hit the News and Observer this morning that UNC President Margaret Spellings is out, or about to be out, after less than three years into a five-year contract. She's "quietly negotiated her departure" with the all-Republican Board of Governors, a snake pit where she's repeatedly felt the fangs. BOG member Doyle Parrish, yesterday: "I think it's been a very turbulent experience for her to navigate through the state's political system. Though I think she has done a fabulous job, we have a divisive board and accomplishing her goals and agendas has been difficult for her."
She's been well compensated for the pain. Three-quarters of a million dollars every year, with fat bonuses on top of that.
Her hiring in 2015 (she didn't officially enter the job until March 2016) opened to view the clash over the direction of state-funded higher education between ideological conservatives and the less doctrinaire country-club Republicans.
Here's what happened (at least, in part):
A Margaret Spellings Timeline
New Republican majorities in the NC House and Senate effectuate their takeover of the UNC Board of Governors (BOG), giving the appointment power of new BOG members -- all 32 of them -- to themselves. Their new board hits the ground running...
January 2015 ... John Fennebresque, the Charlotte attorney and country-clubber who becomes Chair of the BOG, on his own and without consulting his fellow Republicans on the board, fires popular UNC President Tom Ross without cause to begin the Republican takeover. Ross will remain a lame-duck in office until early 2016. The conservatives -- although they applaud getting rid of a liberal like Ross -- are upset at Fennebresque's unilateralism. Said fellow BOG member Marty Kotis, “Most board members did not learn of the [firing of Ross] or the separation agreement until almost a week later ... after the deed had been done.”
February 27, 2015 ... Further flexing their muscle and amid strong student protests, the conservatives on the BOG cynically kill three "progressive" centers of study at three different universities.
2015, spring and summer ... With Tom Ross out of the way, Fennebresque appoints himself to the search committee for Ross's replacement, and with two other close BOG allies, Fennebresque claps down a dome of silence on the process, cutting out the conservatives. 'Pears that Fennebresque had fallen in love with the idea of a high-profile national Republican media figure -- and not an ideological warrior -- becoming the new president, someone with great presence and stature, like, say a former Bush cabinet secretary.
Sept. 2015 ... Countering the high-handedness of Fennebresque, the General Assembly rushes into law Senate Bill 670, which intends to force Fennebresque to present three candidates for UNC president and to do it publicly. Fennebresque ally and fellow country-clubber Pat McCrory, who's announced that he opposes the bill and is clearly teamed with Fennebresque, neither signs it nor vetoes it but sits on it. If he does nothing, the bill becomes law automatically on October 30, giving Fennebresque more than a month to get something done. But if he vetoes it, the General Assembly will quickly override. McCrory buys time for Fennebresque, who leaps into action.
October 15, 2015 ... Fennebresque calls an emergency meeting of the board for October 16, the next day, to "interview" the search committee recommendation. News has leaked that there's only one candidate and it's Margaret Spellings, of the chain of pearls and former Bush administration Secretary of Education. Hardliners are not happy. The team of Berger/Moore in the General Assembly immediately erupt with their own statement: “While the bill has not yet been signed by the Governor, calling an emergency meeting to discuss only one candidate could be viewed as the Board’s [Fennebresque's] attempt to circumvent the overwhelming will of the elected people of the State of North Carolina....” BOG members Thom Goolsby and David Powers write letters to Fennebresque demanding he resign. Goolsby: "Among other things, in your short tenure you have blocked board members from accessing university staff for public information about the system, botched President Ross’ termination, hired an incredibly controversial search consultant and barred two-thirds of the board from participating in the hiring process."
|October 16, 2015, at the UNC BOG|
October 23, 2015 ... Fennebresque reaches some accord with the conservatives. At another called meeting today, the full BOG votes unanimously to hire Spellings.
October 26, 2015 ... With the Spellings hire a done deal, John Fennebresque resigns from the BOG. That must have been the "accord": We'll vote for Spellings, but you have to go.
March 2016 ... Spellings takes the office and is faced by strong student and faculty opposition. And she's also constantly stalked by the conservatives and agents of Berger/Moore who want to begin the crack down on the universities. A slim BOG majority begins to infringe on Spellings, and they threaten to move her office completely out of Chapel Hill.
April 2016 ... Under pressure from conservatives who've in the meantime just passed their bathroom law, HB2, and who intend it to be enforced, Spellings sends a memo to all chancellors of the constituent universities, announcing that HB2 is the law and the universities must comply with that law.
May 26, 2016 ... Under new pressure from lawsuits challenging HB2, Spellings makes a stunning about-face: Declares in a court filing that UNC would not be enforcing HB2 after all, in compliance with federal law. Conservatives, not happy.
August 21, 2017 ... Spellings is caught red-handed talking to Governor Roy Cooper about Silent Sam. Protests are beginning to get organized and large. She wants Cooper's help and advice. Republican hardliners go berserk because Cooper wants the statue removed and put into a museum. The conservatives issue a strongly worded letter signed by 15 BOG members demanding that Spellings must never talk to Cooper again without telling them.
July 1, 2018 ... Spellings loses her last strong ally on the BOG -- Chair Lou Bissette (who replaced Fennebresque), who is himself replaced by conservative "hard-liner" Harry Smith. Bissette had been in on the plan to cooperate with Gov. Cooper over the final resting place for Silent Sam, so his days have been numbered for a year.
October 2018 ... Conservatives finally succeed in driving her off.
What Comes Next?
Hardliners are now ascendant on the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina system. The only thing that can change that is a handover of power to the other party, in one or both of the chambers of the General Assembly. That's the only cure.