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The Daily Tar Heel

Spellings focuses on access and diversity in inauguration speech

Chair Bissette congratulates President Margaret Spellings at her inauguration on Thursday at Memorial Hall. 

Chair Bissette congratulates President Margaret Spellings at her inauguration on Thursday at Memorial Hall. 

Spellings was inaugurated as the 18th UNC-system president in a tickets-only ceremony in Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill. Major political figures joined the UNC Board of Governors members and university chancellors to praise Spellings.

Spellings said the state should focus on opportunities for vulnerable students, many of who drop out and are left in debt without opportunities.

“As the cost of college has risen, so too has the cost of failure,” she said in her speech.

Spellings spoke about policies that would expand education for the working class, returning veterans, parents and professionals, minorities and low-income families.

“At a time when our state and our nation are growing more diverse — when the school-age population in North Carolina is almost 50 percent minority and growing — we absolutely cannot tolerate pernicious gaps in opportunity,” Spellings said.

Chris Parrish, associate director of Undergraduate Admissions Systems & Planning at Western Carolina University, said accessibility has improved under the legislature’s N.C. Promise Tuition Plan, which Spellings has praised. The plan lowered tuition to $500 per semester for in-state students at Western Carolina University, UNC-Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said she attended the event to emphasize collaboration between the town and the university.

“She’s been very willing to talk about how we include more diversity in our schools,” Hemminger said.

Robin Cummings, chancellor at UNC-Pembroke, said Spellings has improved communication between UNC-system schools.

Spellings said improving minority and low-income student achievement involves cooperation.

“We need creative partnerships with community colleges, local governments, businesses, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and civil rights leaders,” she said.

Johnny Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said he didn’t expect Spellings to reach out to the historically black colleges and universities so quickly after her appointment.

“North Carolina’s HBCUs are in good hands — no, great hands,” he said.

Angkana Bode, chairperson of North Carolina State University’s staff assembly, said Spellings has heard concerns from staff.

“She really wants to listen to us from the top to the very bottom, so staff feel encouraged,” Bode said.

Spellings said while there is disagreement in the U.S., it is not about the need for public universities.

“I am a fierce believer in the power of good public policy to change lives for the better,” she said. “I’ve spent my entire career working to bring people together.”


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