Margaret Spellings is the worst thing that could happen to the UNC System; she is our Dolores Umbridge
To my fellow customers,
Sorry about that. Poor choice of words.
To my fellow students,
The concept of the student and the concept of the customer ought to be understood quite clearly as two distinct categories. Sometimes, in my life, I’m a customer. When I go to the bookstore, or go shopping for groceries, I’m looking for the best product for the lowest cost. It might not sound like a bad thing, at least at first. But in a customer model, the only reason a vendor has to provide a quality product or a low price is to make a profit.
Most reasonable people agree state education ought not be organized around a for-profit model. You don’t have to be a socialist like myself to accept this premise, you just have to be ordinarily concerned with the quality of education here at UNC Charlotte and our sister institutions across the state.
Margaret Spellings is not ‘reasonable people.’ Spellings, set to become the new President of the University of North Carolina System, has called students customers on more than one occasion. She has done so not out of some harmless naïveté, but as a revealing and disturbing insight into her ideology of privatization and neoliberalism. Lest we forget, Spellings was the Secretary of Education during the second term of the second Bush Administration, instrumental towards the policy of No Child Left Behind. As with the idea of a customer model of education, the name – No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – sounds innocuous, but the devil is in the details. In the case of NCLB, the devil is that such policies marginalized students of color as well as poor students from working-class families across racial backgrounds.
Spellings more recently has worked with the Apollo Group. The Apollo Group, of course, conjures less negative public outcry than ties to the Bush Cabinet, but it shouldn’t. The Apollo Group is notorious for its operation of for-profit universities, including the University of Phoenix. From a profit perspective, Phoenix looks just fine, but a USA Today report in 2013 showed Phoenix’s Detroit and San Diego campuses with graduation rates at a mere 10%, but student loan default rates at over 26%. Not necessarily the standard of the UNC system which has for years been regarded North Carolina’s best public institution and one of the best public university systems in the United States.
If Spellings isn’t forced out by students and faculty standing against her far-right agenda, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) will come under threat, as will departments and centers and majors not deemed “profitable” by Spellings’ individual metric. Majoring in Africana Studies or Women’s and Gender Studies? Go ahead and expect Spellings to throw everything she has at you and your major.
Statewide, students and faculty are already bracing for the hits to come and will protest this Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 when the Board of Governors meets at North Carolina Agricultural and Technological University’s (NCA&T) Alumni-Foundation Event Center. It is fitting that in Greensboro, where students organized sit-ins at Woolworth’s and other lunch counters fifty-five years ago, students are again organizing on behalf of the right to well-funded and maintained HBCUs. I will be there, and invite any and all of you concerned about the quality of education here at UNC Charlotte and across North Carolina to travel up I-85 to protest with me.
Consistent with the threat she poses to Women’s and Gender Studies, when asked about accomadating LGBT students, Spellings said she didn’t want to talk about “those lifestyles.” Slate ran an article on how “The University of North Carolina’s New President is Shockingly Anti-Gay.” In that article, Equality North Carolina’s executive director Chris Sgro has expressed deep concern over the “negative impact of Spellings’ appointment on the lives of LGBT university students.”
It isn’t as if the Board of Governors was blameless before, and somehow Spellings has invaded the Board to send it sharply rightward. Or that Spellings came to power by way of an innocently naïve mistake of the Board. No, her appointment to President is the culmination of a long and disturbing politicization of the university’s leadership since the right-wing takeover of North Carolina’s state government. No students had any say in her appointment, no faculty had any say in her appointment, no university staff had any say in her appointment. Her appointment was merely the product of supremely undemocratic processes, and sets a dangerous precedent.
For the closest parallel I can find, imagine Spellings then as Dolores Umbridge, who despite not at that time having any ties to Voldemort was nonetheless among Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’s most despicable antagonists. There is, in fact, a facebook page making the claim that Spellings is Umbridge and personally I’ve seen more evidence for than against the theory. Both were imposed by an out-of-touch, paranoid, and conservative government in the fashion of a coup d’état. Both were bestowed with more power than they ought to have been trusted with. Spellings wants a whiter, more heteronormative UNC System as Professor Umbridge wanted a more pure-blood Hogwarts institution. They both love wearing pink, and they both are hell-bent on educational “efficiency.” But Umbridge always missed what Hogwarts was about. It wasn’t about getting a job in the Ministry of Magic, it was about being exposed to a truly magical and transformative experience, encountering the beauty and the wickedness of the world and being able to process it.
The University of North Carolina, likewise, is not a business. It is a public university, a commitment by our state to provide quality education, research, and community services across our state, to foster and link communities, and to expose student-citizens to the magic of the world, and how to process it. UNC Charlotte and our sister schools, unlike the University of Phoenix, do not exist to make a profit and Spellings’ résumé, comments and actions leading to her presidency demonstrate incompetency in governing our university system. She needs to go the way of Umbridge; that is, escorted away from our school by a sea of centaurs.