Spellings Outlines Agenda for UNC System

February 15, 2016

Margaret Spellings (right), former U.S. secretary of education, on Friday outlined her agenda for leading the University of North Carolina system, of which she becomes president March 1. In a speech to a retreat of the board, she invoked the UNC system's history -- twice invoking Bill Friday, the late legendary system president. She praised the system overall but said it must focus on results, and results for all kinds of students. "Historically in our country, we have done a good job of educating elites, and we still do," she said. But that's not enough, and higher education needs to do more for all students, particularly minority and first-generation students, Spellings said.

Many academics have accused the board that hired her of micromanaging campuses. Spellings seemed to speak to that concern when she said of the campuses, "we must set clear expectations of institutional leaders and then get out of their way. We must show them the respect they deserve as managers of sophisticated enterprises."

The appointment of Spellings prompted criticism from some students and professors, who have said they fear her priorities will focus on "corporatization" or budget cuts and that she may not show sensitivity to all students. The News & Observer reported that Spellings choked back tears when she discussed this criticism. “I must say that after spending most of my career in service to the public, working on behalf of all students and with people of all points of view, I’ve been surprised at the intensity of the reaction,” she said, “but I look forward to meeting with, talking to and learning from those who have questions about my record and my intentions. When you get to know me, you’ll see that I am driven to provide education and opportunity for all.”

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