The Pulse

UNC Board of Governors meet in closed-door meeting, top UNC President candidate Margaret Spellings appears

By: - October 16, 2015 3:29 pm

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors met for a rare emergency meeting Friday, in order to hear from a candidate for the system president job.

Their top candidate is reportedly Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. Education Secretary under President George W. Bush, as the News & Observer reported Friday morning. She was an architect of the “No Child Left Behind” reforms in K-12 public education, and currently serves as the head of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

She also served on the board of directors in 2012 for the Apollo Group, the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix.

Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday's meeting.
Former federal Education Sec. Margaret Spellings at Friday’s meeting. (Photo by N.C. Policy Watch’s Ricky Leung.)

Though the search is confidential, Spellings walked into the brief open portion of Friday’s meeting held on the SAS campus in Cary. Nearly two dozen members of the press were gathered in the room at the time.

N.C. Policy Watch’s Ricky Leung took a photo of Spellings standing behind Thom Goolsby, a UNC Board of Governors members and former state senator. She was ushered out of the room by UNC general administration staff, shortly before the board quickly went into closed session.

The board went into closed session at around 1:30 p.m. and remained in closed session during this afternoon. (Note this post will updated when the board emerges from their closed session with any updates.)

Friday’s meeting was overshadowed by questions raised about the leadership of UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque as well as objections to the meeting being classified as an emergency, and thus exempt from the 48-hour time period required by North Carolina law to hold public meetings.

Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney with a brusque personal demeanor, had been the one to approach current UNC President Tom Ross in January about leaving the system. Ross, who had led the system since 2011, agreed to a one-year contract, and will be out of his position in January 2016. Reasons for Ross’ dismissal have not been fully explained, and Fennebresque has offered general explanations that there was a desire for change.

Ross is also a Democrat, and the board now consists of 32 members who received their appointments from a state legislature run by Republicans.

Goolsby wrote a letter to his fellow board members this week calling for Fennebresque’s resignation as chair.

“I join the other board members who have privately urged you to resign,” Goolsby wrote, according to the News & Observer. “You should step aside before you do irreparable harm to the University System that we all love and in which the people of North Carolina have invested us with the responsibility of running.”

Marty Kotis, another member of the UNC Board of Governors and Greensboro real estate businessman who has frequently brought up concerns about transparency, also had issues with Friday’s meeting.

Kotis was in Florida at the time of the meeting, and said he felt classifying it as an emergency meeting was inappropriate.

He also told N.C. Policy Watch that he is joining calls for Fennebresque’s resignation as board chair, as well as the resignation of Joan MacNeill as the head of the board’s presidential search committee.

Much of the criticism the board has faced since the firing of Tom Ross was because of actions taken by Fennebresque and his brusque leadership sytle, Kotis said.

“The public’s frustration and the board’s frustration and the legislature’s frustration with the Board of Governors has centered around one person’s actions,” Kotis said, about his call for Fennebresque to step down.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sarah Ovaska-Few

Sarah Ovaska-Few, former Investigative Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch for five years, conducted investigations and watchdog reports into issues of statewide importance. Ovaska-Few was also staff writer and reporter for six years with the News & Observer in Raleigh, where she reported on governmental, legal, political and criminal justice issues.