Three years ago, the announcement of Margaret Spellings as the next president of the UNC-system caused the UNC community a fair bit of distress, culminating in quite a season of protest. The Editorial Board was initially skeptical of Spellings nomination and her ability to effectively govern the system, though we also urged our readers to give Spellings the benefit of the doubt. We are pleased we did.
Spellings never pretended that she would be a champion of progressive values, nor was she. She, however, walked into a quite hostile environment willing to at least hear the concerns and interests of students and faculty with a friendly ear. We wish to give credit where credit is due, where her policies and accomplishments lined up with the general stances of the Editorial Board.
First, most of us can agree that the UNC-system should get more money while remaining as affordable as possible for all North Carolina citizens, regardless of economic class. Spellings came in hot on affordability, and helped implement real, meaningful changes such as capping tuition increases and also fixing each individual student’s tuition for four years. She also worked to restore state funding, which remained anemic after weathering the twin shocks of the Great Recession of 2008 and the Republican supermajorities since 2011. This was applied to many needed areas, but one this board particularly admires was the $1,000 increase across the board for salaried UNC employees, although we wish she would have raised the wages of our many hourly employees higher than they sit currently.
She also stayed the execution of Elizabeth City State University, and put together a working group to overhaul campus operations of this historically black university. Real millions in funding and loans were steered to this school and its historically poor part of the state, helping to maintain system access for financially insecure and minority groups. Here, Spellings put money where her mouth was.
Spellings also recognized the duty of the UNC-system to provide professional educators for the children of our state. While the results of her Lab Schools and initiative to improve kindergarten through 12th grade teacher training have yet to fully manifest, Spellings' intentions here are noble. These initiatives cannot solve the main source of N.C.’s kindergarten through 12th grade woes: teacher’s criminally lousy base pay and unstable terms of employment. But, at least Spellings caused no harm.