Education

Margaret Spellings will take oath Thursday as UNC’s 18th president

Margaret Spellings talks about starting her new job as president of the UNC system

Shortly after driving from Texas to her new home in Chapel Hill, NC, new UNC system president Margaret Spellings sat down with News and Observer reporter Jane Stancill.
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Shortly after driving from Texas to her new home in Chapel Hill, NC, new UNC system president Margaret Spellings sat down with News and Observer reporter Jane Stancill.

Margaret Spellings will be sworn in as the University of North Carolina’s 18th president Thursday at a ceremony that will be somewhat unconventional.

The 10 a.m. event at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall won’t have a formal academic procession with hundreds of faculty in colorful regalia. It will include a short film by students at the UNC School of the Arts, plus performances by N.C. Central University’s Jazz Ensemble and a 68-member choral group composed of students from the 17 campuses.

Spellings’ speech will be less an inaugural address and more of a “TED talk” that will focus on higher expectations for higher education in today’s society. The inaugural ceremony will be followed by a private luncheon. Then Spellings will get back to work, attending committee meetings of her bosses, the UNC Board of Governors.

When asked about the stripped-down format, Spellings, in trademark Texas twang, said, “There will be no marching around or processing. ... You can get too much fried chicken.”

Spellings, the former U.S. Secretary of Education of Republican President George W. Bush, was hired by the board to be a change agent, and her approach to Thursday’s event is consistent with her career as a reformer.

She started the job March 1, leading North Carolina’s 225,000-student, $9 billion-a-year public higher education system. During the next two months, the UNC board will craft a strategic plan that attempts to achieve Spellings’ stated goals for the university – affordability, accessibility, student success, economic impact and excellent, diverse institutions.

Thursday’s ceremony is a ticketed event not open to the public, which prompted some criticism on social media. The past three UNC presidential inaugurations were held at N.C. A&T State University, UNC Greensboro and N.C. State University. Spellings will be sworn in almost 30 years to the day that former President C.D. Spangler Jr. was inaugurated in Chapel Hill.

UNC-TV will provide a live web stream of the program at UNC’s website, www.northcarolina.edu, and a live broadcast on its North Carolina channel. Taped coverage will also be shown on UNC-TV at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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