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UNC Board Members Concerned About HB2

Student protestors rallied outside the UNC Board of Governors meeting.
Jess Clark

About a hundred protestors rallied outside the UNC Board of Governors meeting in Chapel Hill Friday morning. Many protestors said they were there to object to the election of UNC System President Margaret Spellings and to her directive to colleges and universities to comply with HB2.The meeting was originally scheduled to take place at UNC Asheville but was moved to Chapel Hill.  Officials from UNCA and UNC General Administration said they changed the location to avoid large protests on UNCA's campus.

Spellings hasn’t expressed support for HB2, the new law that prohibits people from using restrooms that don’t correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates in public facilities.  Spellings has expressed concern HB2 could have a "chilling" impact on the university system. But many students see her directive to comply as implicit support.

UNC-Chapel Hill student Jayna Fishman identifies as transgender and was protesting outside the building before and during the meeting. 

"Margaret Spellings' compliance...(with) HB2 has been really harmful to me," Fishman said. HB2 allows Fishman to use gender-neutral bathrooms. But Fishman says they are few and far between on campus.

"HB2 really just cements the fact that nobody wants me there," Fishman said.

During the meeting, Spellings was in the middle of her monthly report, when about twenty students in public seating stood up, and began chanting.

UNC BOG Chairman Lou Bissette called a recess while police officers cleared the board room. The protestors eventually agreed to leave voluntarily, shouting angrily in unison as they left the building.

When members returned, Spellings reiterated concern about the new law.

"The chancellors tell me we are at risk of losing great teachers, and faculty, and potential business partners and philanthropic support," Spellings told the board.

"We all believe that our universities must be welcoming places for all," she said. "It’s a core value for this institution and an absolute necessity if we want North Carolina to sustain the educational excellence and leadership that we so treasure."

At the same time, Spellings reiterated her intention to comply.

"As a state agency this university and its officers are expected and will follow HB2 and every other law of this state," she said.

BOG Chairman Lou Bissette told reporters he, too, worries about the impacts of HB2.

"We've had some people call up and say, 'We're not going to complete our pledge,' or we've had some anecdotal evidence that some students have said, 'I'm withdrawing my application'—that's bad. That's not good," Bissette said.

The board released a statement saying they will continue to provide information to the General Assembly about the impact of HB2 on the university system and that they will cooperate to make adjustments to the law in the short session, if lawmakers see fit.

Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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