Spellings not interested in changing Fayetteville State name

Posted March 2, 2016 1:13 p.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2016 6:35 p.m. EST

— New University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings on Wednesday began the process of repairing relationships with various groups in the UNC system that have become strained since her selection.

Spellings, who took office on Tuesday, began a tour of the 17 UNC campuses at Fayetteville State University and quickly cooled talk of changing the school's name to UNC-Fayetteville.

"Local trustees and chancellors ought to have, they ought to make a recommendation whether they want that name change or not, and I have no interest in doing a cram-down on that sort of thing," she said.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has been drafting legislation that would change the names of and lower the tuition charged by historically black campuses in the UNC system to boost interest among prospective students.

The name-change plan has irked Fayetteville State students and alumni, who say it would undercut the school's heritage. Chancellor James Anderson said he hasn't heard one good reason for any change, so he welcomed Spellings' support.

"The suggestions that have been made by individuals just seem to come out of left field," he said.

Anderson said he is more concerned about the proposed $500 cut in in-state tuition and $2,500 cut for out-of-state students. He said that could create financial hardships for some of the smaller campuses in the UNC system.

"If we do reduce tuition in this system, the tuition should be reduced at a level that makes it more affordable for students but doesn't penalize the university in the sense that we won't even have enough money to pay our faculty," he said.

Spellings said she wants to address the cost of higher education without sacrificing the quality of instruction.

"We need to figure out what are the right levels that suggest that we have a good value proposition and affordable value proposition for students but also don't undermine the quality of the institution," she said.

Spellings' first day on the job was marred by a large protest at UNC-Chapel Hill, where students and faculty criticized her actions as a former U.S. education secretary and a board member of the for-profit University of Phoenix. Protesters also have denounced what they have called a secretive process the UNC Board of Governors used to pick her after the Republican-controlled board forced former President Tom Ross to retire.

She said she hopes to build consensus across the UNC system for policies and actions that improve affordability, access, accountability and quality. The Fayetteville State stop was the first on her tour of all 17 campuses in the coming weeks and included a meeting with the school's Board of Trustees and conversations with students.

"The pride for this university and what it means for students here is just palpable, and it's very infectious," she said.