Spellings to take over UNC system after a contentious search

Are politics at play?

Former education secretary Margaret Spellings will be the next president of the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, the Board of Governors voted Friday.

But some faculty members are unhappy with the decision, Sarah Brown reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The controversy began when the board voted to dismiss the former president, Thomas Ross, without explicit cause. Some supporters of Ross said they suspected a political motivation to the board's move.

The current board of governors is the first fully Republican board in North Carolina since the Reconstruction era.

In the spring, the board voted to close a poverty center and two other research centers—and some also alleged that politics were at play. The board said it needed to free up funding used for the centers for other projects in the state.

Spellings served as education secretary under President George W. Bush and currently leads the George W. Bush Presidential Center. She is known for pushing for efficiency and accountability, as well as for creating a commission during her tenure that wrote a report extremely critical of higher education generally.

UNC's faculty say they were sidelined throughout the process of choosing Spellings.

Faculty representatives asked the board to meet with presidential finalists—despite the fact that they had not been closely involved in previous searches—but were never granted the request. Also, as in other recent presidential searches, there were no faculty members on the search committee.

In a statement Thursday, the UNC Faculty Assembly released a statement criticizing the board's "ill-informed indifference" toward faculty members.

The board may have picked Spellings for her political experience, says Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute and board member for the State University of New York system. Ehrenberg compares Spellings with Janet Napolitano, who leads the University of California system and is a former governor and U.S. cabinet secretary, and William McRaven, chancellor of the University of Texas system and retired Navy admiral (Woodhouse, Inside Higher Ed, 10/26; Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/23; Thomason, "The Ticker," Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/23).

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