UNC-Chapel Hill’s Faculty Council has called on the incoming UNC system president, Margaret Spellings, and the UNC Board of Governors to commit to financially support academic initiatives related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues.
The council approved a resolution Friday asking Spellings and the board to support and sustain LGBTQ academics “in a fully equitable and non-prejudicial manner.” There was little discussion, and the resolution passed unanimously.
The resolution had been brought forth by 32 faculty members who said they were affiliated with the Program in Sexuality Studies at the university.
In a written comment attached to the resolution, the faculty said they had “deep concern” about Spellings’ appointment, citing comments she made in response to a reporter’s question on Oct. 23, the day she was announced as the next president of the UNC system.
The question addressed a controversy that erupted in 2005 when Spellings, then the U.S. education secretary, denounced public funding for an episode of a PBS animated children’s show, “Postcards from Buster,” that portrayed gay parents.
The reporter asked: “What is your response to the LGBTQ community over your past comments regarding their sexual orientation and lifestyle?”
Spellings responded, “I have no comment about those lifestyles,” and then described the “Buster the Bunny” controversy.
“That’s a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars, not any particular view that I have on particular groups of people or individuals,” she added.
Spellings will begin the job as UNC president March 1. In remarks to the UNC board last week, Spellings called education “the new civil right” and said the university must better serve low-income, first generation and students of color. She did not address the gay community specifically, but said she had been surprised at the intensity of her critics.
“When you get to know me,” she said, “you’ll see that I am driven to provide education and opportunity for all.”
In their written comment, the 32 faculty who proposed the resolution Friday said leaders must commit to the university’s nondiscrimination policy, which includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Spellings’ use of the word “lifestyles” had been offensive and insulting to some, they wrote, and at the very least “unfortunate because it signaled the kind of denigration that so many LGBTQ people have historically encountered.”
They called on Spellings “to reassure LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty by stating her support for LGBTQ communities and the study of LGBTQ issues at UNC.”
One of the signers, María DeGuzmán, a professor of English and comparative literature, said the faculty wanted to address Spellings’ specific reference to public funding for something with an LGBTQ theme.
“If you let it go, then you run the risk of not really exercising the faculty governance that we have, which is to uphold academic freedom,” DeGuzmán said.