We are ashamed that University of North Carolina (UNC) System President Margaret Spellings has sided with House Bill 2, a discriminatory state law that targets workers, the LGBTQ community, and all North Carolinians. Her response to Thursday’s letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) is even more shocking: she has indicated that she will talk with Governor McCrory and her lawyers about “next steps”, but declined to immediately reverse her policies.
The DOJ has told Spellings in no unclear terms that UNC is in violation of federal anti-discrimination law, jeopardizing the university system’s receipt of $1.4 billion in federal funds. If Spellings does not reverse UNC guidance on HB2 by May 9, 2016, the DOJ has said that it will take enforcement action. Spellings should not need another moment to make a decision: HB2 is a bigoted law, and the DOJ will take dramatic action if she does not back down.
UNC’s published guidance to comply with HB2 is a cowardly endorsement of hate and it encourages discrimination more broadly. Furthermore, it has fed an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty on university campuses across the state.
The May 4, 2016 DOJ letter clarifies that: “…the message to the UNC system (and reasonable inference by employees, students, and third parties) is that transgender individuals may not use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. This message conflicts with the UNC’s obligations under Title VII, Title IX, and VAWA … [and] is therefore discriminating against transgender individuals on the basis of sex and gender identity.”
The purpose of the UNC presidency is not to blithely provide guidance on oppressive legislation, but rather, to provide leadership and confront bigotry – not merely on behalf of transgender people, but for all minorities. Spellings’ failure to do so is a clear indication that she is not merely out of touch with the values of an open, free-thinking educational system, but that she is unfit to guide the UNC system and incapable of protecting the most at-risk members of the UNC community.
As concerned faculty, students, and citizens nationwide may recall, this isn’t the first time that Spellings publicized her prejudice. Indeed, there appears to be an established pattern of discrimination: “The nation’s new education secretary denounced PBS on Tuesday for spending public money on a cartoon with lesbian characters, saying many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles.” This particular public statement has raised many eyebrows.
Spellings is unfit to lead our university system. She does not side with equality and justice but rather endorses discriminatory legislation.
BY: Sean Cox (Graduate Student, Maritime Studies at East Carolina University) and Derick Smith (Adjunct Instructor, Political Science at North Carolina A&T University)