Education

Spellings era starts with changes; staff restructuring is ahead

UNC President Margaret Spellings listens to a board member during the UNC Board of Governors meeting at the Rudolph Jones Student Center at Fayetteville State University Friday, Mar. 4, 2015.
UNC President Margaret Spellings listens to a board member during the UNC Board of Governors meeting at the Rudolph Jones Student Center at Fayetteville State University Friday, Mar. 4, 2015. The Fayetteville Observer

New UNC system President Margaret Spellings said Friday her top legislative priority will be performance pay, and she wants a delay in the mandated “guaranteed admission program” that would divert some UNC system students to community colleges.

Spellings spent three days of her first week at Fayetteville State University, where she met students, faculty and campus leaders on Wednesday and then spent two days with her 32 bosses, the UNC Board of Governors.

The beginning of the Spellings era ushered in a whirlwind of changes large and small, including a new system website, a livestreamed board meeting and a plan to hold public comment periods at future meetings – a gesture toward more transparency for a board that has been harshly criticized for secrecy.

A small group of protesters showed up in Fayetteville on Friday, along with a metal detector outside the board meeting. But there was no disruption like the one in January that ended in student arrests. The board also adopted new conduct guidelines for its meetings, warning that people cannot “lawfully engage in conduct that distracts, disrupts, impedes” the board’s business. The “expectations” document says anyone who violates the board’s standards can be removed or face arrest and prosecution.

Bigger changes are on the way, including a reorganization of the UNC General Administration headquarters in Chapel Hill. On Friday, the board voted to give Spellings wide latitude to make changes with her staff, including abolishing positions and creating new ones, and establishing compensation ranges in consultation with the board’s personnel and tenure committee.

We need the right structure and the right people doing the right things. We must break down silos and encourage collaboration, transparency and effectiveness.

Margaret Spellings, UNC system president

“We need the right structure and the right people doing the right things,” Spellings said. “We must break down silos and encourage collaboration, transparency and effectiveness.”

A $1.1 million study by the Boston Consulting Group is analyzing the university system’s staff organization and will have a final report in the coming weeks.

A preliminary update on the report, which was funded by an anonymous donor, on Friday showed 15 general recommendations, including expansion of external affairs, a lean strategy and policy unit, and a strengthened data and analytics function. The consultants also recommended a firmer link between policy, strategy and budget areas within the Chapel Hill office.

Spellings said some hard personnel choices are ahead as she organizes her team. She said the changes would be cost neutral and would not increase the number of employees.

“I expect that we’ll have fewer people at General Administration overall, that some of the functions will be enhanced to focus on higher value activities.”

Her priorities have been identified as access, affordability and efficiency, student success, economic impact and diverse institutions.

Spellings said she wanted some early “wins” in the legislature, including merit pay increases for the university’s workforce. “In order to attract world-class talent to our institutions, we need to offer competitive compensation,” she said.

She also expressed a willingness to push back on the N.C. Guaranteed Admission Program, already law as part of last year’s budget. The plan to direct some UNC-bound students to community colleges for two years would disproportionately affect low-income, minority and rural students, according to a new report, and could deal a hard blow to historically black universities.

On Friday, demonstrators held signs but were quiet, except at one point when a few yelled ‘Spell Check!’ which has become an anti-Spellings catchphrase for student and faculty critics.

“We must delay the implementation of NCGAP,” Spellings said. “The report before you clearly shows that NCGAP has unintended consequences, not to mention that it limits consumer choice and empowerment.”

Lawmakers wanted the program, they said, to increase graduation rates and save money for students and the state. The report, by UNC and the community college system, suggested that the program would result in fewer four-year graduates.

Lou Bissette, chairman of the UNC board, said the transparency measures were Spellings’ ideas. He said streaming the meetings will make them available to anyone, but the public is also welcome to attend. On Friday, the demonstrators held signs but were quiet, except at one point when a few yelled “Spell Check!” which has become an anti-Spellings catchphrase for student and faculty critics.

“Today I thought was an incredible day,” Bissette said. “I think the protesters were there, they got their point across and yet did not disrupt the meeting. I would hope that’s the way we can treat each other in the future.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

UNC-Chapel Hill fined for violating cap

After a lengthy debate Friday, the UNC Board of Governors levied a $1 million fine on UNC-Chapel Hill for exceeding the 18 percent cap on out-of-state freshman students for the second year in a row.

The board’s policy calls for a budget adjustment based on the number of out-of-state students enrolled beyond the cap. UNC had overshot the limit by some 60 students, reaching 19.5 percent out-of-state first-year students in the fall.

UNC officials had argued for a waiver of the fine, but board members, in the end, voted by more than two-thirds not to give the Chapel Hill campus an exemption from the board’s rule. The $1 million fine will go to a fund for financial aid.

“Unless we stand firm on the policy, then we have no policy,” said board member Henry Hinton.

The 18 percent limit on out-of-state freshmen has been a longstanding – and frequently debated – policy. It is meant to reserve the vast majority of slots at UNC campuses for the children of North Carolina taxpayers, whose dollars fund the system.

But board members expressed interest in revisiting the 18 percent cap, and said they would discuss that further. In past years, raising that limit has been dropped after intense public opposition.

Some campuses don’t get many out-of-state students, but others do. The board has discussed the idea of giving campuses close to state borders more flexibility on the cap.

“We want to look at the cap in light of those differing missions,” said board chairman Lou Bissette.

Staff writer Jane Stancill

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