The rumored replacement
The moment Spellings’ appearance was first reported on social media last Friday, her ability to lead the system was put on public trial.
Spellings, who is now president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, is remembered for her role in the Bush Administration and in the disputed No Child Left Behind Act — a 2001 policy born from the idea that disadvantaged K-12 students shouldn’t fall through the cracks of public education.
Vanessa Jeter, spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said the law intensified the focus on achievement gaps among different groups of students in North Carolina.
While the state already had yearly end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments that Spellings’ initiative required, Jeter said a standard requesting every student be 100 percent proficient by 2013-14 presented some difficulties for schools.
“States were fairly uncomfortable with that 100 percent target,” she said. “It’s difficult to reach 100 percent of anything.”
In 2005, The Daily Tar Heel reported on comments Spellings made regarding the creation of similar standards for institutions of higher education.
“One of our biggest challenges is a lack of compatible and comprehensive measurements — the kind of information parents have come to expect from K through 12 schools,” she said during a speech to the American Council on Education. “Parents see a mosaic of fine higher education institutions ... but find it difficult to piece the puzzle together.”
Spellings said in 2005, she intended to use NCLB as a model for higher education accountability.
The former secretary also has no apparent ties to North Carolina, which would make her the second UNC-system president — alongside the only other female president Molly Broad, who led California State University before coming to UNC — from outside the state.
But Paul Gates, faculty senate chair at Appalachian State University, said Spellings’ thin experience in higher education is more concerning than her status as an “outsider.”
A broken board
Despite the similar political ideologies of board members, the turmoil of the convoluted selection process has garnered more headlines than the potential candidates.
“There’s a musical chairs of constituents out there in the university system that all want different things,” said board member Marty Kotis.
Association of Student Government President Zack King said most of the information about the search has come from “leaked documents or emails from the media.”
The emergency meeting where Spellings was seen was called with less than 48 hours notice. No official vote was taken, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported.
But Kotis said the board can take unofficial votes. He confirmed the board has met with one candidate and received the names of three others.
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a nonpartisan transparency-focused organization, said there are questions surrounding who has the authority to select the president.
“Clearly, there need to be some decisions made to make sure this mess, as I’m calling it, doesn’t happen again,” he said.
And those future decisions, Gates said, will be tainted by this board’s decision to exclude the people of North Carolina from this process.
He said it’s similar to UNC-CH’s academic-athletic scandal in terms of the long-term consequences.
“This is the same thing, just a different set of circumstances.”
Phillips said the university system’s questionable future is exactly what’s so disturbing.
“It appears the board is irreparably fractured.”