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Margaret Spellings to be next UNC-system president

UNC-system president elect greets members of the board of governors after their announcement Friday.

UNC-system president elect greets members of the board of governors after their announcement Friday.

Update 2:30 p.m.: UNC-system President-elect Margaret Spellings did not have much time to answer questions after her selection, but her responses did shed some light on how a Spellings-led system might look.

What are her plans to deal with faculty who have spoken out against her and the process by which she was appointed?

"Higher education is changing, and we have to change with it. ... I think the faculty know and understand that."

Will politics play a role in her decisionmaking process as president?

"These are all political settings ... and that's the fun of it."

Have her views on the LGBTQ community changed since 2005, when she voiced her displeasure with an animated children's show that portrayed lesbian couples?

"I can't comment on those lifestyles," she said, noting her issue was with the use of public funds to pay for the PBS television program.

Now, as Spellings travels back home to Dallas, the University community will have a chance to process what this all means. 

Already, distressed students are speaking out about the process that brought Spellings to North Carolina. 

"If (the board) had considered our concerns, which is the protection of students of marginalized identities, they would have made more efforts to choose a presidential candidate who is more in-line with what the students' needs and concerns are," said UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore Ebony Watkins, who said she was speaking on behalf of an unofficial coalition of concerned students. 

Stephen Leonard, the chairperson of the UNC-system Faculty Assembly, said at a press conference shortly following Spellings' appearance that his organization appreciates its new system president's commitment to higher education but declined to offer further opinions on Spellings.

Leonard said he did not feel comfortable making statements about Spellings until the assembly had a chance to meet with her. So far, Leonard said, Spellings has reached out to one member of his organization, Gabriel Lugo, who is the chairperson-elect.

Leonard said the interaction between Lugo and Spellings was an introduction, which he said was done over the phone Thursday. 

Spellings will officially take over as president March 1, 2016. Current president Tom Ross, who was not at the board meeting, has said he would step down in January of 2016.

Joni Worthington, a spokesperson for the system, said the board will decide later whether to operate in "a transition phase" during the months of January and February or ask Ross to stay until March.

One thing Spellings was not asked about was her compensation package; she is on a five-year contract at $775,000 a year — nearly $200,000 more than the $600,000 Ross' final, one-year contract was worth.

In the end, Spellings and the board seemed content. Members of the search committee raved about her past accomplishments and future potential, and Spellings mentioned multiple times how excited she is to move to North Carolina.

"As (board member) Ann (Goodnight) was nice enough to say, it was a good day for all of y'all, and it certainly was a good day for Margaret Spellings," Spellings said as one of her first public remarks as the president-elect of the UNC system.

Margaret Spellings — a former Secretary of Education under George W. Bush — has been elected by the Board of Governors as the next UNC-system president. 

The move was announced at the UNC Board of Governors meeting in Chapel Hill after 10 months of searching following current system president Tom Ross' forced resignation in January.

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Spellings, who will turn 58 in November, is known for the implementation of the ambitious No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which required schools to have 100 percent of its students up to proficient levels by the end of the 2013-14 school year. She currently runs the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. 

At past conferences and panel discussions, Spellings has mentioned creating a similar accountability system for higher education. 

The announcement of Spellings' election ends a convoluted and widely criticized president search that left both like-minded legislators and liberal faculty irate.

Rumors of board members' dissatisfaction with Board chairperson John Fennebresque's leadership style became official, as Board members Thom Goolsby and Marty Kotis both filed official complaints against him in the past week. 

In Goolsby's complaint, he wrote the search has been so mishandled that "anyone advanced under your chairmanship would be fruit from a poisonous tree" in an email to Fennebresque obtained by the (Raleigh) News & Observer

And after last week's emergency meeting — where Spellings was first spotted by left-leaning think tank N.C. Policy Watch — state legislators, including House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, sent a letter to the Board accusing them of holding an emergency meeting as a way to avoid their demand that the Board presents three candidates. 

Faculty across the system have been equally as frustrated with the search. In a statement released Thursday, the UNC-system Faculty Assembly said the Board's "recent mismanagement of the Executive office of the University, from the firing of Thomas Ross, to the hiring of the new President, is but the most egregious in a long train of problematic governance actions." 

A central complaint from faculty members is that their opinions and suggestions on the search have either not been heard or disregarded — something the Faculty Assembly deemed as "shortsighted and troubling."

"We now appear to have entered an era when it is not support, but an ill-informed indifference, that defines how governing authorities in the University think of their relationship to those who carry out the core mission of public higher education," the statement says.

UNC-CH's BOG Democracy Coalition, a student group focused on holding the Board accountable, also released a statement about Fennebresque and Spellings last week on the group's Facebook page. 

They called for the Charlotte-based lawyer to step down from the chair position due to his lack of "integrity and ethical commitment necessary to lead the search for a new president." 

The group also urged for Spellings to remove herself from the search because "track record and political tenure make it clear that she is not fit to lead our university system." 


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