Representatives from the NAACP submitted requests for records of the UNC Board of Governors on Tuesday, seeking information about the board’s hiring of incoming UNC president Margaret Spellings and the ouster of her predecessor, Tom Ross.
A Chapel Hill civil rights lawyer, Al McSurely, presented a records request to UNC on behalf of the NAACP’s Youth and College Division. The request seeks information shared among members of the UNC Board of Governors as it ended the tenure of Ross and later hired Spellings.
Tyler Swanson, NAACP coordinator and graduate of N.C. A&T State University, said the group wants to know more about what he called the board’s “back door” decision.
“We want to know what the real deal is,” he said. “We know that they’ve been having various meetings, and going behind closed-door meetings. We just want to know what the truth is.”
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In a letter to UNC attorney Tom Shanahan, McSurely said the group thinks a majority caucus of the board violated the letter and spirit of the state’s open meetings law by gathering secretly. The group has asked for meeting minutes, videotapes of meetings and all information in the board’s decision to dismiss Ross and all information about the background and candidacy of Spellings for the position.
Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary under Republican President George W. Bush, starts the job March 1. Ross, 65, a Democrat, left in January after five years. The Republican-dominated board acted last January to push out Ross, who now is a fellow at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
Critics of the board’s action have suggested the ouster of Ross was politically motivated. Spellings has been the target of protesters who have questioned her service on the for-profit parent company of the University of Phoenix and her role as an adviser to a company that collects student debt. Last week, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Faculty Council voted on a resolution asking Spellings to support academic initiatives with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer content. The council raised concerns about Spellings’ previous remarks about LGBTQ issues.
Ms. Spellings has had a long history of advocating for programs and policies that corporatize public higher education.
Aleccia Sutton, a junior at N.C. A&T State University
Student and faculty protesters said Tuesday they fear a corporatization of education in North Carolina. They also said they worry about the future of the historically black universities, which have been the focus of changes being discussed in the legislature.
The group presented its public records request on the birthday of author, historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois.
Aleccia Sutton, a junior at N.C. A&T, said she fears North Carolina’s historically black universities will be dismantled. One program by the legislature will divert UNC system students to community colleges, she said, disproportionately hurting HBCUs in the process.
Sutton also criticized what she called “the undemocratic appointment” of Spellings. “Ms. Spellings has had a long history of advocating for programs and policies that corporatize public higher education,” Sutton said.
Altha Cravey, a UNC associate professor of geography, pointed out that Spellings’ first act as president was to hire Boston Consulting Group, a private firm, with $1.1 million from an anonymous donor. The consultant is conducting a study of the university system’s General Administration.
“Margaret Spellings talks about students as customers,” Cravey said. “She does this repeatedly and this is indicative of the ideology she holds – that education is a private thing and not a public thing.”