CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – University of North Carolina leaders met in Chapel Hill Friday hoping for a calm event. They didn’t get one as protesters got into the Board of Governors meeting and caused the meeting to go to recess as officers threatened to remove the protesters.
UNC system president Margaret Spellings and the rest of those in attendance at the meeting were met with protesters Friday morning. Protesters inside chanted, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Margaret Spellings has got to go!” before the meeting was adjourned and about a dozen protesters left voluntarily.
The meeting was in recess for around 10 minutes before it was resumed.
“To the protesters who have devoted their time and energy to criticizing me, I say I hear you and what I ask in return is that you hear from me and from this board,” Spellings said.
In a news conference, board chair Lou Bissette of Asheville said he was unhappy with the way the protesters interrupted the meeting.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “I particularly don’t like the rudeness and the lack of common decency.”
But Bissette said he was a “big boy” and he understood the protesters “are doing what they think they need to be doing. We think we are doing what we need to be doing, and that is operating the University of North Carolina system.”
But he said the way the protesters acted made it harder to have a respectful discussion.
“They are not advancing their cause because they are out there screaming,” he said.
Bissette said he wants a “dialogue” and not a shooting match.
Asked about the impact of House Bill 2 on the university system, Bissette said, “We’re concerned about all of the impacts. First of all, the university system, we didn’t have anything to do this with. We didn’t have anything with the Charlotte ordinance being passed or the General Assembly bill.
“But somehow we have been thrust into the middle of this and I think it’s a little bit unfair.”
Spellings has said that the bathroom bill has created a “chill” on campus and board leaders agree that backlash from the law has had a major impact to UNC.
Friday morning’s meeting was moved to the Chapel Hill from UNC-Asheville’s campus because of concerns over protests against HB2.
Spellings has said in the past that the law would be implemented on UNC’s campus, later backing off that statement due to concerns about how the law impacted the university’s recruiting.
Since then, Gov. Pat McCrory has taken executive action on the law.
Spellings said the executive order shows people are listening. “It shows that [Gov. McCrory is] hearing what we’re saying with respect to the chill it’s having on our institutions in this state.” she said “It’s a step forward.”
More than 500 faculty and staff at North Carolina colleges and universities have signed a letter opposing House Bill 2.
The protesters have been critical of Spellings’ record, which includes serving on the board of a company that collects student loan debt.
“I don’t feel like I am being represented,” UNC-Asheville student Juliet Flam-Ross said. “I don’t feel like my friends are being represented. I don’t feel like HBCUs are being represented. I don’t feel like they’re responding to HB2.”
Rachel Clay, a graduate of Appalachian State, added, “We never wanted Margaret Spellings to be the UNC system president. We didn’t have any input in that decision.”
UNC geography professor Altha Cravey said it’s clear that the Board of Governors is on the run. “They changed their meeting from Asheville to UNC-Chapel Hill,” she said.