With the UNC Board of Governors moving swiftly to commence running the university system “like a business” (i.e. with massive “CEO” salaries and a combination of perpetually stagnant compensation and aggressive outsourcing for just about all the rest of the employees), today seems like a good day to highlight a couple items from the world of modern American inequality.

Number One is the great Calvin Trillin’s classic poem, “The Best Thing You Can Be Is CEO”

The best thing you can be is CEO.
No matter what, you always get your dough.
However many people out of work,
You still get every single little perk.
If fired, you are properly consoled,
By floating ‘neath a parachute of gold.
The best thing you can be is CEO.
No matter what, you always get your dough.

Number Two is this new and remarkable “infographic” from the good folks at Too Much Online entitled “How to retire on $277,686 per month”: Read More

Commentary, News

Session limits1. Don’t limit democracy by limiting sessions
It is not a surprise that proposals to limit the length of legislative sessions are making the rounds in Raleigh these days. A lot of people are still reeling from the contentious and grueling eight-and-half-month long session that ended September 30 and don’t want to go through that again.

Rep. Gary Pendleton wants to put a bipartisan commission together to build support for a constitutional amendment limiting legislative sessions to 90 days in odd numbered years when lawmakers pass a biennial budget and 45 days in even years when budget adjustments are made.  [Continue Reading…]

spellings-400c2. Changes ahead for UNC system with Margaret Spellings as new president
Things will be different in 2016 for the state’s public higher education system, now that a new president for the University of North Carolina system has been named and the beleaguered chair of its governing board is gone.

But what changes are coming are far from known, with plenty of uncertainty for the 17-campus system about what priorities the governing board and former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings will have when she starts in March.

Spellings, who spent much of her career working for former President George W. Bush, will become the head of the UNC system with little background in higher education itself. But, she’s also spent decades in Texas and Washington immersed in both public education policy and Republican politics.  [Continue Reading…]

School vouchers3. School vouchers: We need accountability before further expansion

The subject of school vouchers remains a controversial and divisive matter in North Carolina. To many opponents, they pose an existential threat to the future of public education. To many proponents, they are a potential cure for all that is broken or imperfect in K-12 schools.
Whatever one’s position on vouchers, however, one idea ought to unify all sides – that the voucher system ought to be driven by data and sound policy principles rather than ideology and intuition.

Unfortunately, the new 2016 state budget recently enacted by the legislature more than doubles North Carolina’s funding for the voucher program from $11 million to $27 million over the next two years in spite of a complete lack of evidence of how the program worked in its first year of operation.  [Continue Reading…]

Trans pacific4. A little well-founded paranoia about a loss of U.S. sovereignty

There are a lot of good reasons to be skeptical about the claims of those who issue regular rants about “world government” and supposedly diabolical plots to subvert U.S. sovereignty. If you ever venture out into the political blogosphere or the world of social media (or just check your “junk mail” file), you know how these claims tend to go.

Usually, the allegation is that liberal elites led by our power mad, socialist President are on the verge of ceding all powers of the United States government to the United Nations. Sometimes the reference is to something called “Agenda 21.” At others, the claim is that a move is afoot to merge all of North America into one large new country that will be flooded with dark-skinned immigrants bent on overrunning Anglo Saxon culture.

The rants are, in a word, mad and deserving of all the derision that sane people can pour on them.  [Continue Reading…]

Virtual charter schools5. Another virtually ignored accountability problem in the education privatization crusade

The crusade to privatize public education in North Carolina has become a hallmark of the folks currently in charge in Raleigh.
There’s the sketchy school voucher scheme that diverts public money to almost completely unaccountable private schools and religious academies that even some prominent Republicans say shouldn’t receive taxpayer funds.

There’s the explosion of for-profit charter school companies that run what are supposed to be public schools that serve students and communities not out of state corporations and their shareholders.

And there’s the least discussed of the privatization tactics, two virtual charter schools that opened in the state this fall operated by two different for-profit companies, one of which has a scandal-plagued record in other states.  [Continue Reading…]


The University of North Carolina’s governing board honored its former chair Friday, who resigned earlier this week after considerable acrimony and criticism of his leadership during a search for the university system’s new president.

UNC system president Tom Ross (left) and John Fennebresque, UNC Board of Governor, in file photo.

UNC system president Tom Ross (left) and John Fennebresque, UNC Board of Governor, in file photo.

The board unanimously approved a resolution during its monthly meeting acknowledging how John Fennebresque “led the board and the University through numerous controversial issues of vital importance to its future, and did so without compromising his integrity or values.”

Fennebresque, 68, a Charlotte attorney with the McGuireWoods law firm, has served as the UNC board chair since 2014, and had been on the UNC Board of Governors from 1995 to 1999. He returned to the board in 2011, and had just been re-elected by the state Senate to his third term this summer.

He resigned from his post Monday, just three days after the board selected former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings as the next president of the 17-campus system. Spellings will begin her job in March. (Click here to read my article from earlier this week about her.)

Fennebresque did not attend Friday’s board meeting.

Read More


The University of North Carolina has a new president. As Jim Jenkins notes in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, let’s hope that Margaret Spellings makes her mark and does a good job.

That said, there are good reasons to be concerned about Spellings. Be sure to check out yesterday afternoon’s news story by Sarah Ovaska-Few and this afternoon’s Fitzsimon File for a thorough list of the reasons.

And here’s one area that will bear close watching: let’s hope Spellings resists the temptation to bash the liberal arts.

As most North Carolinians are well aware, it has become a bit of a right-wing parlor game to attack university programs that are not exclusively about cranking out worker bees for corporate employers. Gov. Pat McCrory made a big splash early in his term spouting such nonsense and, as the Charlotte Observer editorial page highlights this morning, the game continues. Over the weekend, presidential candidate Jeb Bush said the following:

“Universities ought to have skin in the game. When a student shows up, they ought to say ‘Hey, that psych major deal, that philosophy major thing, that’s great, it’s important to have liberal arts … but realize, you’re going to be working at Chick-fil-A.'”

By all indications, Mr. Bush was serious.

Spellings, of course, worked for Bush’s brother and a decade ago helped to churn out a big study that arguably gave voice to a similar position — even if it was stated in a less boneheaded way. Let’s hope that since that time, Spellings has learned a thing or two and realizes that, in her new position, she should be working to promote a truly diverse vision of higher education.

Perhaps there is hope though. After all, Spellings was a liberal arts major herself as an undergrad. Then again, so was Pat McCrory.


The Fayetteville Observer’s editorial board is the latest to weigh-in on the appointment of Margaret Spellings as the next UNC-system president. The paper writes:

BOG-807-CThe University of North Carolina system gets a new president next spring. And its Board of Governors will have a new chairman soon.

We hope both events will pull the system back from the chaotic discord that has marked the past year.

After presiding over a series of controversies, board Chairman John Fennebresque abruptly resigned on Monday. On Friday, the governors unanimously elected former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings as the next UNC system president. Spellings will take office in March. Current president Tom Ross will stay in place until the end of this year.

Ross, a widely respected system president, was ousted for one shortcoming: He was a Democratic appointee.

Under Fennebresque, politics increasingly intruded into the UNC system and liberal-leaning programs came under fire.

The last-minute scramble to hire Spellings drew anger from across the political spectrum, especially from the leaders of the state House and Senate, who decried his deliberate flouting of a legislative directive that the governors choose from among three finalists for the system presidency. Even Republican appointees to the Board of Governors called for Fennebresque’s resignation, saying the secretive presidential search was unacceptable.

It’s not yet clear what course Spellings will chart for the university system, although we do have some hints. She is best known as an architect and leading proponent of President George W. Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind initiative. But she also convened the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, whose report focused on the role of universities in serving the marketplace and economic development – a familiar theme from Gov. Pat McCrory’s comments about the role of the university system here.

Spellings is more politician than academic. She was a Bush adviser while he was Texas governor, and political director for his first gubernatorial campaign.

That background will help her navigate the halls of government in Raleigh and Washington, which is an important skill for the leader of one of the nation’s top public university systems. But it could be a liability as well if it opens the door to increasing political meddling with academia.

Spellings and the next chairman of the Board of Governors will start with a clean slate. We’ll be best served if they use it to advance academic excellence.

The UNC Board of Governors meets again this Friday. Spellings assumes her post in March.

For more from the Fayetteville Observer’s editorial board, click here.