On paper, Margaret Spellings sounds like the ideal president for the University of North Carolina — she was the Secretary of Education, after all. But once you start looking into her past, she becomes unacceptable. Though she was Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, her experience is not in education, but policy. She has no degree in education — she only has a BA in Political Science. And her first official act as Secretary of Education? Warning PBS not to air an episode of Postcards From Buster featuring a gay couple.
In the letter, she “reminded” PBS that Postcards From Buster was partially funded by the Department of Education. While PBS decided to pull the episode, WBGH, the Boston PBS station that produced the show, however, said it was airing the episode, and would provide the show to any PBS member station who was “willing to defy the Education Department.” She also demanded that PBS refund the money, objecting to “how we use taxpayer dollars”; UNC is also funded by “taxpayer dollars”.
Nor is her homophobia a thing of the past — even two weeks ago, when asked about the Buster episode, she said, “Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode.” Not only is being gay not a “lifestyle”, but the idea that it’s something children should be shielded from is wrong. And she used “lifestyle” again while refusing to comment on whether or not she’s anti-gay: “I have no comments about those lifestyles,” which is, well, a pretty anti-gay way of saying “no comment”.
It’s not just her homophobia that makes her a poor choice to lead UNC. Her legacy as Secretary of Education also includes the failed No Child Left Behind Act, and the student loan scandal, and the problematic report by the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education.
It’s not just these issues that should give us pause; her placement is the result of politicking: In 2012, Republicans gained control of North Carolina and started ousting the left-leaning members of the Board of Governors, the governing body of the University. That board fired the previous president, Thomas Ross, earlier this year, despite being popular with faculty. When she was chosen, she only met with the Board — no faculty or staff were included, and the process was decried as “secretive“.
Spellings is not right for the UNC, not right for education and not the right person to represent the student body of UNC — a student body that just shy of half of do not identify as heterosexual.