Spellings selection does not bode well for UNC’s future


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

When Margaret Spellings became secretary of education in 2005, NBC reported that one of her first actions was to write a letter to PBS criticizing a show which featured a lesbian.

We can only imagine how Spellings will distinguish herself when she takes over as UNC president on March 1.

Actually, we can do a little more than imagine. Spellings has created a fairly clear record over the past few decades of her priorities, and it does not look good.

The anti-gay attitude does not really bode well for Spellings and any stance toward potential LGBT students and system employees, but her role in making decisions related to that will likely be limited.

The most troubling thing about Spellings is her seeming commitment to all the negative trends that have created so much anxiety among faculty, students and public education advocates.

Spellings was famously responsible for commissioning a report on higher education in 2006. Many of the findings in the report epitomize the type of corporate approach to education that is proving so harmful to students and faculty.

A major point in that report is the idea accountability. While the report acknowledges the issue of decreased public funding, a problem that has only gotten worse post-recession, the major emphasis is placed on “efficiency, productivity, transparency and accountability.”

That sounds perfectly reasonable, but it’s important to realize these are all code words used often by those who want to transform public higher education into a private good.

At a time when this thinking seems to already be the predominant in state government, having someone who shared this view heading the system is troubling.

In addition to her publicly expressed views on higher education, there is Spelling’s background with sketchy for-profit colleges.

Spellings sat on the board of the Apollo Group, a for-profit company which owns the University of Phoenix.

As has often been the case with for-profit set-ups, the company has come under investigation by the FTC for deceptive practices.

Experience in for-profit education is clearly valued by some policy-makers in the state, but it is incompatible with our state’s legal and traditional obligations to higher education.

Of course, we cannot fully judge the impact Spellings will have on the system until she takes office.

However, it is wrong to say we should not be concerned. Spellings’ long involvement with education in the public and private sector have given us a clear idea of what her ideas are.

And if Spellings continues to push the ideas she has advocated for so long, she will only continue to take us in the wrong direction.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.