About 20 protesters disrupted the UNC Board of Governors meeting Friday, rising and shouting as UNC President Margaret Spellings updated the board on her get-to-know-you tour of North Carolina’s public universities.
“It’s often said that we live in an age of anxiety,” Spellings said, “but if you were with me meeting young people in this state, you wouldn’t have any anxiety about the future.”
Outside about 60 more protesters were yelling, “Hey, hey, ho ho, Margaret Spellings has got to go.”
Friday’s demonstration wasn’t too different from others at UNC system board meetings in the past few months. UNC Board Chairman Lou Bissette adjourned the meeting while police cleared the room of protesters. There were no arrests.
Later Bissette remarked that he was sad and disappointed with what happened. Next month, the board will start a new public comment period at its meetings – a first – and the meetings are also being streamed on the Internet.
“They’re not advancing their cause, because they’re out there screaming, and screaming vulgarities,” Bissette said of the protesters. “It would be a lot better, it seems to me, if they came in and said, ‘These are our issues. We’d like to talk about it with you.’ Do I think that’s going to happen with that particular group? Probably not.”
The meeting had been moved to Chapel Hill from UNC Asheville because of a planned demonstration there. Some of the protesters Friday traveled from Asheville.
Spellings, the former U.S. secretary of education, wanted to talk about her priorities ahead – raises for faculty and staff, a revamped strategic plan, fewer reporting requirements for campuses and a study about how best to advance online learning. And she had a message for those who have opposed her presidency.
“To the protesters who devoted their time and energy to criticizing me, I say, ‘I hear you,’” Spellings said. “What I ask in return is that you hear from me and from this board.”
Students who joined the demonstration said they were driven by various issues, including House Bill 2, which limits discrimination protections for LGBT people. Spellings has said the law will be followed on UNC campuses, though there is no enforcement planned.
Again Friday, she expressed her concern about the law. “The chancellors tell me that we are at risk of losing great students and faculty and potential business partners and philanthropic support,” she said.
N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson said his campus had experienced cancellations of conferences and other fallout from the controversial law.
About the law’s impact, Bissette also expressed frustration. UNC is now a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a student, faculty member and employee who are transgender.
“First of all, the university system, we didn’t have anything to do with this,” Bissette said. “We didn’t have anything to do with the Charlotte ordinance being passed. We didn’t have anything to do with the General Assembly bill. But yet, somehow, we’ve been thrust into the middle of this thing, and I think it’s a little bit unfair.”
Bissette also said the protesters are likely to be disappointed because Spellings is “not going anywhere.”
“These are a few protesters,” he said. “We’ve got 225,000 students.”
In other business, the board added two priorities to its wish list for the upcoming legislative session, including:
▪ A request to extend the allowable borrowing period from 30 years to 100 years, so that UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State can issue up to $500 million in so-called century bonds, a new long-term financing method.
▪ A request for a two-year delay in the implementation of the N.C. Guaranteed Admission Program, already written into state law, which would divert some lower-achieving UNC-bound students for two years of community college first. Four board members voted against a requested delay, saying NCGAP is a good idea that should be put into action now.