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UNC Board Approves Separation Agreement For President Margaret Spellings

UNC President Margaret Spellings joined Charlotte Talks Monday, March 19, 2018.
Erin Keever

The UNC System Board of Governors has approved the terms of separation for UNC system president Margaret Spellings after a two-hour closed session Friday morning.

Spellings will leave her job March 1, 2019, after only three years in the position.

Board of Governors chair Harry L. Smith thanked Spellings for her service. 

"We are grateful to her service to the university and to the people of North Carolina," Smith said. "We are no doubt better because of it, and we all thank her for that." 

Smith added that the board had considered a separation package that "recognizes the president's excellent service and that will help us in the upcoming transition in leadership."

Spellings will receive about $78,000 in salary, a $500,000  in a separation payment and relocation expenses of $35,000. She says she does not know what she will be doing in the future but says she hopes it will be in education in Texas.

Board of Governors member Doyle Parrish told the Triangle Business Journal Thursday that Spellings was experiencing difficulty navigating North Carolina politics.

“I think it's been a very turbulent experience for her to navigate through the state's political system," Parrish told the Journal.  "Though I think she has done a fabulous job, we have a divisive board and accomplishing her goals and agendas has been difficult for her."

The News and Observer in Raleigh reported Spellings wants to return to her home state of Texas. The newspaper, citing sources, reported the date of her departure has not been set, but could likely happen early next year.

Spellings started working as UNC president in March 2016 on a 5-year contract that included a base salary of $775,000. Her decision to leave follows a $95,000 performance bonus she received in March after her annual review. She also received a performance bonus of $90,000 in March 2017. Her contract was set to expire in February 2021.

The president’s tenure, though short, has not been without complications. Spellings was hired in 2015 by the majority-Republican UNC Board of Governors after the previous president, Tom Ross, a Democrat, was forced out. Spellings was the former U.S. Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, and her recognizable name and work under a Republican administration made her an attractive pick for many members on the board.

But Spellings’ hiring was a target for student protest. Students would often crowd around the Board of Governors building in Chapel Hill with signs claiming that the process to hire Spellings lacked transparency.

Her arrival also coincided with student anger over House Bill 2, known as the “Bathroom Bill,” that sought to prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify. Some students and faculty questioned Spellings’ support of the LGBTQ community, with some faculty members going so far as to pass a resolution demanding Spellings make a financial commitment to support LGBTQ academics.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
UNC System President Margaret Spellings, speaking to reporters at UNC Charlotte, as part of her 17 campus tour to garner support.

Right after assuming her position, Spellings went on a tour of 17 universities in the system in an effort to reach out to campuses and win friends.

Spellings also faced issues with the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. Protests around the monument heightened after a 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly. Spellings and other UNC-Chapel Hill leaders wrote to Gov. Roy Cooper to inquire about the fate of the statue and to ask for increased security — a series of communications that angered some conservative board members. The statue was toppled by protesters in August.

Throughout her tenure, Spellings has worked to highlight issues of school affordability and improved system-wide performance. She helped push through the legislature-backed “Fixed Tuition Plan,” launched in 2016, that promises to keep tuition costs the same for North Carolina residents through four years of continuous enrollment at a UNC system university. Under her leadership, the General Assembly and the board also launched the “NC Promise” tuition plan in 2018 that lowers the tuition for Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University $500 per year for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students.

Jessa O’Connor was an assistant digital news editor and Sunday reporter for WFAE. She joined the team in 2018 after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned a degree in broadcast journalism and worked for her college radio news station. Jessa won national awards for her college news coverage, including “First Place in Radio” from the Hearst Journalism Awards Program and “Best Radio News Reporting” from the Society of Professional Journalists.
Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.