The UNC-system Board of Governors were met with a crowd of students, faculty and community members this morning calling for the dismissal of President-elect Margaret Spellings.
Members of Faculty Forward North Carolina and the UNC-Chapel Hill BOG Democracy Coalition, among others, gathered outside the Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill with signs and posters that read: “Spellings must go!” and “Education profiteer: Can’t lead UNC.”
Board members were largely displeased when the group moved inside the building shortly before the meeting was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. The meeting was open, but police blocked access before the meeting started due to the large amount of people trying to enter.
“UNC deserves better," said UNC-Chapel Hill senior Alli Clayton, who came to the protest with a group of friends. “I hope that not only Margaret Spellings, but the Board of Governors realize that we’re actually paying attention to things that are going on, that we actually care and that we actually have power.”
Ajamu Dillahunt, a first-year at N.C. Central University, said many historically black colleges and universities are left out of conversations concerning student debt and institutional funding.
“I thought it would be important to represent my institution and really show how Margaret Spellings has supported over millions of dollars being cut from historically black colleges and universities,” he said.
The protesters' presence inside the building, which included some faculty members in the board room, prompted chairperson Lou Bissette to threaten to have them kicked out.
“Free speech does not mean you disrupt meetings,” said board member Steven Long. “I think it's unacceptable for people to come in and disrupt public meetings.”
Board member Marty Kotis agreed.
“Being disruptive and having a chant go on for a period of time is wasting money,” he said.
Some board members suggested taking disciplinary action against faculty members involved. The group continued to chant loudly inside the center until they were escorted out of the building.
As the meeting moved into closed session, board member William Webb expressed discontent with the way the protesters within the meeting were handled.
“Mr. Chairman, I resent the fact that you allowed members of the audience to speak,” Webb said to Bissette.
The meeting eventually shifted to current President Tom Ross, who gave his final briefing to the board before he steps down in January. The board announced Julius J. Gonzales, senior vice president for academic affairs in the UNC system, will serve as interim president until Spellings takes office in March.
The UNC-system Association of Student Government awarded Ross the William C. Friday Lifetime Achievement Award, and a resolution was passed to have Ross become a president emeritus.
“Whatever lies ahead, I urge you to never permit this magnificent state asset — this treasure that truly belongs to the people of North Carolina — to be diminished,” Ross said.
He said the board has a unique and solemn responsibility to preserve, strengthen and advocate for the university.
As people shouted in the hallways outside, Ross gave his closing remarks.
“I urge you to do what is right, to do what is best for the University, no matter the consequences,” he said.
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