Spellings’ visit to UNC-Greensboro regarded with uncertainty
UNC system President Margaret Spellings visited UNCG campus Monday, April 25, as a part of her UNC system tour.
Spellings has been touring the UNC system, visiting every campus in the system, with UNCG being school 14 of 17. She has met with faculty, administration, staff and students of each university during her stops.
Spellings gave a press conference with UNC-Greensboro Chancellor Franklin Gilliam after lunch in Weatherspoon Art Museum, where she answered fielded questions by reporters.
Spellings mentioned being impressed by the diversity of UNCG.
The day was organized around two themes, opportunity and access, according to Gilliam. Spellings’ visit began with a roundtable discussion after meeting with students, faculty, and staff.
The second meeting focused on student success. Spellings stated her intent to get students out of college with the best education and least amount of debt possible.
Spellings stated her admiration of UNCG’s humility and public servant spirit, stating that she wants to change the unofficial motto of the university as a “best-kept secret” to something people talk about.
She also praised the school’s fine arts department, as displayed in chorale and jazz performances during the luncheon.
Spellings stated that she regarded UNCG and UNC Charlotte as being unique, owing to their population of non-traditional students.
“The takeaway is that anyone can be successful here,” Spellings said.
Although Spellings’ team organized the press conference for Greensboro and UNCG press, there has been some speculation about the nature of her visits to the campuses around the state.
Many students have complained that there was not adequate advertisement of her visits.
Senior music education major Thomas Breeden played in one of the ensembles present during the luncheon. He told the Carolinian that there was little information given about her attendance and what the performance would be for.
“We didn’t even know she was going to be there until it happened,” Breeden said.
Genevieve Palmer, junior music performance major, also performed in the ensemble for Spellings’ luncheon. She told the Carolinian that playing for Spellings both motivated her and intimidated her.
“I played the reception today. I found out about it a while ago. The circumstances were interesting, I basically had to miss a class and play for free by special request from one of my professors. It seemed like something I needed to do. She was coming to experience the arts here, so there was a chamber chorale and a youth string group led by UNCG music folks and students from Peck elementary.
“Security was very strict, I was checked in twice upon entering the building. Everyone was required to wear nametags. I was really anxious about being in the same room as Spellings due to her reputation of homophobia, and seeing university systems more as businesses rather than centers for higher education. But I read a lot about her before I got to Weatherspoon this morning. I was up until 5:30 or 6 after doing work reading about her past legislation under the Bush administration and studying many of her interviews.
“I learned very quickly that she wasn’t easily intimidated, if she was ever intimidated. And while that scared me, seeing as she hasn’t been truly hearing the demographics of students that she claims to help (many of which I belong to. People of color, folks in the lgbtq+ community, students that have suffered from poverty or currently suffer) and has her own beliefs concerning what school should be for these students.
“I was in the first grade when no child left behind was put into place, and I know how badly it worked out. However, I’ve read quotes of her saying that the legislation “is as sound now as it was then”. If someone truly believes that young people all learn at the same rate and in the same way, they have no business delegating a school system like that of UNC. I digress.
“I asked my professor if he was sure about me being one of the people to represent our musical student body. And he said yes. So I did my research and learned about this woman. And I realized that while I know anger and forceful opposition in her case isn’t as productive, showing her exactly what we as artists do here at UNCG and what we’re capable of could make her change her mind, at least about continuing to sustain the incredible art and music that comes out of this system.
“So I played my ass off for her. I honestly don’t remember the last time that I felt so motivated to sound good for someone. It wasn’t just fighting for my livelihood, it was fighting for her general understanding. And I told her about the crazy impressive things that we do in the jazz program here that I know I couldn’t have learned how to do anywhere else. And I told her how important that is for me. And she really seemed to like me, actually. She knows my name now. I do know that the only information or knowledge that I had of her arrival was from the emails that I got concerning playing the gig.
“Then again, it wasn’t open to the public. I had no knowledge at all about a q&a until far after it was relevant. So yeah, transparency (something Spellings prides herself in promoting) didn’t seem to be happening here.”
Another UNCG student, senior English major Brian Etling, told the Carolinian that he walked by Weatherspoon right before Spellings was scheduled to arrive.Although he had been made aware that she would be giving a Q&A he asked a group of employees who were standing by the back entrance what was going on.
One woman who was informally checking people into the building told Etling that the gathering was an event with the Chancellor and never mentioned Spellings
He was then pulled aside by a man in casual dress who identified as working for the UNCG Police and was questioned about organizing a protest. “He already knew my name and had already seen my Facebook post of maybe twenty minutes earlier about the ‘sit-in’ I was organizing.”
Etling made a Facebook post earlier that afternoon informing students that Margaret Spellings would be on campus later that day, but the post did not include any incendiary language that suggested a protest was in the works.
Another student from East Carolina University, who asked to be unnamed, stated that the secrecy was the same when Spellings made her appearance at the UNCW campus.
“When Spellings came to ECU, our Chancellor sent out an email saying she would be on campus. Our school paper, The East Carolinian, wrote an article about it. But when she came, everything was very hush-hush. She did not visit main campus AT ALL. Main campus, where 21,000 undergraduate students go to class, study, eat everyday. She visited the medical campus, where ECU is booming with new innovations. But why only there?
“Maybe it was because she found out about the numerous protests that were going to occur. Or maybe she knew that most undergrads aren’t happy with the fact that she is our new system president.
“When she was here, the day of, there were so many protests against her, which the university tried to shut down. Unfortunately I had a 3hr class right during the protest time, or I would’ve gone. We got a 10 min break during class so when I went to the bathroom, I walked outside and “I saw ECU Police everywhere, surrounding the protestors but not doing anything. But why is it that ECU Police comes out in full fledge when students practice their constitutional rights, but not when Brother Ross (a traveling priest who uses inflammatory language) comes to protest on our campus?
“I don’t think enough people knew about the visit because sadly nobody reads our paper and nobody reads emails from the chancellor…
“And hell no, I don’t think Spellings understands what students think. She keeps trying to cover everything up and pretend like it’s not a big deal. After she came, the paper wrote another article about the protest. She said she’s only been in the job a month and she needs a chance to understand what everyone’s concern is.
“I’m pretty sure everyone’s concern is pretty obvious as this point, but all she does is dodge the media and dodge questions and pretend like every concern doesn’t exist. […] Yes, she can be attributed to helping do some good things, but those overshadow the bad.
Speaking about their experiences at ECU, and Spellings’ visit there, the student continued:
“Our SGA met with her, but then again, our SGA doesn’t care about the students and what is a straight white male SGA president going to do about minorities of sexual orientation and race?
“I am all about giving Spellings a chance, but she needs to act like she cares, not this nonchalant attitude she has now. Someone has to be held responsible, and as our university system president, it should be her. She is allowing discrimination to slide, and in the land of the free, home of the brave, we shouldn’t be scared to walk outside and go to school somewhere where the leader doesn’t care for our well-being.”
He also said that many campuses are selective about what they choose to promote, that it’s not just Spellings’ visits. “I know the school can be very quiet about certain political instances and very quick to respond to others,” he said, “it should be the students’ choice to decide…what they want to attend.”
When asked about the level secrecy surrounding the campus visits, Spellings told the group that she’s been openly announcing her tour and that the low turnout was likely due to finals week.
“Students are focused on their finals,” she said, “there’s probably more interesting things to be doing.”He also noted that she’s been tweeting about her visits to the campuses; the first tweet she made about visiting UNCG was the morning or her visit.
She told the press that she has been meeting with students to listen to their questions and concerns, many of which fell under a common theme.
Access and issues of affordability and tuition were the concerns she said were mentioned most often. Spellings stated that administration needed to find new ways to support students.Spellings stated that, besides high cost, the UNC system is still a good value, and among the country’s most affordable.
“There is never a bad time to invest in your future,” Spellings stated. Spellings’ next university visit is Winston-Salem State, followed by the NC School of the Arts.