State Politics

Spellings concerned over HB2 impact on climate, recruiting

UNC system President Margaret Spellings said Friday she’s concerned about the signal that House Bill 2 sends, and about its impact on the university system’s ability to recruit faculty, staff and students to North Carolina.

In a conference call with reporters, Spellings said she wanted to correct any misconceptions that arose from her memo this week that issued guidance to the system’s 17 chancellors about the controversial LGBT law. In the document, she wrote that the law had no impact on the university’s nondiscrimination policies but required that multi-stalled bathrooms be labeled for use by a single biological sex. She wrote that the university is obligated to follow the law.

But that doesn’t mean she endorses the law, Spellings said Friday.

“You all would be mistaken if you thought we were not concerned about the kind of chill this is having as it relates to the climate, the culture, the goodwill that we attempt to engender on university campuses as it relates to free expression, diversity and ability to recruit students and faculty of all types from all over the world,” she said.

The law was, she said, “hastily drawn, perhaps without fully considering all the implications that were at hand.”

She said she’s heard concerns from campuses about their ability to recruit and hold academic conferences in North Carolina. “I think broadly there’s a sense of fear, of anger, questions about what’s next,” she said. “Just a feeling, a question that, is this a state that is unwelcoming to people of all kinds? That particular law suggests that that may be the case. I think that there’s a general anxiety.”

She said she is in touch with key legislative leaders on those broader issues and is interested in learning whether there are opportunities for the General Assembly to make changes to the statute when lawmakers reconvene later this month.

Spellings’ memo about following the law was greeted with anger by gay rights groups, including the national and state ACLU, Lambda Legal and Equality NC. The groups released a statement that said it was “incredibly disappointing” that UNC would follow the discriminatory legislation. “By requiring people to use restrooms that do not correspond to their gender identity, this policy not only endangers and discriminates against transgender people – it also violates federal law,” the statement said.

UNC campuses already have some individual bathrooms that are gender neutral, and they are allowed to remain so under the law, said Tom Shanahan, general counsel in the UNC system’s General Administration. UNC campuses shouldn’t have to make changes to their signs and bathrooms, which are already in compliance, he said.

The law spells out no enforcement provisions, and the university does not plan to enforce bathroom use, Spellings said.

The new president said her memo was meant to answer questions from the campuses, “a just the facts, ma’am, kind of document” about the law’s requirements. “We’re not in a position to pick and choose which laws,” she added.

She said she hopes to receive additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on how the N.C. law would affect enforcement of federal nondiscrimination laws. There’s also a lawsuit challenging the law, brought by a student, an employee and a professor in the UNC system, so clarification may come from the courts, she said.

Spellings pointed out that the law’s passage happened in one day, and university leaders were not consulted about it.

“Were it up to me I would not recommend enactment of such a thing,” she said, “because I do think it creates this idea that is far beyond the particular aspect of this bathroom transgender matter.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill

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