Mr. Volcker’s vision in creating the Alliance. It will be an honor for me to work alongside of him and the other outstanding board members to catalyze the development of a new generation of public servants and improve the effectiveness of our federal and state governments.”

Ross was named the first Terry Sanford Distinguished Fellow at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy in January. In that role he is leading an effort from a bipartisan group of retired North Carolina judges to show a model of what state election maps may look like if the General Assembly were to implement an independent redistricting commission. A federal court forced the legislature to redraw North Carolina’s congressional district map earlier this year after it ruled the prior rendering was unconstitutional.

Ross will continue in his position at Duke while leading the Volcker Alliance. He will begin his new position on July 1.

Margaret Spellings: UNC System ‘Can’t Operate’ Without Federal Funding

The UNC Board of Governors met in a special session on Tuesday to discuss the University System’s legal options following a flurry of litigation on Monday over House Bill 2.

The controversial North Carolina legislation was the subject of three federal lawsuits filed on Monday.

Board chair Lou Bissette echoed the words of System President Margaret Spellings, saying that the system is stuck in a difficult situation between complying with federal and state law.

“We are committed to resolving the legal issues in the university’s favor as quickly as possible,” Bissette told reporters after the board spent nearly three hours in a closed session meeting.

Governor Pat McCrory started off the legal action Monday by suing the United States Department of Justice over the agency’s claim HB2 violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger also sued the DOJ on Monday; the lawsuit from the legislators expanded the scope to the DOJ claim that HB2 violated Title IX of the Education Amendments and the Violence Against Women Act. United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch then capped off the festivities announcing the agency was suing the state, the governor, the Department of Public Safety and the University System for violating federal law.

The biggest economic downfall from the litigation could be the pulling of federal dollars from public schools in North Carolina, including the University System. Spellings said she and the board know those funds are “essential” to the 17-campus system’s operation.

“The board and I are completely committed and very clear that we can’t operate this place without federal funding,” Spellings said.

Bissette said turning off the faucet of federal dollars was a very real concern for the board but could not occur over night.

“And we would certainly be in contact with the Department of Justice long before any eventuality like that occurred,” Bissette said.

Spellings did say there had been an open channel of dialogue between the system and the DOJ before the lawsuits were announced Monday. Bissette added there has been continued conversation with the state General Assembly in the days since letters were sent from the DOJ to the University System, Governor Pat McCrory and the state Department of Public Safety notifying the agencies they were out of compliance with federal law.

Bissette described the conversations with lawmakers as “constructive” and “frequent.”

“The [lawmakers] we’ve talked to are very supportive of the University System,” Bissette said. “And many of them share some of the same frustrations that we do.”

Bissette did acknowledge that it has been a frustrating time for the entire board trying to navigate these legal waters.

Bissette said the board will now go forward retaining legal counsel to represent the University System in the lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice.

Bissette reiterated that the University System has not changed any of its antidiscrimination policies and would not going forward. Spellings then said that there is no enforcement mechanism in House Bill 2, and, therefore, the system campuses have taken no action to implement or enforce the law.

“We’ve not violated any provision of Title IX [of the Education Amendments] or Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act],” Spellings said, “as it relates to House Bill 2.”

The legal process form here may be a long one; with the University System trying to figure out which laws it must follow.

Watch the full press conference with Lou Bissette and Margaret Spellings:

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.