Protesters: Spellings wrong to lead UNC

Posted December 11, 2015
Updated March 24, 2016

— About a half dozen people were escorted from the meeting Friday of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors after speaking out against the appointment of Margaret Spellings as the system's new president.

One by one, protesters rose, loudly identified themselves and finished their comments with "Spellings must go."

Brent Herron, associate vice president of campus safety and emergency management, said all seven of those ousted from the meeting had been asked to leave the building for the day. None will face arrest, he said.

Michael Behrent, a professor of history at Appalachian State University who was among those escorted out, said, "We think Margaret Spellings represents everything that is wrong with higher education. Her appointment really is a danger to the UNC system."

Shannon Brien, a history and Chinese major at UNC-Chapel Hill who helped organize the protest, said she hoped to encourage the board to reconsider Spellings' appointment.

Asked specifically what it is about Spellings that bothers her, Brien said, "Her history of being on the board of a company that profits off of student debt." That was a reference to her service on the board of Ceannate Corp., a business that collects student loan debt. She has also served on the board of the for-profit University of Phoenix.

After the protesters were removed from the meeting room inside the Center for School Leadership Development building, they lingered, chanting outside the room at a volume often audible by the board.

Board member W. Marty Kotis III joked that he'd support sound-proofing in future construction projects, then joined with Steven B. Long in suggesting that professors who participated in the protest should be punished.

"I welcome anyone who tries to sanction me because I feel like this is really my moral duty," said Altha Cravey, associate professor of geography at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Later in the day, board Chairman Louis Bissette said he believed it was unlikely that any of the professors involved in the protest would face sanctions.

Cravey said she joined the protest because of the way Spellings was appointed and because she believes Spellings favors corporate interests over public ones.

"She should never have been a person considered for this position," said Laila Elsherif, a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill research faculty.

Elsherif objected to the way Spellings was appointed. "The university should be a democratic area," she said. "Everyone should have a say."

Should the board move against the protesters, Behrent said they'd be shooting the messenger.

"The only way we're going to make change on these matters is by taking risks," he said.

Outside the meeting, Jarvis Hall, an associate professor of political science at North Carolina Central University, called Spellings "a clear and present danger" to historically black colleges and universities like NCCU.

After Hall finished speaking, another protestor lead a call and response of the assembled protesters shouting: "When HCBUs are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back."

Other chants included "Let us in" and "Margaret Spellings' got to go."

Board member Thom Goolsby, a former state senator, said, "Absolutely not" when asked whether the board would reconsider Spellings' appointment.

"She has the full support of the board," Goolsby said, adding that the protests didn't bother him.

"I appreciate any citizen getting involved- It's a wonderful thing," he said.

Bissette said "There's absolutely no chance" Spellings won't be next UNC president.

Before the meeting, campus police officers and a bomb-sniffing dog searched the building. Authorities did not say whether the search was in response to a threat.

Friday’s meeting was also the last for outgoing system President Tom Ross, who is stepping down Jan. 3. Ross headed the state's 17 university campuses for four years. The Democrat worked with Republicans who took control of the General Assembly in 2011.

The board name Junius Gonzales, who has served for the past years as senior vice president for academic affairs for the system, as interim UNC president. He will serve until Spellings, a former U.S. education secretary, takes over in March. He will be paid a $15,000 monthly stipend in addition to his regular salary during his time as interim president.

Board members also elected Bissette, an Asheville lawyer who has served as acting chairman for the past two months, as chairman of the board. He has been on the board since 2011 and served as vice chairman for the past two years.

D'Atra Jackson, a protest organizer, said that Ignite NC would be encouraging people to turn out at the next meeting of the Board of Governors, in January at North Carolina A&T State University.


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  • Brian Jones Dec 14, 2015
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    The protest organizer is named D'Atra Jackson.............That about explains all of this non event of 6 people with signs.

  • Doug Smallen Dec 13, 2015
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    Write them off as whiny Liberals, only their way or no way.

  • Jennifer Wilder Dec 13, 2015
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    Also, I don't view her serving on the board of Phoenix as a bad thing. Phoenix is a successful institution and many students choose to go there over public institutions. Those of us at public institutions may not agree with education being for profit but Phoenix is responding to consumer demand. Our public institutions could learn a thing or two from Phoenix.

    I'm not certain I understand the reasoning behind Spellings being a threat to HBCUs?

  • Jennifer Wilder Dec 13, 2015
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    I am a player in this game, and unlike many others I'm willing to give her a chance. While I understand why people would be upset I'm not sure I appreciate why people would physically go and protest this choice. Did they think the board would change their minds? I'm sure they knew that this would not be a popular choice due to the reasons pointed out in the posts in this thread. Let's see what she brings to the table. Spellings could be the best thing that's happened to the UNC system. Or not.

    And by the way Bob Bruck, academic freedom has to do with how content is taught in the classroom. It is not related to protesting at all

  • Greg Klayton Dec 12, 2015
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    Accidentally posted comment twice - sorry.

  • Greg Klayton Dec 12, 2015
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    I don't understand why they are not protesting the fact the the chancellor of UNC makes more than a half a million dollars per year? How much does a janitor make at UNC? On any given workday by lunch time Carol Folt makes more money than the average janitorial staff member makes in a month!!! Where is the outcry over that social and economic injustice?????

  • Greg Klayton Dec 12, 2015
    user avatar

    I don't understand why they are not protesting the fact the the chancellor of UNC makes more than a half a million dollars per year? How much does a janitor make at UNC? On any given workday by lunch time Carol Folt makes more money than the average janitorial staff member makes in a month!!! Where is the outcry over that social and economic injustice?????

  • Roy Hinkley Dec 12, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    As a customer of Kraft, do you get to vote on the CEO?

  • George Brown Dec 12, 2015
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    This really looks like a media stunt to everyone except Ms. Spellings. I live in Monroe where all they do is train wrecks and dog fights ad nauseum. Sad, pathetic when no clear consensus emerges.

  • Paul Maxwell Dec 12, 2015
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    Negative reaction to Spelling's appointment is not about any 'liberal' (here we go again...) angst.
    The fact is, her resume and lack of even one graduate degree do not qualify her, or anyone of similar experience, to lead a university system of the size and stature of UNC. And yes, the BOG did a lousy job in an underhanded way--that much is clear.