UNC Protester Says Group Will ‘Always’ Ask for Margaret Spellings’ Dismissal

Four protesters were arrested at the UNC Board of Governors meeting last Tuesday.

The group was protesting the election of Margaret Spellings at UNC System President.

The magistrate did not find probably cause for charges against one student. But the other three individuals were charged with counts ranging from disorderly conduct to resisting an officer and even assault on a law enforcement officer causing serious injury.

One of those arrested was Femi Mimi Brown Shittu, who spoke with Carolina Connections’ Alex Thomas about the incident and the protesters’ plans going forward.

The protesters are due in court on February 4.

The next meeting of the Board of Governors is slated for March 4 at Fayetteville State University. That will be the first meeting under the direction of Spellings.

Carolina Connection is the radio news magazine produced by students in the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. You can hear Carolina Connection Saturdays throughout the semester at 8:30 on 97.9FM/1360AM WCHL, immediately following the Chapelboro Week in Review.


A Conversation with Tom Ross

Tom Ross served as President of the UNC System for five years, up until January 4.

His removal from that office was announced in January 2015 and along with the subsequent search leading to President-elect Margaret Spellings both caused protests throughout the year.

Ross spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about the aftermath of the announcement one year ago.


Listen to part one of the conversation below:


Ross also spoke about the search for a new system leader and what it takes to be successful in that role:


Ross shared his thoughts on the status of higher education in the state and the responsibility of the university system.


Ross spoke about the responsibilities that public universities hold in dealing with issues including race on campus.


Ross also gave his parting thoughts about the outlook of the university system and his future.


UNC Board of Governors Receives Briefing on Open Records Laws

The UNC System Board of Governors heard a briefing on North Carolina open records laws on Thursday.

The UNC Board of Governors has been under fire throughout the year for different reasons: firing Tom Ross, how they handled that firing, the secretive search process for Ross’ replacement and possible violations of open records laws, to name a few.

Board vice chair Lou Bissette said he was hopeful that a 90-minute briefing on North Carolina open records laws would be helpful to the 32-member board, especially because so many of the members are coming from the private sector.

“It’s a very specific set of statutes, there are a lot of issues related to it and it was just a great refresher course for me,” Bissette said. “And for those who’ve been in the private sector all of their lives, it was probably really an eye opener.”

The presentation was given by Frayda Bluesetin and Robert Joyce of the UNC School of Government.

The briefing covered a large variety of topics but had a certain focal point on disclosure of pay raises. After all, the decision to have the open records presentation came after a controversial board meeting in late October when the board decided in closed session to give pay raises to 12 chancellors across the system but did not make the information public during the subsequent open session of the meeting.

Bissette, who is leading the board after former chair John Fennebresque resigned earlier this year, said after hearing the report Thursday, he may have made a different decision about disclosing the raises, conceding that it now appears that information was public record.

“It would appear to me that in that case it probably was,” he said.

Bissette said he was happy with the meeting held on Thursday and the information that came forward when board members were able to ask questions regarding specific circumstances and what the law would require of them.

“It just tells me, and I’m a lawyer you know, that these things are not totally black and white,” he said. “There are a lot of gray areas.

“And what we want to do in the future – we don’t want to violate any statutes, any confidentiality statutes – but where we can, we want to err on the side of openness.”

Bluestein said it is not unusual for individuals who are new to a public service role to have issues complying with open record and open meeting laws.

“I think the records arena is a danger zone because they’re creating them themselves all the time,” she said. “And it’s just so incredibly broad.”

Bluestein said another danger zone was drifting off topic during closed session portions of a meeting.

Bissette said the board would likely be looking to implement new policies to avoid falling out of compliance in the future.

The full board will meet on Friday morning beginning at nine o’clock. A protest is scheduled to be held at eight o’clock objecting to the recent selection of Margaret Spellings as the new System President.


Let’s Discuss UNC System Salaries

Is $775,000 too much or not enough to pay the new president of the UNC System?Lew Margolis

Is a raise of 9.6 percent too much or not enough for the chancellor at Chapel Hill?

The worthy mission of the UNC System, “to discover, create, transmit, and apply knowledge to address the needs of individuals and society,” invites thought, analysis, and dialogue about the these questions.

Sadly, the only thinking that has been shared is that market forces drive these changes.  I know that the topic of the role and power of the invisible hand of the marketplace stimulates heated debate.

I would suggest that the mission of the university to discover, create, transmit, and apply knowledge obliges everyone involved:  The Board of Governors; faculty; staff; students, to add the forces of critical thinking to the forces of the market.

So many of the most valuable aspects of universities are what economists call public goods, which don’t well lend themselves to market forces.

Each campus and the university system would benefit from discussions of the criteria used to allocate the precious taxpayer-provided resources for senior leadership in higher education.

Listen to Lew Margolis’ commentary

What about the new president will advance the mission of the UNC System?  How do we measure that value?

How have the efforts of Chancellor Folt, to advance Chapel Hill’s mission of scholarship, research, and creativity been translated into a raise?

Universities are complex institutions which need to invest in high quality leadership.  So what may, at first glance, seem like extravagant compensation  may be right on target.

Let’s at least have the discussion.  Our state’s commitment to higher education would be enriched.

Lew Margolis


UNC Board of Governors Will Give General Assembly Closed Session Minutes

The Board of Governors met in special session on Friday to consider a request from some members of the General Assembly for a copy of the minutes from the October 30 meeting, where the board voted in closed session to give 12 Chancellors pay raises, but did not disclose that information in open session.

Joe Knott, who was appointed to a four-year term on the board earlier this year, said that he felt the request from the legislators was overreach.

“What has been one of the keys to preserving academic excellence here has been the insulation of the university from political control,” Knott says. “That is the role of the Board of Governors.”

The board, ultimately, voted to give legislators the minutes from the closed-session-pay-raise debate.

The meeting took an odd turn when Knott accused lawmakers of attempting to influence the recent selection of a new System President.

“One of the legislators gave our chairman instruction as to who the next President should be,” Knott says. “This, of course, is extremely beyond the pale.”

Knott added that Chairman John Fennebresque, who resigned following the tumultuous Presidential search, deserved credit for refusing that suggestion from the legislator.

But other members of the board were visibly frustrated with Knott and said that if he had evidence of that, he should bring it forward.

Knott refused to identify the legislator who made the request, the candidate they had pushed for, or how he knew that the request had been made.

“I’m satisfied that it did,” he says. “And I’m satisfied that that is the sort of thing that would be very dangerous to the continued health of this institution.”

Former state Senator and current member of the Board of Governors Thom Goolsby said he has received no pressure or direction from members of the General Assembly since moving to the board.

“I think Mr. Knott’s statements were completely unwarranted on anything I’ve experienced on this board,” Goolsby says. “I’ve received nothing but support and hands-off as far as my decisions go from the General Assembly. But I am happy to receive any direction or question they have from me and to hear what they have to say, because they answer directly to the people.

“I’m given a four-year term. They’re given a two-year term.”

Vice Chairman Lou Bissette, who has been leading the board since the resignation of Chairman John Fennebresque following the election of Margaret Spellings as System President, was the recipient of praise from many members of the board for his leadership style in the interim.

Board member Marty Kotis said he is happy with the announcement that the board will receive a presentation on open records laws in North Carolina at its December meeting.

“Comments by Mr. Knott overshadowed our Chairman Lou Bissette,” Kotis says. “He is phenomenal. He is really pushing for more transparency here. We’re all excited about his actions.”

The board sent the requested information to the legislature on Friday afternoon and is scheduled to release it to the public when it has been properly formatted for public circulation.


Secrecy Surrounding Chancellor Raises Draws Criticism

The UNC Board of Governors decided in closed session on Friday to give pay raises to several chancellors across the UNC System.

Now that information is finally being made public.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson were two of 12 recipients of a pay increase, according to information released on Monday. Folt will now have a base salary of $570,000 and Woodson will make $590,000 per year as his base salary. The chancellors who did not receive a pay raise were among the most-recently hired chancellors in the system or had received a pay raise earlier this year.

But the way in which the board authorized those pay raises drew criticism on Friday.

Just a week before, the board had elected Margaret Spellings to succeed current President Tom Ross, when Ross is removed from the post early next year. It was a meeting happening just four days after the board Chair John Fennebresque, who led the controversial search for Spellings, had resigned.

And the meeting was fairly straight forward, until the board emerged from a two-and-a-half-hour closed session.

Before the board adjourned, George Sywassink delivered the Personnel and Tenure Committee report including that the board had authorized changes to salaries of some chancellors in the UNC System. But the information regarding who would receive the salary increase and how much the salary would be adjusted was not addressed or affirmed in open session.

Jonathan Jones is the Director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, and he says that is where the board does not see eye-to-eye with the North Carolina open meetings law.

“The real problem there is that any time the Board of Governors, or any other public body that’s subject to open meetings law, takes action in a closed session,” Jones says, “they have to come out and affirm that action in a public session.

“If they take a vote in a closed meeting, when they adjourn that closed meeting there has to be an open portion. And during that open portion of the meeting, they have to affirm whatever it was they just decided in the closed session so that the public knows.”

System spokesperson Joni Worthington told reporters the information would not become public record until the individuals affected were informed, according to what she had been told by the system’s general counsel Thomas Shanahan. Jones says there are no provisions for this in the law.

“Neither the public records law nor the open meetings law has any kind of exemption for notifying employees of an action that was taken in closed session that might affect them,” Jones says. “Once they take that action, it does become a public record and it should be accessible.”

Jones went on to say, “The meetings law is clear. You can’t take an action in closed session without affirming it in an open session.”

Worthington wrote in an e-mail to WCHL that, “Our legal counsel does not believe that the Open Meetings Act supports the opinion that all actions taken by a public body must be taken in open session.”

Worthington went on to say that the system is “mindful that State law requires us to keep employee personnel information confidential, with certain exceptions.”

Worthington adds, “Although employers may release information on current salary and prior salary changes, we do not think that information about salaries that have been authorized [but] not yet administratively implemented or even communicated to employees can be considered current.”

Jones says this is not the first time in recent weeks the board has possibly run afoul of open-records requirements, including the “emergency meeting” called in mid-October.

“They held an emergency meeting a couple of weeks ago to discuss a candidate for the Presidency of the UNC System,” Jones recalls. “That clearly was not an emergency. The meeting in and of itself did not comply with the laws requirements for an emergency meeting.”

Jones adds the “emergency meeting” was held at the SAS campus in Cary where the building locks after five o’clock.

“Meaning that folks who showed up after five o’clock couldn’t get to the meeting,” Jones says. “That’s also a serious problem and a violation of the meetings law.”

At that same meeting, the board was criticized for the rushed adjournment that followed a lengthy closed session.

“Every meeting that you have in closed session, when you decide to end the closed session you have to come out into open session again even if the only thing you’re going to do in the open session is adjourn the overall meeting,” Jones says. “When they did that during that emergency meeting, they held the open session before anyone in the public who was waiting to come into that portion of the meeting could get into the room.”

Jones says this track record does not bode well for the perception of the BOG.

“We’ve got this series of meetings over a period of time, two of them kind of close to each other, involving different issues,” Jones says, “where it just looks like the Board of Governors either doesn’t understand the responsibility under the open meetings law or is not committed to doing its work in a transparent way.”


Spellings Elected Unanimously Following Divisive Search Process

The UNC Board of Governors on Friday unanimously elected Margaret Spellings to serve as the new head of the 17-campus UNC system for the next five years.

“I’m thrilled to be coming here,” she says. “I’m thrilled for this next chapter in my career, and for the opportunity to lead this fine, fine set of institutions to a place of national prominence.”

Spellings served as secretary of education under President George W. Bush from 2005-2009. In her role as a domestic policy advisor, she was one of the primary proponents of the No Child Left Behind act of 2001, designed to reform primary education in public schools.

Since leaving office, Spellings has worked as an education consultant and as the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. She’s currently the president of the George W. Bush presidential center in Dallas, Texas.

While she has little experience in higher education, she says her business acumen will come in handy in the changing marketplace.

“Higher education is changing, and we have to change with it,” says Spellings. “The faculty knows that; we all know that. The public is demanding that. They want a good value proposition and they want it affordably. They want to complete in ways that are convenient to them, and we are going to meet those challenges.”

Her election caps off a 10-month saga of accusations and acrimony that began when current president Tom Ross was unexpectedly forced to step down in January.

The process to name his successor has been criticized from all sides.
Faculty members from the across the state say they’ve been left out of the loop, and denied the opportunity to meet potential candidates.

In an unprecedented move, the General Assembly passed a bill requiring greater transparency in the search process. That bill has yet to be signed into law, or vetoed, by Governor Pat McCrory.

Meanwhile, as Board Chair John Fennebresque called an emergency meeting last week to discuss the hire in closed session, some board members revolted, calling for Fennebresque to step down.

Critics say the messy search process has muddied the waters for the new president. The UNC Faculty Assembly issued a statement saying: “…the secretive character of this search […] will make it difficult to win the confidence and trust of the University community.”

Nonetheless, Spellings says she hopes faculty will give her the benefit of the doubt.

“I expect the faculty to react well to my appointment. I have skills that are different than theirs. I’m not an academic and I’m not a teacher. I’m not a researcher. I’m somebody that understands public policy making. I understand advocacy and I understand how to bring people together around a shared mission. I have a track record of doing that in my career.”

Spellings will receive a base salary of $775,000 annually. She’ll take office on March 1, 2016.

Former United States President George W. Bush released a statement congratulating Spellings.




Tom Ross on UNC Presidential Search: ‘I’ve Stayed Out of It’

The UNC Board of Governors will be meeting at 11 o’clock on Friday morning to select a new System President.

A tentative agenda for the meeting calls for the 32-member board to go into closed session for reports from the Presidential Search Committee and the Committee on Personnel & Tenure.

The board will then move into open session for a report from the Presidential Search Committee, Election of a President and Remarks from the President-Elect before adjourning.

Tom Ross is the current UNC System President who is being forced out by the board. That announcement was made in late January.

Ross told WCHL following an event at UNC on Tuesday afternoon that he would like to continue serving in his role but that he would work with the new President for a smooth transition.

“The Presidential search is something that I know virtually nothing about,” Ross says. “I’ve stayed out of it because I think it’s the board’s responsibility. I don’t think there’s any secret that I love this university and I wanted to stay longer but they have the prerogative to pick their own leader. And I’m hopeful they’ll find somebody really good, and I pledge to work with whoever it is to make them successful.

“The University of North Carolina deserves that.”

The full Board of Governors met to discuss the Presidential Search for the first time as an entire unit last Friday.

Reports from the meeting say that Margaret Spellings, former US Secretary of Education under George W. Bush was in attendance at the meeting as the lead candidate to replace Ross.


UNC Board of Governors to Hold Emergency Meeting for Presidential Search

The UNC System Board of Governors has called an emergency meeting for one o’clock Friday afternoon at the SAS campus in Cary.

The Presidential Search Committee has been meeting at a breakneck pace in recent weeks as they are narrowing down their search for the replacement for Tom Ross.

UNC System spokesperson Joni Worthington said in an e-mail that no candidate names will be disclosed at the meeting and the Board of Governors will not take action on any candidate.

It’s possible a new president could be named at the board’s monthly meeting on October 30.

The News and Observer is reporting the board will speak with the leading candidate Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary in George W. Bush’s administration. Jane Stancill with the N&O attributes that information to three people with direct knowledge of the search.


UNC System President Praises NC Senate Budget Proposals

UNC System President Tom Ross issued a statement today praising the NC State Senate’s Draft Budget for 2014-2015.

Here’s the text of Ross’s statement:

“The 2014-15 draft state budget released by the Senate Appropriations Committee offers clear evidence that the North Carolina Senate understands the critical role our public universities must continue to play in North Carolina’s economic future.

“Given the needs facing the State, we are grateful that the Senate budget recognizes the need to invest in areas that are key to the future of the university, as highlighted in our strategic plan.

“We support the efforts of legislative leaders to fund salary increases for state workers and look forward to working with them to address compensation issues for University faculty and staff.

While the budget process is far from complete, the Senate budget marks an important step forward for our students and our State, and it demonstrates support that is crucial as the University strives to remain the most valuable asset owned by the people of North Carolina. “

The proposed budget provides a recurring $1,000 annual salary-and-benefit increase for all full-time employees subject to the State Personnel Act.

There’s also a push in the Senate for UNC to dissolve “small, unprofitable institutions” such as Elizabeth City State University, which has seen enrollment drop from 3,307 in 2011 to 2,421 students in 2013.

Eight-one-point-five percent of the school’s students are African-American.

WCHL has reached out to UNC System President Tom Ross for comment about Elizabeth City State, and we’ll keep you updated.

UPDATE: UNC Vice President for Communications Joni B. Worthington sent WCHL a follow-up email that reads:

“For clarification, this draft budget provision, which may or may not be included in the final state budget, would require the UNC Board of Governors to study the feasibility of dissolving any constituent institution that fell below a specified enrollment threshold and to report its findings and recommendations to the 2015 General Assembly.

“With respect to Elizabeth City State University, UNC General Administration is continuing to work with the campus to address budget challenges, stabilize and build enrollment, and tailor degree offerings to fit its current enrollment and regional needs.

“We consider ECSU a vital member of the UNC system and critical to northeastern North Carolina’s economic and cultural well-being. “