In what is becoming an increasingly common event, protesters disrupted the UNC Board of Governors meeting Tuesday. But this time, four people were arrested.
About three dozen demonstrators attended the meeting and stood to yell chants as the board conducted business. At one point, when asked to take their seats, the protesters sat at the board table, grabbing microphones and banging the gavel. They flicked board members’ nameplates onto the floor.
They shouted “No justice, no peace” and “Stand up, fight back.” A few hurled profanities at the UNC system board.
The protesters had erected signs outside the Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill, targeting incoming UNC system President Margaret Spellings, who starts on March 1. They presented a petition calling for Spellings’ removal.
The protesters were escorted out, and four were arrested – Madeleine Scanlon, Irving David Allen, Olufemi Shittu and Jennifer Myers. Scanlon was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer, disorderly conduct and assault inflicting serious injury of a law enforcement officer. Allen was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer and disorderly conduct. Shittu was charged with disorderly conduct. Myers was not charged after a magistrate found no probable cause. All were later released. Their ages, hometowns and university affiliations were not immediately known.
A large police presence was on hand for the meeting. The demonstration had been announced in advance by a group called the Faculty Forward Network. The announcement was sent by a representative of the Service Employees International union.
“Faculty are dissatisfied with the current state at UNC and have no confidence that Spellings will move the system in the right direction,” said a statement by Zach Robinson, a faculty member at East Carolina University. “Her past actions have shown that she does not have the leadership to lead a world class public system facing a diverse student body, decreased funding and skyrocketing tuition.”
The group released results of a survey it conducted in October of UNC system faculty members. The survey’s methodology was not released. Seventy percent of respondents said North Carolina higher education was moving in the wrong direction, according to the survey.
Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary under President George W. Bush, has said she wants to listen to faculty concerns. She plans to travel to the system’s 17 campuses shortly after her arrival and to meet with faculty and student groups, according to UNC board members leading a presidential transition committee.
Some faculty and students have raised concerns about Spellings’ previous affiliations with the for-profit University of Phoenix, which has been under government investigation for recruiting practices, and with Ceannate Corp., which collects debt on student loans. Two professors wrote an op-ed piece in The News & Observer this month, questioning Spellings’ move to hire Boston Consulting Group for a study of the university system’s general administration. The analysis was funded by a $1.1 million anonymous donation. The professors wrote that the “state’s current leadership blurs the lines between public service and private profiteering.”
Spellings has ties to Boston Consulting Group, where she served as a senior adviser from 2009 to 2013, according to a UNC spokeswoman. She was not paid a salary or stipend but was compensated for projects.
This month in The Catalyst, a publication of the Bush Institute, Spellings wrote about public service in an essay, “A Call to Lead: Public Service is a Noble Cause.” In it, she tipped her hat to police officers, teachers and others who work for the good of the public.
We cannot allow this disruption.
Lou Bissette, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors
“As I prepare to re-enter the public arena in March as the President of the University of North Carolina System, I hope for two things,” she wrote. “First, that elected officials, my fellow state employees and the faculty and staff of the universities there will know how much I admire and respect their contributions and second, that my fellow citizens will show their support for those who work on their behalf. After all, to whom much is given, much is required.”
Spellings will face a lot of scrutiny, and so will the board that hired her.
Tuesday’s board meeting was not the first that protesters have disrupted. Demonstrators have been a regular presence at board meetings in the past year. They have spoken out against the board’s removal of former President Tom Ross and against the decision last February to cut several research centers, including the liberal-leaning Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Faculty at two universities – East Carolina and Appalachian State – passed resolutions against the board’s action last fall to give substantial raises to chancellors.
Last week, a group concerned about the future of historically black universities protested outside buses that were carrying board members on a tour of N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro.
On Tuesday in Chapel Hill, protesters interrupted the meeting as the board took action to discontinue degree programs in art history and school health education at East Carolina. ECU had requested that the programs be dropped because of low enrollment in those majors.
Lou Bissette, the chairman, said the board welcomes visitors at its meetings. Tuesday’s protest was disappointing, he added, and led by “a very, very small minority” of students and others.
“We cannot allow this disruption,” Bissette said. “It’s disrespectful to our board, which is one thing, but it’s also disrespectful to the people of the state of North Carolina, who elected the General Assembly, who elected this board.”
Also on Tuesday, the UNC board:
▪ Elected Roger Aiken, an Asheville banker, as its vice chairman. Aiken succeeds Lou Bissette, who was elected chairman after the departure late last year of former Chairman John Fennebresque, who resigned from the board.
▪ Elected Thomas Conway Jr. as chancellor of Elizabeth City State University. Conway, a former vice chancellor and chief of staff at Fayetteville State University, has served as interim chancellor at ECSU since Jan. 1. He succeeds Stacey Franklin Jones, who resigned abruptly in December after 14 months on the job. The university has seen enrollment decline by half in the past five years.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and there are going to be some things we’re just going to have to work through,” Conway said Tuesday. “But the future of Elizabeth City State University, I believe, is going to be bright.”
Conway, who received undergraduate and master’s degrees from N.C. A&T State University and a doctorate from N.C. State University, will be paid $270,000 as chancellor.