Big scoop from N&O: Margaret Spellings top choice for UNC president job, calls for chair of UNC Board of Governor to resign

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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Emergency meeting called Friday for UNC Board of Governors, decision coming soon about new president?

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 ticks up, with increases in black and Latino baby deaths

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

Search for UNC’s new president accelerating with two meetings this week

There’s still no official names (or name) to report, but the search for the University of North Carolina’s next leader appears to be winding up.

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, chair of the UNC Board of Governors, in file photo.

A search committee of UNC Board of Governors members are meeting twice this week, both meetings held in the Charlotte law firm where John Fennebresque, the board’s chair, works.

The meetings are technically open meetings, but the majority will be held in closed session to discuss “candidate review,” the only item on the agenda sent to media members Monday afternoon other than approval of minutes.

The first search committee will begin at 3:30 p.m. at the McGuireWoods law firm, 201 N. Tryon Street in Charlotte. The second meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the same location.

Any final decision about the UNC president needs made by the full 32-member UNC Board of Governors, which is scheduled to have its monthly meeting on Oct. 30 in Chapel Hill. The search committee is responsible for finding and recommending a candidate to the full board, and have long had October as a goal in making a final decision.

This weeks’ presidential search committee meetings comes after a meeting held last week on the Cary campus of SAS, and as some members of the UNC Board of Governors have expressed discontent with the search to replace Tom Ross, a Democrat unexpectedly ousted from his position last January in an effort spearheaded by Fennebresque. The UNC Board of Govenors consists entirely of those who have gotten their appointments from a legislature dominated by Republicans since 2010.

The state legislature also considered making the search process more transparent in its last few days of session.

Ultimately, lawmakers opted to sidestep public disclosure of the names of presidential candidates, but did pass a bill that would cap the number of terms a UNC Board of Governor member can serve at three, four-year terms. The current policy limits members to three consecutive terms.

UNC faculty are calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to veto the bill, calling it inappropriate interference from the legislature on the operations of the state’s public university system.

Steve Leonard, the chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly, wrote to McCrory last week urging him to veto the bill:

[T]he current provisions in S670 reforming term limits of the Board are clearly intended to sustain this intrusion into the Board’s activities, targeting the removal of certain Board members. Many faculty members are deeply critical of many of the Board’s actions and the failings of its leadership, most particularly in the lack of transparency, and failure to seek input from UNC stakeholders including the faculty, staff, students, alumni and other concerned citizens.

However, there is no possible circumstance in which the faculty would support laws that strengthen the legislature’s arbitrary power to dictate the composition of the Board, even to remove members with whom faculty might disagree. Further, even if the unfeasible claim that these provisions would protect legislators from intimidation by political donors vying for Board seats were true, the appropriate response is not a change in term limits, but to follow the more common governance practices of other states by removing the appointment authority from the legislature, and passing legislation that insulates higher education governance authorities from partisan political interests.


Click here to read the entire letter.

Push for transparency in finalist names of UNC presidential search ends in late-night legislative session (Update)

The state House of Representatives tacked on a provision last night to a bill requiring public disclosure of three finalists for the ongoing search of the University of North Carolina’s next president.


The amendment, proposed by state Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat, was added on to a bill that would cap the terms members of the  UNC Board of Governors could serve. (Click here to read more about the term limits, and scroll down to watch video of Martin’s comments.)

It passed the House handily, 97 to 11.

Update,: The House, in another amendment, opted to strip the transparency measures out of the bill late Wednesday night. It also allowed the board to “appoint an interim President” for the UNC president.  

The bill now limiting the term limits of board members but without transparency measures went on to pass the House and Senate, and is now headed to McCrory’s desk. 

In addition to the posting of resumes and names of the candidates 10 days before any final decision, the amendment (click here to read) would also now require holding a public meeting about the final candidates.

A second vote on the proposal is scheduled for when the House convenes again at 11 a.m., and then Senate lawmakers would need to give their okay to the bill before it would head to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk to be signed.

The UNC Board of Governors is in the midst of a search for a new system president after dismissing current president Tom Ross last January, for reasons that have not been fully explained but speculation has pointed to political motivations.

Ross, a Democrat, had led the state’s higher education system since 2011, but the UNC Board of Governors he reported to changed drastically during his tenure, after Republicans took over both chambers of the legislature soon after Ross took the job.

The 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors now consist entirely of appointees from a Republican-controlled legislature.

Up until now, the search for the next UNC president has been cloaked in secrecy, despite faculty requests to open up the process and allow final candidates to meet with members of the faculty.

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