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Year in Review: Margaret Spellings will take the helm after a long year for the UNC-system

10-29 spellings story

UNC-system president-elect Margaret Spellings greets system Board of Governors members after the announcement of her selection at the C.D. Spangler Building in Chapel Hill on Friday, Oct. 23. 

The Board of Governors met in closed session for two hours Jan. 16 before announcing Ross’ resignation, who clarified in a press conference he wasn’t going willingly.

“When I came here, I made it clear that I wouldn’t be ready to stop working at age 65, and I’m not ready to stop working at age 65,” Ross said at the time. “I wasn’t planning on leaving in the near future.”

Students and faculty alike questioned the board for the abrupt decision, with both meeting in the weeks following to discuss a response.

A search committee was formed in the spring, comprised entirely of board members. Students, faculty and chancellors were expected to contribute through the leadership statement committee.

“It was very candid, it was very passionate, it was very thoughtful. It was really what we needed to hear,” said Joan MacNeill, a board member and chair of the search committee.

Many urged transparency in the board, both during the search and regarding the reasons behind Ross’ dismissal.

The legislature stepped in Sept. 28, passing an amendment requiring the board to consider at least three finalists for the president’s job.

“It’s kind of embarrassing that it would take legislative action to require that level of transparency,” board member Marty Kotis said. “We should be requiring that of ourselves.”

While many students were on Fall Break, Fennebresque announced an emergency meeting, which was held almost entirely in closed session. Spellings was spotted prior to the board going into closed session.

The meeting prompted N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to co-sign a letter sent to members of the General Assembly expressing their concerns.

A week later, Spellings was unanimously elected.

“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 in one of her first public remarks as president-elect.

Spellings, 58, currently runs the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas and is best known for her role in implementing 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.

Her compensation package includes a five-year contract at $775,000 a year — nearly $200,000 more than the $600,000 Ross’ final, one-year contract was worth.

Spellings was immediately criticized for a remark during a press conference following the announcement, in which she referred to the LGBT community as “lifestyles.”

During a UNC town hall on race and inclusion, activists called for Spellings’ dismissal.

And one of UNC’s largest student groups, Campus Y, has challenged her appointment.

“She has a pretty well-documented history of LGBTQ discrimination,” Campus Y co-president Vishal Reddy said.

Spellings will take office in March 2016.


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