A coalition of UNC-system students gathered Friday morning in front of the Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill during the Board of Governor's monthly meeting — but Board Chairperson Lou Bissette said some of their anger was misplaced.
“We didn’t have anything to do with the Charlotte ordinance or the GA bill, yet somehow we’ve been thrust into the middle of this thing, and I think it’s a bit unfair,” Bissette said. “We’re trying to do our job and educate people.”
Students from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Asheville, Appalachian State University and North Carolina A&T criticized the system’s appointment of Margaret Spellings, its inaction on House Bill 2 and its decreased funding for HBCUs.
“I’m tired of the board refusing to acknowledge student voices,” said UNC-Chapel Hill senior Shannon Brien. “And now especially with H.B. 2, not only is the board denying the voices of students but denying the existence of some students — of trans students, and putting their bodies even more at risk in an environment where they should be safe.”
Spellings told reporters last week that the General Administration's compliance with House Bill 2 — clarified in an April 5 memo to UNC-system chancellors — was not an endorsement.
She said today that the University and its officers must enforce House Bill 2 along with every other state law as a public agency.
But she said she believes universities in North Carolina must be welcoming if the state is to continue being a model for excellence in education.
"I don’t have to tell you that House Bill 2 has raised concerns as I’ve traveled around the state,” Spellings said. “The chancellors tell me that we are at risk of losing great students, faculty, and potential business partners and philanthropic support.”
UNC-Asheville students circulated a list of demands online prior to the event. They called for the removal of Spellings by the end of the academic year and for a student union to be implemented with voting power in the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees.
But Bissette said Spellings' hiring was in line with other university systems in the country.
“I don’t know what we did wrong in this process,” he said. “And because (protesters are) only yelling vulgarities from across the yard, I don’t know how they can explain what we did.”
Juliet Flam-Ross, a first-year at UNC-Asheville, said the board needs to be restructured.
“I don’t think we need a board of adults, we’re all adults at this point, “ she said. “I think that we can make these important decisions about our education. We’re the people that it impacts the most and our majority white, majority upperclass Board of Governors doesn’t represent us — they don’t understand what it’s like to be in our shoes.”
Bissette said he and the rest of the board hope a new public comment process, to be introduced at next month’s meeting, will help alleviate some of the tension.
“Some people who want to convey their feelings and have a dialogue, it’ll help,” he said. “Those who wanna scream 'F you,' it’s probably not going to help them.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.