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UNC board emergency meeting on Margaret Spellings' future

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's public university board is holding an emergency session amid news reports that Margaret Spellings is leaving as president of the state's 17-campus system.

 

A statement from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors says Friday morning's emergency session was called to "consider an executive personnel matter."

 

Josh Ellis, a spokesman for Spellings, declined comment late Thursday.

 

The former U.S. education secretary to President George W. Bush is halfway through a five-year contract she began in March 2016, after the Republican-majority North Carolina university board forced out her predecessor, who got the job under Democratic control.

 

Spellings' national reputation was seen as a boost for the schools that together enroll more than 220,000 students, and she spent her first months visiting campuses and building relationships.

 

But some power brokers in the Republican-led state legislature saw her name recognition as allowing her too much independence, and she quickly figured into the culture wars marking the rise of hard-right political values in North Carolina.

 

Spellings complied, if unenthusiastically, when the university system became a central battleground over a state law limiting anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. The university system was sued because the law also required transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings.

 

The law led to companies, concerts and conferences shunning North Carolina. Spellings said last year that people recruited for university jobs had ruled out moving to North Carolina because of the law.

 

"I know people have withdrawn their candidacy," Spellings told The Associated Press in an interview. "But how many? To what effect? Were they not coming anyway? We'll never know."

 

Spellings was reproached for a decision last year to request added security in the wake of deadly racist violence in Charlotte, Virginia, and a majority of board members signed a letter criticizing "weakness" in the system's response to plans for huge protests demanding the removal of a Confederate soldier statue from a central spot on the flagship Chapel Hill campus.

 

Spellings and former governing board chairman Louis Bissette wrote to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper seeking state help with security because campus police feared a potentially dangerous confrontation.

 

The Confederate "Silent Sam" statue was later torn down by demonstrators.

 

The Board of Governors demanded that campus officials produce a plan by the middle of November about what to do next.

 

Spellings' contract outlines that she will be paid one year of salary of at least $775,000 if she's fired without cause. She received a $90,000 incentive bonus in 2017 and another $95,000 bonus earlier this year.

 

Spellings' compensation ranked 13th among U.S. public university executives in 2016-17, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier in July.

 

She came to North Carolina after running the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. She also served on the board of directors for a student-loan collection company and for the for-profit University of Phoenix's parent company.

 

As Bush's education secretary from 2005 to 2009, Spellings oversaw the initial implementation of the No Child Left Behind federal education law. In 2006, she convened the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which released a report calling on colleges to focus more on training students for jobs and encouraging research that businesses could commercialize.

___

 

Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio

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