Now that Chairman Fennebresque has revealed former Education Secretary Mrs. Spellings as his candidate for UNC President, let’s talk about her.
First, she can be tough. And reforming higher education against the will of entrenched interest groups is very hard. As a lobbyist for Texas School Boards and adviser to Governor George Bush, the teacher’s union slammed her as the ”Princess of Darkness.” She bought a black cape monogrammed with princess of darkness. If you can measure someone by her enemies, Mrs. Spellings is a winner.
Second, Mrs. Spellings might fight the PC culture. As Education Secretary, she criticized PBS for pushing gay programing on children.
And as George Bush’s go to person on education, Mrs. Spellings argued that opposition to higher standards was ”the soft bigotry of low expectations” the idea that children, especially minorities, should be socially promoted from grade to grade even when students are failing. Instead, she and Bush fought for high standards and accountability for schools.
In fact, we see her education philosophy reflected here in conservative reformer Phil Berger’s ”Read to Achieve” program which sends children in danger of falling behind to summer reading camps. And like Skip Stam and other conservative reformers in North Carolina, Mrs. Spellings supported school vouchers.
On the downside, she’s a big government person, embracing a ”Muscular” role for Washington in education.
And the Bush Administration increased the Department of Education budget by 58% adjusted for inflation. Something conservative reformers in North Carolina are unlikely to support when the UNC System has a mindboggling ratio of 1 bureaucrat for every 3.5 students. Of course, there was method in the spending madness. President Bush and Mrs. Spelling tried to use the carrot of Washington’s money to enforce the stick of higher standards.
But the biggest concern we are hearing from conservative reformers in North Carolina relates to Mrs. Spellings’ “close” relationship with Jim Hunt.
Governor Hunt – who is an avowed opponent of our reform-minded governor and legislature and recently endorsed Roy Cooper’s campaign – served as chairman of Mrs. Spellings’ higher education commission and appears to be Mrs. Spellings’ only connection to the state.
Mrs. Spellings is clearly a better choice than some of the names running through the Raleigh Rumor Mill. And if the two other, still confidential, finalists the Board of Governor’s Search Committee says it is planning to choose from to comply with the new legislative transparency law have similar credentials their search consultant might be able to put the Gene Nichols cross-banning behind him.