Faculty members, staff, and students are unhappy with the selection of Margaret Spellings as the new president of the University of North Carolina. Her experience as Secretary of Education for President George W. Bush propelled her into this position.
In this article, two faculty members–Altha Cravey, associate professor of geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Robert Siegel, associate professor of English at East Carolina University–challenge Spellings’ lucrative association in recent years with predatory for-profit institutions and a debt-collection agency. They believe that her background does not fit the needs of a world-class institution that seeks to provide high quality at relatively low costs for students.
UNC needs a president who will help the university system continue to give students the best education possible while avoiding unnecessary tuition hikes. Unfortunately, Spellings’ background of supporting for-profit colleges who prey on students – and then profiting off those same students when they default on their loans – suggests that she and the Board of Governors have very distinct priorities.
Spellings made over $330,000 working for the Apollo Group, the parent company of University of Phoenix, a for-profit online college that has been widely criticized for taking advantage of its students and delivering poor results. Although federal education funds account for nearly 90 percent of the company’s revenue, graduation rates were as low as 4 percent under Spellings’ tenure.
IN A STATE THAT CLAIMS TO VALUE PUBLIC EDUCATION AND PRIDES ITSELF ON A TOP-NOTCH UNIVERSITY SYSTEM, STUDENTS SHOULD NOT BE VIEWED AS “CUSTOMERS” TO PROFIT FROM AND THEN DISCARD.
The Apollo Group’s corporate goals are to increase shareholders’ profits by lowering standards and raising admission and fees. The company has even come under fire for targeting veterans to obtain G.I. Bill funding. After a federal investigation into the Apollo Group’s practices, the for-profit company laid off 600 workers and closed 115 “campuses” – while its founder received a $5 million “retirement bonus.”
The investigation found that students who attend for-profit colleges end up defaulting on their student loans at nearly three times the rate of students who attended public and nonprofit schools. As a result, nearly half of all student loan defaults nationwide are from students who attended for-profit colleges.
That’s why it is particularly troubling that Spellings also served as board chair of the Ceannate Corporation, a student loan collection agency. Student loan debt now accounts for the highest percentage of consumer debt, and despite widespread calls to reform the student loan industry, Spellings and the Ceannate Corporation have simply profited off of it….
Spellings’ defense of for-profit colleges is perhaps just as disturbing as the predatory practices these institutions use to fleece students. “(For-profit colleges) invented higher education in a way that was more convenient for working adults, and many in traditional higher education have responded,” she told the Board of Governors. “The reason I did it was because I learned a lot about how we can serve our students and think of them as customers in providing a product in convenient ways for them.”
In another article, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, a professor of history at Yale University who holds UNC degrees, cites statements that Spellings has made recently and in the past that cast doubt on her willingness to welcome gay students and faculty on campus. Gilmore insists that Spellings must publicly accept UNC’s non-discrimination policy or resign.
Spellings seems unwilling to do that. When asked at the news conference about her past comments regarding gay citizens, she responded, “I’m not going to comment on those lifestyles.” Then she explained her demand as secretary of education that PBS refund federal money spent on the animated program “Buster the Bunny” because it included four gay characters among many. Her opposition, she said, was “a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars.”
Part of her job as president of UNC will be to “use taxpayer dollars” to foster a welcoming environment and combat discrimination based on sexual orientation. Moreover, she actually has the responsibility to “comment on those lifestyles” by demonstratively welcoming them to UNC.