Education

Student protest disrupts UNC Board of Governors meeting

Posted January 26, 2016 9:04 a.m. EST
Updated January 27, 2016 11:04 a.m. EST

— Students protesting program cuts and the hiring of University of North Carolina President-elect Margaret Spellings disrupted the UNC Board of Governors meeting Tuesday morning.

UNC-Chapel Hill police had to forcibly remove some of the two dozen or so chanting protesters from the board room, and four people were arrested.

Madeleine Scanlon, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer, assault inflicting serious injury on a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct. Olufemi Shittu, a student at UNC-Greensboro, was charged with disorderly conduct. Irving David Allen, a staff member of activist group Ignite NC, was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct. An Orange County magistrate found no probable cause to charge Jennifer Myers, and she was issued a trespass warning by UNC-Chapel Hill police.

Protesters said they want the board to put more resources toward historically black colleges and universities, such as Elizabeth City State University, which has had problems in the past few years.

Plummeting enrollment at the college sparked talks of closing the school, and Chancellor Stacey Franklin Jones resigned last month after being in the post for only 15 months. In the last five years, enrollment at ECSU has dropped by more than half, and tuition revenue declined 21 percent.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to name Thomas Conway, a former vice chancellor and chief of staff at Fayetteville State University, as Jones' successor.

Many Board of Governors members attended the meeting via conference call, and students chanting "Stand up, fight back" sat in the members' empty seats and used microphones at the board table to amplify their protest when the board voted to cut two programs at East Carolina University. When the board went into recess to let the protest die down, a student grabbed the gavel from the chairman's seat and banged it on the board table to provide a beat for a "No justice, no peace" chant.

Campus police then broke up the demonstration, forcing students to leave. Other protesters cursed at the officers and the Board of Governors while recording the episode on their cellphones.

"I think the behavior, the response of the officers today was completely dictated by the behavior of the protestors today," UNC Public Safety Chief Jeff McCracken said. "We hate that we had to take any action, but that was their choice."

UNC officials apparently expected a confrontation, as about 40 public safety officers lined the hallway outside the board room before being called in to put down the protest.

"With no warning whatsoever, this whole stream of cops started streaming through the door and just started grabbing people randomly," said Mich Xia, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tuesday's meeting was the first meeting of the Board of Governors since former UNC President Tom Ross was forced to step down. Spellings wasn't in attendance, though, as she won't officially take over until March 1.

Protesters were also upset about the hiring of Spellings, who served as education secretary under former President George W. Bush, saying it was done without transparency.

"We’ve tried asking for meetings. We’ve tried petitioning," Xia said. "They haven’t listened. They’ve completely ignored us. So, we don’t have any other option. Right now, our goal is to put so much pressure on the Board of Governors that they cannot physically ignore the fact UNC does not want Spellings here."

The board meeting was originally scheduled at North Carolina A&T State University for last Friday but was postponed due to winter weather conditions.