Unfazed by the widespread protests over her appointment, UNC-system President Margaret Spellings focused on creating and implementing the system five-year strategic plan in 2016.
Spellings was appointed through a process marred by closed-door meetings after former president Tom Ross was ousted by the Board of Governors in 2015.
Her appointment drew criticism from students and faculty over her political past — she was Secretary of Education under George W. Bush and instrumental in passing No Child Left Behind, served on the board of directors for the group that oversees the for-profit University of Phoenix and had expressed anti-LGBTQ statements.
In January, four UNC-system students were arrested for disrupting a BOG meeting and resisting arrest.
The criticism culminated as Spellings took office March 1, and students across the UNC system walked out of classes in protest, despite the system-wide email Spellings sent highlighting her focus on affordability and inclusiveness.
Just a month later, Spellings came under fire again after issuing a memorandum to chancellors directing universities on how to comply with House Bill 2.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality NC criticized the memo.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that the University of North Carolina has concluded it is required to follow this discriminatory measure at the expense of the privacy, safety and well-being of its students and employees, particularly those who are transgender,” the organizations said in a joint statement in April.
But later in a conference call with reporters, Spellings said the UNC system’s compliance with the law did not indicate support and acknowledged concerns.
“Broadly, there’s a sense of fear, of anger, questions about what’s next,” she said in April. “Questions that, ‘Is this a state that is unwelcoming to people of all kinds?’ And this particular law suggests that this might be the case.”
Just days later, a BOG meeting was moved from UNC-Asheville to UNC-Chapel Hill due to concerns over large protests. Protestors gathered outside the Chapel Hill meeting, criticizing Spellings' appointment, the BOG's inaction on HB2 and decreased funding for historically black colleges and universities.
Spellings completed a tour of the UNC system over the next few months, where she was met with both reception and criticism.
As the UNC system began its strategic planning process, the N.C. General Assembly passed the N.C. Promise Tuition Plan as part of its budget in July. The plan, which Spellings heralded as a step toward affordability, lowered tuition to $500 at three UNC institutions.
As the school year resumed, the BOG created its strategic plan's five themes — affordability and efficiency, access, student success, economic impact and community engagement, and excellent and diverse institutions.
Spellings was inaugurated as the 18th UNC-system president in October. In her speech, she said she hoped to focus on increasing opportunities for low-income and minority students.
“As the cost of college has risen, so too has the cost of failure,” she said.
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