UNC to announce new system president today, catch up with what’s happened so far

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

It’s a big day for the University of North Carolina system, and the state, with the official selection of the next president of the 17-campus system.

Margaret Spellings, who served as U.S. Education Secretary under President George W. Bush, is widely anticipated to be this afternoon’s choice.

She doesn’t have a background in higher education, but does have plenty of experience in navigating political waters.

Want to know more about how we got in this place, and how folks are feeling about this?

Here are some reads from the past year from various outlets to offer some context.

How did it all start? Outgoing UNC president Tom Ross was unexpectedly ousted from his job last January, for reasons surmised to be political but never really fully explained. He’ll stay on to this January, when the new president will take over.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

Ross, a Democrat widely respected in his job leading the state’s university system, had been in the job since 2011, when he was chosen by a UNC Board of Governors made up of appointees from what was a state legislature dominated by Democrats.

Political winds shifted significantly in the state since then, with a Republican takeover that had many in the legislature urging a lot more belt-tightening and more focus on boosting the state’s economy than liberal arts.

Emails later released as part of a public records request (click here to read an N.C. Policy Watch article) showed that many of the board members were caught by surprise by Ross’ dismissal, and didn’t want to see him go.

Turns out that a lot of conservative politicians were happy to see Ross go, as the News & Observer explained in this article leaning on more emails released under public records law.

At the center of Ross’ termination has been John Fennebresque, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors and a Charlotte attorney

known for his brusque style. Here’s an excellent profile of Fennebresque by the Charlotte Observer’s Pam Kelley.

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque

UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque

The search itself has been hampered by criticism of being too secretive, shutting out faculty and students, as well as members of the board and ignoring wishes of lawmakers.

The News & Observer’s Jane Stancill has broken several stories about this as relations on the board have imploded in recent weeks. Click here and here to read some of her work.

Faculty, who had been pushing from the beginning to meet with the presidential candidates in some capacity, issued a blistering statement yesterday, saying that the new president is going to have a tough time earning the trust of those working for her because of the secretive nature of the search. Not only that, but the professor group also said the UNC Board of Governors has repeatedly ignored advice from faculty, and made a series of decisions leaving the university system and state worse off.

Finally, just who is Margaret Spellings? The Chronicle of Higher Education had this article looking a lot deeper about how those who have worked with and around her feel about what she’ll bring to UNC.

In addition to her career in Texas and Washington, she served on the board of the Apollo Group, the parent company for the for-profit University of Phoenix and criticized a PBS children’s show in 2005 for featuring lesbian characters.

I’ll be at today’s meeting, tweeting about the meeting as well as a press conference with the new president-elect afterwards. Follow me here, @SarahOvaska.


UNC Faculty Assembly blasts UNC BOG, secretive search for new president

The University of North Carolina’s Faculty Assembly issued a strongly worded statement Friday, saying that the system’s governing board has repeatedly ignored faculty input and pushed forward a secretive process to find a new leader.

(For more about the expected presidential announcement tomorrow, read my story from earlier today here.)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

The Faculty Assembly, which represents professors and faculty and serves in an advisory capacity to the UNC system and UNC Board of Governors, warned that the new president opted not to meet with faculty during the search process, and could face difficulties in gaining the trust of faculty.

“The faculty will not prejudge the commitment of new President to the well-being of the University,” wrote Stephen Leonard and Gabriel Lugo, on behalf of the UNC system Faculty Assembly. “But he or she must understand that the secretive character of this search, and his or her own indifference to consulting with staff and faculty when s/he was an active candidate for the position, will make it difficult to win the confidence and trust of the University community.”

The statement also said the board has repeatedly ignored faculty input on admissions, tuition and financial aid and instead adopted “ill-advised policies and practices that have proven detrimental to the best interests of public higher education in this state.”

Read more


New UNC system president will be named Friday

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors will name the new leader of the public university system Friday.

The board will meet at 11 a.m. Friday at the Spangler Center in Chapel Hill for the “election of a president,” according to an agenda released Tuesday afternoon.

Though technically confidential, the top candidate for the search was leaked and appears to be Margaret Spellings, a former federal education secretary under President George W. Bush who currently heads Bush’s presidential center in Texas.

She appeared at a closed-door meeting the board held last week on the SAS campus in Cary.

If chosen, Spellings would replace outgoing UNC President Tom Ross, who was dismissed from his position for reasons that have yet to be fully explained but are thought to be political in nature. Ross was selected in 2011 by a UNC governing board dominated by appointees from a Democratically-controlled state legislature. Since then, the state legislature switched to Republican control and the 32-member board received their appointments from a Republican-led legislature.

BOG Tentative Agenda 10.23.15 by NC Policy Watch



How would Margaret Spellings do as UNC’s president? Chronicle of Higher Education tries to answer

Lots has been happening in regards to the search for the next president of the University of North Carolina system, with bickering and acrimony on full display.

To sum it up simply, it’s a bit of a mess.

A growing number of UNC Board of Governors members are publicly expressing their discontent with chair John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney, and calling for him to step down from the leadership role.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday's UNC Board of Governors meeting.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday’s UNC Board of Governors meeting.

Then, House and Senate Republican lawmakers, who hand-picked all 32 members of the governing board, are now complaining the board is thwarting their desires by ignoring a bill (which hasn’t been signed and isn’t yet law) requiring the top three candidates for UNC job to go before the full board instead of just a single candidate.

And Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is chiming in on the growing public spectacle as well, saying he doesn’t like the new bill’s reach into the UNC presidential search and won’t decide if he’ll sign it until Oct. 30, the same day it would become law with or without his signature.

Oct. 30 just happens to the next scheduled meeting for the UNC Board of Governors, where they presumably could take a vote to choose the next president.

Meanwhile, the name of the top candidate has also been leaked, former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, despite great emphasis that the search would remain confidential up until the end.

Read more


UNC Board of Governors meet in closed-door meeting, top UNC President candidate Margaret Spellings appears

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors met for a rare emergency meeting Friday, in order to hear from a candidate for the system president job.

Their top candidate is reportedly Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. Education Secretary under President George W. Bush, as the News & Observer reported Friday morning. She was an architect of the “No Child Left Behind” reforms in K-12 public education, and currently serves as the head of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

She also served on the board of directors in 2012 for the Apollo Group, the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday's meeting.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday’s meeting. (Photo by N.C. Policy Watch’s Ricky Leung.)

Though the search is confidential, Spellings walked into the brief open portion of Friday’s meeting held on the SAS campus in Cary. Nearly two dozen members of the press were gathered in the room at the time.

N.C. Policy Watch’s Ricky Leung took a photo of Spellings standing behind Thom Goolsby, a UNC Board of Governors members and former state senator. She was ushered out of the room by UNC general administration staff, shortly before the board quickly went into closed session.

The board went into closed session at around 1:30 p.m. and remained in closed session during this afternoon. (Note this post will updated when the board emerges from their closed session with any updates.)

Friday’s meeting was overshadowed by questions raised about the leadership of UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque as well as objections to the meeting being classified as an emergency, and thus exempt from the 48-hour time period required by North Carolina law to hold public meetings.

Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney with a brusque personal demeanor, had been the one to approach current UNC President Tom Ross in January about leaving the system. Ross, who had led the system since 2011, agreed to a one-year contract, and will be out of his position in January 2016. Reasons for Ross’ dismissal have not been fully explained, and Fennebresque has offered general explanations that there was a desire for change.

Ross is also a Democrat, and the board now consists of 32 members who received their appointments from a state legislature run by Republicans.

Goolsby wrote a letter to his fellow board members this week calling for Fennebresque’s resignation as chair.

“I join the other board members who have privately urged you to resign,” Goolsby wrote, according to the News & Observer. “You should step aside before you do irreparable harm to the University System that we all love and in which the people of North Carolina have invested us with the responsibility of running.”

Marty Kotis, another member of the UNC Board of Governors and Greensboro real estate businessman who has frequently brought up concerns about transparency, also had issues with Friday’s meeting.

Kotis was in Florida at the time of the meeting, and said he felt classifying it as an emergency meeting was inappropriate.

He also told N.C. Policy Watch that he is joining calls for Fennebresque’s resignation as board chair, as well as the resignation of Joan MacNeill as the head of the board’s presidential search committee.

Much of the criticism the board has faced since the firing of Tom Ross was because of actions taken by Fennebresque and his brusque leadership sytle, Kotis said.

“The public’s frustration and the board’s frustration and the legislature’s frustration with the Board of Governors has centered around one person’s actions,” Kotis said, about his call for Fennebresque to step down.