• 45°

Colin Campbell: Spellings’ departure should prompt reset at UNC

Author

Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service.

Imagine you decide to quit your job. You tell your boss, and he or she thanks you for your hard work and writes you a check for a half-million dollars.

That sounds like a farfetched dream, right? But dreams can come true if you’re UNC system president Margaret Spellings, who’s getting the payout even though she insists it was her decision to step down after three years on the job.

“All leaders are for a time,” she said as she announced her decision to leave with two years left on a five-year contract, making her the shortest tenured UNC president in recent memory. She’ll stay on until March 1, then get a $500,000 payout with $35,000 thrown in for relocation expenses, because apparently moving is quite a financial hardship when your salary is only $775,000.

While she has only positive things to say about them, it’s likely Spellings was tired of her bosses, the fractious 28-member UNC Board of Governors. And given that board chairman Harry Smith described Spellings’ departure as a “mutual agreement that now is the right time for a new leader for our next chapter,” it’s clear that the board also wanted her to leave.

It’s unclear where the UNC presidency goes from here, and that should trouble anyone who cares about the health of higher education in North Carolina. For now, the university system is in good hands with the well-respected CEO of UNC Health Care CEO, Dr. William Roper, stepping in as interim president in January.

But what exactly are UNC board members looking for in Spellings’ eventual replacement? The Republican-led legislature has put more political figures on the board in recent years — folks like former N.C. Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer and former GOP Sen. Bob Rucho. Unlike the business leaders from both parties who have run the board in the past, they’ve sought a bigger role in the UNC system’s operations.

Does the board want someone more conservative than Spellings, who served as education secretary under President George W. Bush? Will they bring in a political leader more willing to shake up the university system and do the board’s bidding?

Nobody’s offering specifics yet, but Smith has promised to take the process slowly and solicit input. Professors and students are rightfully suspicious, and I doubt they’re happy to see Spellings get a sweetheart deal to leave while adjunct professors remain underpaid and tuition continues to rise.

Even if the board members want to hire a higher education luminary who’s respected across the political spectrum, such a candidate might not want the job. No one likes being micromanaged, and that’s what one can expect from a board that meddles in campus chancellor searches and kills off law school programs it doesn’t like.

Spellings’ departure offers an opportunity for state leaders to review the UNC system’s governance model and hit the reset button. The current Board of Governors is appointed entirely by the legislature, which results in a partisan board regardless of which party controls the General Assembly.

Legislative leaders have been trying to add checks and balances to boards and appointments controlled exclusively by the governor. So they should be intellectually honest and do the same with the UNC Board of Governors. Perhaps the governor could appoint a few of the members, or there could be more faculty and student representatives.

Roper’s interim presidency will allow time for changes and fresh ideas. State leaders must instill confidence in the university system — that UNC’s leadership will effectively serve the needs of Republicans, Democrats and everyone in between.

Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com. Write to him at ccampbell@ncinsider.com.

Comments

Business

Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City

Sports

Woodland, two others share lead; Mickelson plays much worse but will still be around for weekend at Quail Hollow

Business

Former NHL player to open mobster themed bar in Raleigh

Nation/World

California population declines for first time

News

GOP leaders differ on bottom line for state spending

News

Police: Man killed in shootout with officers in Winston-Salem

Crime

Man charged after thieves rob would-be gun buyers of wallets, shoes

Crime

Blotter: Four added to sheriff’s most wanted list

High School

High school football: Some anxious moments, but Hornets win state title

Local

Photos: Salisbury High Hornets win big in 2AA championship game

Local

County manager outlines projections for the upcoming fiscal year budget, suggests uses for stimulus money

Business

Miami-based Browns Athletic Apparel opens second screen printing location in Salisbury

News

At funeral, fallen Watauga deputies remembered as ‘heroes’

Coronavirus

COVID-19 cluster identified at Granite Quarry Elementary

Coronavirus

More than half of North Carolinians have now taken at least one vaccine shot

Local

City hopes to cover expenses in 2021-22 budget with surplus revenue generated this year

Local

Fallen tree proves to be a blessing for local nonprofit Happy Roots

Local

Quotes of the week

Coronavirus

Health department drops quarantine time from 14 to 10 days

Crime

Blotter: More than $100,000 in property reported stolen from Old Beatty Ford Road site

Local

City fights invasive beetles by injecting trees with insecticide

Local

City names downtown recipients for federal Parks Service grant

China Grove

China Grove Town Council weighs 2021-22 budget priorities, supports buying body cameras