- University of North Carolina System President Margaret Spellings will step down as head of the 17-campus system just three years into her five-year contract, she said during a press conference on Friday, citing the "tough" nature of the job. Her departure is effective March 1, 2019. "Three years is a good run," she said. "I'm proud of the accomplishments that have occurred in that period of time."
- Spellings faced several high-profile political controversies and high board turnover during her short tenure. She was at the helm of the university through a lawsuit over the implementation of the state's HB2 law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms prescribed for their birth sex. More recently, she faced pushback from the board on how to handle escalating debate over a Confederate monument on campus.
- A former U.S. Education Department Secretary, Spellings intended to focus on expanding access to higher education for poor and rural students, The News & Observer reported, but controversies shifted the focus.
Spellings' arrival in 2015 marked a political shift for the UNC System in tandem with one underway in the state, The Chronicle reported at the time. The board had ousted the previous president, Thomas W. Ross, who had Democratic ties and had been in the role less than five years, amid a growing Republican tide in the state. Spellings brought a Republican connection, having previously served as Education Secretary during the George W. Bush administration.
During that time, she formed the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which aimed to improve accountability and outcomes among colleges but that some argue have since fallen short of their promises.
Spellings won't be the only president to leave her post in recent months because of challenges on campus. In January, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon resigned in response to criticism of how she and other top university administrators handled allegations of sexual abuse by team sports doctor Larry Nassar. In August, University of Southern California President Max Nikias stepped down following complaints about how the university handled reports of misconduct by a campus gynecologist.
Among Spellings' UNC initiatives was to make college more affordable. The system recently announced early signs of success for a program that caps in-state tuition at $500 and out-of-state tuition at $2,500 per semester. The three universities in the system that offer the NC Promise program saw enrollment increases ranging from 6% to 19% this semester, The Atlantic reported, with a 60% jump in readmits on one of the campuses.
Like Spellings, her eventual replacement will contend with a controversial issue right off the bat. The board of governors has charged the university with developing a "lawful and lasting" plan for relocating the highly contested Silent Sam Confederate statue, which was toppled by students and other protestors in August. Students and faculty have been outspoken in their desire that the university not return the statue to its original, prominent location on campus. Chancellor Carol Folt has said it may be installed elsewhere on campus.
The university posted key separation terms for Spellings' departure, which include a previously agreed upon separation bonus of $500,000, a $77,500 retirement contribution and $35,000 in relocation expenses.
Natalie Schwartz contributed to this story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Lou Anna Simon. She is the president of Michigan State University.