State News

Anti-Spellings protests backed by faculty-union offshoot

Posted February 29
Updated March 3

— Activists supported by one of the country's largest labor unions are among the opponents University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings will face as she becomes the statewide public university system's leader on Tuesday.

Some students are planning a classroom walkout and rally on the flagship Chapel Hill campus Tuesday to protest the arrival of former President George W. Bush's education secretary. Several groups have held similar demonstrations since her October selection by the 17-campus system's Board of Governors.

They include Faculty Forward Network, an offshoot of the Service Employees International Union's campus labor organizing efforts. One of the group's stated goals includes opposing Spellings and the changes she may bring in her new role.

"SEIU does support Faculty Forward Network financially and with other resource support, with staffing support," said Malini Cadambi Daniel, who coordinates the union's efforts to organize college and university employees around the country.

The 2 million member labor organization represents health care workers and low-wage workers in other industries, and has pushed cities to adopt a $15 an hour minimum wage.

The union's organizing drive, called Faculty Forward, has led to the union group representing thousands of instructors at the University of Chicago, Georgetown University and elsewhere who are employed in teaching positions that lack the job security of tenure. Duke University's non-tenure-track faculty decided weeks ago to pursue an election that will decide whether they will be represented by a union.

The group's website describes its Faculty Forward campaign as pushing to improve wages and job security for the three-quarters of college instructors employed on an as-needed basis. Union employees have been used to promote anti-Spellings protests.

The Faculty Forward Network, which shares a Manhattan office address with a philanthropy that helps fund progressive organizations around the country, shares goals with the union's similarly-named organizing drive. Faculty Forward Network specifically states one of its missions as seeking Spellings' ouster.

"Spellings embodies the corporatization of higher education," the group says on its website. "She is a political appointee, and she was on the board of the parent company of a for-profit school and a student debt collection agency."

Spellings has served on corporate boards for the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix and student-loan collector Ceannate Corp. She takes over the UNC system after heading the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. Spellings is leaving her seat on the center's board of directors, spokeswoman Sara Owen said in an email Monday.

Her selection suggests an increasing openness toward corporations edging further into higher education, including directing what is taught and by whom, UNC-Chapel Hill geography professor Altha Cravey said. Opponents' concerns include privatizing university assets like bookstores and focusing on majors with high market demand to the detriment of the liberal arts, she said.

The country's oldest public university in Chapel Hill is highly ranked today "because there's been this public investment over time to create a public good. So her ideology, her very view of education, is what's troubling," said Cravey, adding she pays monthly dues of $10 to support Faculty Forward Network.

Spellings was not available to discuss the union-affiliated opposition, university system spokeswoman Joni Worthington said.

Spellings said during recent remarks to the Board of Governors that she considered education "the new civil right" and said universities must do more to serve minority, low-income and first-generation students.

"When you get to know me," she said, "you'll see that I am driven to provide education and opportunity for all."

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/emery-p-dalesio

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