The protests had been aimed at the appointment of Margaret Spellings as the president of the UNC system, a process that was marred by a lack of transparency.
During the press conference Friday, Spellings was asked to grade her first six months in office and she said she’s still learning the ropes.
“I think I would get an incomplete,” she said.
Spellings and members of the board discussed a range of topics, including performance-based funding for system schools and the development of the system’s strategic plan.
Two members of the public voiced their opinions at the session: Connor Harney, an Appalachian State University graduate, and Mitch Xia, a UNC-Chapel Hill junior.
Harney said at the session he had applied for a teaching position, but one UNC-system school offered him what amounted to $160 per week.
“I’ve been given the choice to either teach or feed my family,” Harney said. “My son isn’t going to be able to eat professional development.”
Xia asked the board to explain their rationale behind cutting or shrinking programs at certain schools, such as Africana Studies and Women and Gender Studies.
“It seems unlikely to me that it was truly just a matter of funding, given that the BOG has also given significant raises to administrators and also added many admin positions at our schools while failing to do the same for faculty positions and academic departments,” Xia said at the session.
Board of Governors member Marty Kotis said the sessions have been a more useful way to hear the public’s concerns.
“It’s perhaps more effective than a sign being held up,” he said. “When people yell you lose the ability to communicate.”
Xia said the implementation of the public forum shows that protests have had concrete effects.
“I think the very fact that the protests led to the implementation of this forum, the very fact that there’s a direct correlation shows that both are very necessary in terms of demanding and getting change from the Board of Governors,” Xia said.
In response to the concerns brought up during the public comment sessions, the board posts responses on its website. But Xia said they would have liked to see more of a direct conversation.
“I feel like the public comment session, it felt like an attempt to placate people who accused the Board of Governors of being non-transparent,” Xia said. “There was no further information, no actual dialogue.”
Spellings told reporters in a news conference she has been working for greater accessibility as well as affordability.
“I think the first thing that I have been trying to do along with the entirety of the general administration staff is to listen to people who are on the ground,” she said. “The other big thing is getting the Board of Governors and working with them aligned around these very big themes.”
Spellings is pushing these themes as the board works on its Strategic Plan, which board committees will be working on heavily before the board’s next meeting in October.
In her address to the board at the beginning of the meeting, Spellings said the plan will need to involve input from chancellors, students, faculty and other stakeholders.
“This will not be a top-down plan, it can’t be if it’s going to be effective,” she told the board.