The UNC Board of Governors is scheduled to elect the next system president at a special meeting Friday.
On Thursday, the board’s personnel and tenure committee will meet via conference call to consider “the terms and conditions” for employment of a public officer, according to a tentative agenda released Tuesday. The full board will meet Friday to choose a president and then welcome the president-elect.
This week’s decision will mark the end of a monthslong process to find a new president for the University of North Carolina, 17-campus public university system. The next leader will succeed Tom Ross, 65, who is stepping down in January at the request of the board.
Last Friday, the board met with leading candidate Margaret Spellings and also considered the qualifications of three other candidates, according to several people with direct knowledge of the search. Spellings was spotted briefly in the room before the board went into closed session. She also met with Gov. Pat McCrory, sources said.
Spellings, 57, was U.S. Secretary of Education from 2005 to 2009 under President George W. Bush. As secretary, she was a major proponent of the No Child Left Behind law aimed at reforming the nation’s K-12 schools. She also launched the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, an effort that called for more accountability and affordability at the country’s colleges and universities. She is now president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
Spellings apparently met with Gov. Pat McCrory when she was in North Carolina. McCrory’s communications director, Josh Ellis, issued a statement saying McCrory “graciously and proudly welcomed a potential candidate” at the governor’s mansion.
“They had a wonderful conversation about the interactions between the governor’s office and the university system with regard to technology and research development, job recruitment, and the Education Cabinet which the governor chairs,” Ellis’ statement said. “The governor has confidence the UNC Board of Governors, which are entirely hand-picked by the state legislature, will select a great candidate to oversee our excellent university system.”
Board members have been divided about the transparency of the search process and about the board’s overall leadership, but it’s unclear whether that tension will extend to the choice of the president.
Last week, several board members called for the resignation of board Chairman John Fennebresque. Some suggested that any candidate would be tainted by the process, which was also criticized by Republican leaders in the legislature. Board member Thom Goolsby, a former lawmaker, wrote to Fennebresque last week, saying “No matter how qualified, anyone advanced under your chairmanship would be fruit from a poisonous tree.”
The legislature intervened in the search process by passing a bill that required the presidential search committee to bring forward three names to the full board for consideration. The bill has not been signed into law by McCrory but will take effect at the end of the month.
Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore wrote to the board, telling members to abide by the law. They suggested that meeting with only one candidate was an attempt to circumvent “the overwhelming will of the elected people of the State of North Carolina.”
The board released a statement Friday saying the process would follow the law “as amended,” and declined further public comment on what it said was a confidential search.
“We remain extremely pleased with the level of interest the position has generated nationally among some extraordinary candidates,” the statement said.