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.

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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.



Jane Stancill of the (Raleigh) News & Observer has a major scoop this morning about the search for the new president of the University of North Carolina.

Not only has the presidential search committee settled on a finalist, former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, but infighting on the board appears to have crested over, with calls from fellow board members for current chairman John Fennebresque to resign.

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

Margaret Spellings (Source: Bush Presidential Center)

And the state’s top two Republican lawmakers, N.C. Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger Jr. and N.C House Speaker Tim Moore, are upset the board may be trying to circumvent a bill currently awaiting the governor’s signature that requires the top three candidates to be considered before the full board.

From Stancill’s article:

The UNC Board of Governors has been called to an emergency meeting Friday to get an update on the UNC presidential search and to talk with leading candidate Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary in George W. Bush’s administration, according to three people with direct knowledge of the search.

The meeting has touched off a storm with leaders in the legislature, who wrote to board members Thursday, saying that the gathering could run afoul of new legislation that requires the search committee to bring forward three candidates to the full board for discussion. That bill passed the legislature late last month but has not been signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.

“While the bill has not yet been signed by the Governor, calling an emergency meeting to discuss only one candidate could be viewed as the Board’s attempt to circumvent the overwhelming will of the elected people of the State of North Carolina prior to the bill becoming law,” said the letter, signed by Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Republican House Speaker Tim Moore. “Our concern is not about any candidate for the presidency but rather the process by which at least a few members of the Board have utilized that appears to cut against the fundamental notions of transparency and procedural due process.”

The lawmakers wrote that the search “should not be rushed or made without the thoughtful consideration of all members of the Board.”

Spellings is the only candidate scheduled to meet with the full board Friday.

The lawmakers’ letter caught the attention Thursday night of some board members. At least two called for the resignation of John Fennebresque, chairman of the Board of Governors and a member of the search committee.

“We are now in a situation where it does not matter who the candidate is at this point, given the complete breakdown of trust the board, the legislature and, I believe, the general public has in your leadership,” wrote Thom Goolsby, a board member and former legislator. “You are doing a grave disservice to the University and your candidate by moving forward tomorrow. No matter how qualified, anyone advanced under your chairmanship would be fruit from a poisonous tree.”

You can read the entire piece here.

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The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors will meet Friday for an emergency meeting to discuss the search for a new president of the 17-campus campus.

UNCsystemThe meeting, scheduled for 1 p.m. on the SAS campus in Cary, is technically open to the public, but the brief agenda indicates a briefing by a presidential search committee and much of the discussion will happen behind closed doors.

It could mean the full board is ready to select their new president, or a chance to discuss the final candidate or candidates.

The 11-member presidential search committee has met nine times in the last month, all in closed session and presumably to either interview final candidates or discuss candidates.

The UNC Board of Governors is pressed to find a replacement for its current president Tom Ross after the board moved to get rid of Ross last January for reasons that have not been fully explained, other than a general desire for a new direction. Ross, a former Davidson College president and Superior Court judge, has been at the helm of the state’s public university system since 2011, when he was selected by a governing board then dominated by appointees from a legislature controlled by Democrats. Since Ross’ hire, the legislature has switched to Republican control, and all 32 members currently owe the appointments to that Republican majority.

Friday’s emergency meeting is a significant move – whether or not a final choice will be announced coming out of Friday’s meeting, it’s the first time the full board has met to discuss the search for a new UNC president.

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North Carolina’s infant mortality rate has ticked upwards, a slight setback in the state that once had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation.

The state’s 2014 rate was 7.1 deaths of babies in their first year for every 1,000 live births, according to information released Monday by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In all, 860 infants died in North Carolina during 2014 before their first birthday.

That’s up from the 7 deaths for every 1,000 live births the state had from 2010 to 2013, the lowest the state’s rate has ever been.

But the data shows the state continues to have significant differences in how babies fared from different racial and ethnic groups, with death rates rising in the Latino and African-American populations while dropping for white and Native American babies. (Click here to access chart on racial breakdowns).

Graphic from Washington Post

Graphic from Washington Post

North Carolina’s infant mortality rate is higher than the U.S. average of 6 deaths per 1,000 births, while the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world.

A 2014 chart from the Washington Post shows just how far the United State lags behind many countries, largely European, when it comes to how  infants fare.

Here in North Carolina, black babies continued to face worse outcomes than their white, Latino and Native American peers, and the infant mortality rate increased to 12.8 deaths for every 1,000 births of African-American children after years of declines.

Latino infants, who have had some of the lowest mortality rates in the state for years, had an alarming 68 percent jump in the mortality rate, from 3.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2013 to 6.2 deaths for every 1,000 births in 2014.


There were also geographical differences in the North Carolina data, with counties in the eastern part of the state (many of which also have the highest poverty rates in the state) exhibiting higher rates of infant deaths than found elsewhere.

From DHHS:

Infant Mortality by NC Policy Watch