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As UNC-system President Margaret Spellings walks in, students walk out

Protestors line the steps of Wilson Library with signs Tuesday afternoon in protest of Margret Spelling's first day in office.
Protestors line the steps of Wilson Library with signs Tuesday afternoon in protest of Margret Spelling's first day in office.

The walkout — protesting UNC-system President Margaret Spellings’ first day on the job — was organized by the UNC-Chapel Hill BOG Democracy Coalition and Faculty Forward, among other organizations.

Protesters took to the steps of Wilson Library, wielding signs while select protesters spoke out about Spellings and her public record.

Madeleine Scanlon, a UNC senior arrested at a Board of Governors meeting earlier this year, said the main goal of the walkout was to educate students across the UNC system about Spellings and the board.

“People don’t know who the Board of Governors are — they don’t understand why Margaret Spellings needs to go,” Scanlon said.

Other walkouts were coordinated with other UNC-system schools. According to Ignite NC, a progressive grassroots organization, more than 5,000 students protested across six campuses.

The UNC-Chapel Hill walkout focused on Spellings’ role in implementing No Child Left Behind, her tenure on the board of directors at the Apollo Education Group, Inc. — the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix — as well as her stance on LGBT issues and recent board policies affecting historically black colleges and universities.

UNC senior June Beshea, a protester who spoke at the rally and uses the pronoun they, addressed the history of HBCUs and the repercussions of the recent budget cuts against them.

“Historically black colleges and universities are a huge part of the black community,” they said. “Whether we go there or not, they’re a part of us. So to see them being attacked this way is a personal attack, not just on ourselves but on our community and on our way of life.”

UNC first-year Kennedy Bridges said she attended because she believes students need to talk about important issues — like the cuts made to HBCUs.

“I think, if anything, they’ll realize how serious we are,” she said. “I don’t think they’re going to dethrone her or anything from this one protest, but I think this is the beginning of something bigger.”

Spellings will likely remain in her current office at least until the end of her five-year contract. She said she hopes protesters become more open to her over time.

“Obviously I hope they’ll give me a chance and get to know me,” she said. “Nobody who is saying these things or protesting me — none of them, I don’t know know any of them.”

In a system-wide email sent Tuesday morning, Spellings highlighted her focus on affordability and inclusiveness in education. She also sent a letter to the Faculty Council Monday in support of a resolution they passed Thursday to expand LGBT academic initiatives.

But many protesters at the walkout said they do not believe Spellings wants inclusiveness or affordability.

“She’s very careful with her language,” said Altha Cravey, a UNC geography professor involved in the protest and a member of Faculty Forward. “She’s practiced those words of inclusivity and all those nice words that we all love and value. She’s practiced those, but she delivers a policy that gives us the opposite.”

Spellings has since apologized for remarks she made about the LGBT community in October.

“I made a mistake,” she said. “I hope that that will not define my five years in this job. I’ll work hard to make sure it doesn’t.”

Spellings said she plans to work closely with the board to make structural changes in order to be more transparent. She said she hopes to create a system that will allow public input — like a school board or city council meeting.

But this might not be enough for her opposers. Scanlon said Spellings can expect an escalation of protests until she leaves office.

“Margaret Spellings is going to have to quit,” she said. “Margaret Spellings is either going to quit, or she’s going to be fired, because we will never let her be the president of this university system and protests will continue until she’s gone.”

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State & National editor Hayley Fowler contributed reporting.