CHAPEL HILL — Following a controversial search process spanning several months, the UNC Board of Governors on Friday unanimously selected Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education in the George W. Bush Administration, as UNC’s new president.

Spellings, who is currently the president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, is best known for leading the education department’s implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act in K-12 public schools. Though much of her education experience has been focused on K-12 issues, and she does not hold an advanced degree, Spellings believes she is well equipped for her new job as leader of the UNC system.

“I expect the faculty to react well to my background,” Spellings said after the board’s vote. “I have different skills from theirs. I’m not an academic, and I’m not a teacher. I’m not a researcher. I’m someone who understands public policy, I understand advocacy. I understand how to bring people together around a shared mission, and I have a track record of doing that in my career.”

Spellings’ employment contract includes a base annual salary of $775,000, benefits including an executive retirement plan, performance-based compensation, research leave with percentages stipulated by duration of tenure, and relocation expenses of up to $35,000. Outgoing President Tom Ross, who was fired by the board in January but allowed to stay until year’s end, makes $600,000 annually plus benefits.

Though there have been challenges along the way to Spellings’ election, the president-elect said she doesn’t view her incoming relationship with board members and faculty as problematic.

“I don’t see it like [a disadvantage],” Spellings said. “I’m going to get to work and build relationships with every single stakeholder. I know a good bit about the business. I know we have a lot in common about where we think we want to go together, and I believe I can have extremely productive relationships with everyone of them. I really do.”

Spellings’ vision for the future of the UNC system is still developing, and will be shaped by the goals of the board, faculty, administrators, and all other stakeholders, she said.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, who expressed concern last week over what was seen as an attempt to circumvent recently passed legislation requiring at least three candidates to be presented for consideration to the board, congratulated Spellings soon after her election was announced.

“We … welcome her to our great state and look forward to meeting her. She has been a leader in public education at the highest level, and we trust she shares our passion for making our university system the best in the nation,” the leaders said in a statement.

The legislation in question, Senate Bill 670, had not been signed into law at the time Spellings was elected. Gov. Pat McCrory, who has voiced opposition to the bill, and whose spokesman recently told The Associated Press that the board should be given full autonomy in the presidential selection process, met with Spellings last week for a conversation that both parties describe as cordial and non-substantive.

Members of the UNC faculty assembly, who released a statement yesterday about the board’s failure to consult them in the presidential search, say that their input should have been a crucial consideration throughout the process.

“It just makes sense to consult those who do the work of the university, if they’re going to govern the place,” said UNC-Chapel professor Stephen Leonard, who chairs the faculty assembly. “The president of the university needs to understand that the governing authorities responsible for the appointing of the president are culpable for many of the difficulties that will have to be addressed. We wish the candidates themselves had availed themselves of the opportunities to talk with the people who actually do the work of the university.”

“We had had at least one or two or more members of the faculty assembly attend every meeting pertaining to the search,” UNC-Wilmington’s Gabriel Lugo, chairman-elect and representative of the faculty assembly, told Carolina Journal. “Whether [search committee meetings] have been at SAS, or whether they have been in Charlotte, we have been present.”

While the faculty assembly was adamant about the need for a more inclusive election process, members declined to comment about Spellings herself, saying it wasn’t fair to make an assessment prior to working with her.

Board of Governors chairman John Fennebresque, who has been surrounded by controversy throughout the search process, said at the close of the Friday’s meeting that he is overjoyed about Spellings’ election, and that he thinks this is the right step forward for the university.

“This is not in my script,” Fennebresque said. “I don’t often get tears in my eyes. I have tears in my eyes right now. I’m so excited, and so relieved, that we have hired the special person that Margaret Spellings is. So thank you all who worked so hard to make that happen.”

Kari Travis (@karilynntravis) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.