I’ve been very hesitant to criticize UNC President Margaret Spellings. She hasn’t been in place long enough to judge her. Protests based on her past experience seemed, to me, unfair. I believe in judging people on what they’ve done, not what they might do.

However, Spellings most recent hires sure send up red flags. She’s appointed people with agendas and political backgrounds but no previous ties to the state or university. She appears to be building a team ready for political and ideological battle, something UNC has previously tried to avoid.

In April, Spellings chose a former Georgia state legislator as the new chancellor at East Carolina. As a state Senator, Cecil Staton introduced Georgia’s controversial voter ID law in 2005. His campaign manager back then was Erick Erickson, the prominent conservative commentator who once served as editor of the blog Red State. At least Staton’s got experience as an educator.

Yesterday, Spellings announced she had hired Andrew Kelly as Vice President for Policy and Strategy. Kelly is a researcher and director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, the free-market think tank based in Washington, DC. He served as an “informal advisor” during Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. Like Spellings and Staton, Kelly has no previous connection with UNC or the state of North Carolina.

We don’t know what exactly Spellings has in mind but she sure seems to be preparing for a major overhaul of the university system that’s not rooted in any sort of North Carolina tradition but based on free-market ideology. Instead of searching for institutional history, she’s building a team of outsiders just like the Republicans in the legislature who have shifted our state so far to the right. She’s replacing the old boy and girl network that ran the University with free-market carpetbaggers.

It seems our university system is about to become yet another experiment for the conservatives who took over the state. To hear them tell it, North Carolina was a mess when they came to power. They’ve fixed it by turning us into a national laughingstock. Now, they’re going to “fix” our Crown Jewel.

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