Education

Appalachian State faculty raise concerns about UNC president Spellings

Margaret Spellings talks during a press conference after Spellings was elected president of the University of North Carolina system.
Margaret Spellings talks during a press conference after Spellings was elected president of the University of North Carolina system. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Appalachian State University’s Faculty Senate has expressed “serious reservations” about the appointment of Margaret Spellings as president of the UNC system.

A resolution by the ASU Faculty Senate passed this week 27-0 with four abstentions. The lengthy resolution also cited concerns about the secretive nature of the presidential search and a lack of faculty input in the process.

The resolution was blunt in its assessment of Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary under President George W. Bush, saying that Spellings “has a record of pursuing policies that are contrary to the very idea and integrity of public higher education.”

It cited “intolerant remarks and actions against the LGBT community” and Spellings’ federal accountability efforts closely tied to standardized testing – No Child Left Behind and her commission on higher education. The resolution also raised questions about Spellings’ service on the board of the Apollo Group, the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix, which has been investigated for its recruiting practices. Spellings has also been head of an advisory board for Ceannate, a private company that services student loans.

The resolution called on the Board of Governors to revise its search procedures and require Spellings to “publicly affirm her commitment to the existing mission statements of UNC’s member institutions, specifically as they relate to academic freedom and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Further, the ASU faculty group wants the UNC board to take a stand against standardized testing as the benchmark for accountability.

As for Spellings’ board service, the ASU faculty group wants her to explain “in detail and in public” what steps she took as an Apollo Group board member to address concerns about the for-profit education sector. The ASU Faculty Senate also asks Spellings to resign any affiliation with Ceannate.

Earlier this week, Spellings told The News & Observer she planned to step down from the Ceannate advisory board by the end of the year.

Concerns about Spellings’ stance on LGBT issues stems from a controversy a decade ago when, as education secretary, she denounced PBS’ spending on a children’s animated show called “Postcards from Buster,” in which an episode depicted gay characters. When asked about it the day she was named, Spellings said: “I have no comment about those lifestyles. That was a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars, not any particular view that I have on particular groups of people or individuals.”

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