When Margaret Spellings was announced as the next UNC-system president, board members said she deserved her own news cycle — separate from the public's concerns with the search process.
But nearly four months later, that news cycle has taken its toll.
During a speech to the UNC-system Board of Governors today, Spellings faltered when addressing the criticisms she has faced since her election.
"I must say that after spending most of my career in service to the public, working on behalf of all students, and with people of all points of view, I've been surprised at the intensity of the reaction," she said, her voice shaking.
Spellings later told reporters she wished she hadn't gotten emotional, but it came from the heart.
The speech was part of a two-day retreat in Greensboro designed to address the board's current structure and future priorities. Spellings described the parts each arm of the system plays, saying individual campuses must be given greater autonomy and board members must provide oversight.
"I will need you to exercise discipline as individuals and as a board," she said. "To do otherwise undermines this institution and the role we each play."
She later added, "All good thinking does not live at the General Administration building."
Spellings also emphasized transparency, affordability and accessibility, recognizing that the 17 campuses are unique.
“Each campus has its own distinct mission," she said. "If goals are not met, we must take action, of course. But we will only get in our own way if we try to be a cop on the beat, to micromanage.”
Her speech concluded with a standing ovation from the board. Members offered their praises and questions in a roundtable discussion immediately following.
Zack King, president of the Association of Student Governments and the only student member on the board, said Spellings spoke directly to ASG's mission statement, which highlights college accessibility and affordability.
He said one of her quotes resonated as the university system's core mission — "Education is the new civil right."
The morning concluded with board members choosing a photograph that best represented their promise to Spellings once she takes office March 1.
Board member Joe Knott held up an image of a saint battling a dragon.
"I’m standing with you to fight the dragons,” he told her.
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