RALEIGH – Reaction to Friday’s announcement that Margaret Spellings was elected unanimously as president of the University of North Carolina system is getting extensive social media traction. The UNC Board of Governors made the announcement Friday, after controversy in the candidate search process. Spellings addressed the Board of Governors and the public for the first time after the vote. She focused on praising the importance of public schools and reinforced her commitment to making the UNC system the finest in the nation.
“I believe, as I’m sure all of you do, that there is no more important area of public policy than education,” Spellings told the packed room. “It is not an overstatement to say that education is not only fundamental to each individual North Carolinian, but to the success and future of this state, our country, and to peace and stability in the world.”
Spellings’ appointment came as good news to members of the university’s Leadership Statement Committee. The committee held forums across the state in the spring to establish the qualities they wanted in a new university system president. Greenville businessman Henry Hinton, a member of the board of governors who sat on the Leadership Statement Committee, called the hire a home run.
“We set out to find a different kind of candidate. We wanted someone to take the system of higher education in North Carolina and do what’s necessary to protect it and take it to the next level, and I think we’ve found her,” said Hinton. “She is focused, smart and fun. She can work with anyone and she’s going to earn everyone’s respect. I don’t think there’s any doubt that she’ll hold people accountable.”
Faculty, students and lawmakers heavily criticized BOG Chairman John Fennebresque when the 11-member search committee formally presented Spelling as its only candidate. State Senate leader Phil Berger and state House Speaker Tim Moore sent a letter to board members pointing out that just one choice was in violation of a bill passed by the General Assembly this session that requires presentation of at least three. The bill, Senate Bill 670, has not been signed by the governor and is not law. Despite the controversy, General Assembly leadership issued statements of support on her appointment.
“We congratulate Margaret Spellings on her election as president of the University of North Carolina system, welcome her to our great state and look forward to meeting her,” said Moore and Berger in a joint statement issued Friday. “She has been a leader in public education at the highest level, and we trust she shares our passion for making our university system the best in the nation.”
A product of public schools including the University of Houston, Spellings served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush and is currently the president of the George Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. Previously she owned a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. and served as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. She had Gov. Pat McCrory’s support in the search process.
“As governor I welcome Margaret Spellings to North Carolina and look forward to a great working relationship to further connect our students to unlimited educational and career opportunities so they can each fulfill their potential in our great state,” said McCrory.
Spellings succeeds Tom Ross in the post who quit suddenly in January amid speculation that he was forced out. Spellings was given a five-year contract and a salary of $775,000. A UNC faculty group issued a statement ahead of the vote criticizing the process and Spellings’ corporate and political background. However, Spellings’ supporters say that she is the right woman at the right time. They say the education system across the country is in a state of reform and those in leadership need to be able to not just protect the institutions but also look forward.
“We are in a place where you better be willing to look at reform and embrace reform or you’re going to be in trouble,” said Hinton. “She’s exactly what this system needs at this moment in time. Her ideas about higher education and her experience level are right on target.”
After Friday’s vote, Spellings was given a standing ovation. She will start in her new job early next year intent on mending the rift the search caused between faculty and the board.