Margaret Spellings

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Margaret Spellings
Margaret Spellings, official ed photo 2.jpg
President of the University of North Carolina System
Assumed office
March 1, 2016
Preceded by Junius Gonzales (Acting)
8th United States Secretary of Education
In office
January 20, 2005 – January 20, 2009
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Rod Paige
Succeeded by Arne Duncan
Director of the Domestic Policy Council
In office
January 30, 2002 – January 5, 2005
President George W. Bush
Preceded by John Bridgeland
Succeeded by Claude Allen
Personal details
Born Margaret M. Dudar
(1957-11-30) November 30, 1957 (age 59)
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Gregg LaMontagne (Divorced)
Robert Spellings (Divorced)
Children 2 daughters (with LaMontagne)
Education University of Houston (BA)

Margaret M. LaMontagne Spellings (née Dudar; born November 30, 1957) is an education administrator and American politician. Spellings is currently the President of the University of North Carolina, overseeing the seventeen campus system since March 1, 2016.

Spellings worked in several positions under George W. Bush during his tenure as Governor of Texas and President of the United States. She was one of the principal proponents of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act that aimed at reforming primary and secondary education. She served as Secretary of Education in Bush's administration from 2005 to 2009, during which time she convened the Commission on the Future of Higher Education to recommend reform at the post-secondary level. After leaving her role as Secretary of Education, she founded Margaret Spellings & Company, an education consulting firm in Washington, D.C.,[1] and is a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group[2] and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Margaret Dudar was born on November 30, 1957 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and moved with her family to Houston when she was in the third grade. She graduated from Sharpstown High School in 1975.[4]

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Houston in 1979 and worked in an education reform commission under Texas Governor William P. Clements and as associate executive director for the Texas Association of School Boards. Before her appointment to George W. Bush's presidential administration, Spellings was the political director for Bush's first gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and later became a senior advisor to Bush during his term as Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000.

Secretary of Education[edit]

Following Rod Paige's departure as Secretary of Education, Spellings was nominated to the post of the Secretary of Education by George W. Bush on November 17, 2004,[5] confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 2005, which also marked the beginning of Bush's second presidential term,[6] and sworn in on January 31 the same year.[7] She was the second female Secretary of Education.

Postcards from Buster controversy[edit]

On January 21, 2005, one day after being confirmed as Secretary of Education, Spellings wrote a letter to the Public Broadcasting System warning the network not to air an episode of the children's program Postcards from Buster. In that episode, the animated bunny Buster visits Vermont to learn about maple sugar production and meets real-life children who have lesbian parents. The children tell Buster they have a "mom and stepmom." A child explains that one of the women is her stepmother whom she loves. No other comment is made about the family.[8]

Spellings' letter reminded Pat Mitchell, CEO of PBS that Postcards from Buster was funded in part by the Department of Education and "that many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles portrayed in the episode." PBS decided not to distribute the episode, but WGBH, the public television station in Boston, said it would air it and offered it to any station "willing to defy the Education Department."[8]

Cusi Cram, a writer for Arthur, later wrote a play titled Dusty and the Big Bad World, based on the controversy.[9]

No Child Left Behind[edit]

Spellings delivers a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library; former first lady Nancy Reagan is seated at the right.

In April 2005, on PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, she called Connecticut's resistance to the No Child Left Behind Act the "soft bigotry of low expectations." According to the program's transcript,[10] she said:

In a January 2007 speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Spellings said,

Controversy overseeing student loan programs[edit]

Spellings at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2014

On May 10, 2007, Spellings testified before the House Education and Labor Committee responding to criticism from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that the Education Department had been "asleep at the switch" in overseeing student loan programs, allowing corruption and conflicts of interest to spread.[11] Spellings has further gone on record to say that she is disregarding the suggestion by the Inspector General to hold the loan companies accountable for their graft.[12]

Altha Cravey and Robert Siegel wrote in the News & Observer that Spellings had been "supporting for-profit colleges who prey on students – and then profiting off those same students when they default on their loans." Spellings served on the board of directors for the Apollo Group, the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix, which paid her more than $300,000.[13]

Commission on the Future of Higher Education[edit]

In September 2005, Spellings announced the formation of the Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which has also been referred to as the Spellings Commission.[14] The commission was charged with recommending a national strategy for reforming post-secondary education, with a particular focus on how well colleges and universities were preparing students for the 21st-century workplace. Controversial recommendations included a call for colleges and universities to focus on training students for the workforce and supporting research with commercial applications.[13]

It had a secondary focus on how well high schools were preparing students for post-secondary education. Spellings described the work of the commission as a natural extension into higher education of the reforms carried out under No Child Left Behind, and is quoted as saying: "It's time we turn this elephant around and upside down and take a look at it."[15]

President of the University of North Carolina[edit]

On October 23, 2015, Spellings was elected as the President of the University of North Carolina by the Board of Governors.[16] She succeeded Thomas W. Ross. She is the second woman to serve as President of the University of North Carolina[16] In her role as president, she oversees the seventeen constituent institutions that make up the UNC system, each having its own chancellor that serves as the chief executive on the local campus.

Spellings' election as President of the University was controversial in some quarters because the way the search process was conducted, and several board of governors members called on board chair John Fennebresque to resign for what they viewed as a mishandled and secretive search process, and Chairman Fennebresque resigned the next business day following Spellings' election.[17][18]

System-wide faculty also offered up criticism of the process, declining to prejudge the President-elect, but saying that she would need to work hard to overcome the distrust built by the selection process.[19] Controversy surrounding Spellings comes on the back of controversy surrounding the firing of her predecessor, which some have accused of being politically motivated, though this has been denied by Fennebresque [20]

On October 23, 2015, Spellings was heavily criticized for making a comment about members of the LGBT community, suggesting it was a "lifestyle."[21] In addition, many UNC campuses, in early 2016, have been plastered with leaflets by discontented students, decrying Spellings as a "corporate 'educator,'" among other criticisms, such as her closeness to right-wing political figures.

House Bill 2[edit]

On April 7, 2016, Spellings sent instructions to all elements of the North Carolina University system to comply with the controversial new North Carolina law, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (HB2), which requires transgender people to use the bathroom of their birth sex. Spellings said the next day that her instructions to comply with the bill did not imply her endorsement of the law. Students around the state protested the law. [22]

On May 4, the U.S. Department of Justice informed Spellings that the University of North Carolina system was in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 because of her previous declaration that she would enforce HB2.[23] On May 31, the Charlotte News & Observer reported that Spellings reversed her position and said she would not enforce HB2 to avoid a possible loss in federal funding for North Carolina.[24]

In popular culture[edit]

Spellings appeared on Celebrity Jeopardy! (episode airing November 21, 2006). She was the first sitting Cabinet member to appear as a contestant on the show. She came in second with a score of $11,100, losing to actor Michael McKean's $38,800.[25] She was the only active member of the Bush Administration to appear on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, as of her appearance on May 22, 2007.[26] She also appeared on The Colbert Report on July 22, 2008.[27] She appeared over the phone on NPR's News Quiz Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! on March 8, 2008.[28]


  1. ^ Fox News (2009). Ex-Bush Team Acclimates to Private Life. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
  2. ^ The Boston Consulting Group (2009). Former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings Named Senior Advisor to The Boston Consulting Group. Retrieved August 9, 2009.
  3. ^ "U.S. Chamber Names Margaret Spellings as Senior Advisor | U.S. Chamber of Commerce". 2009-04-03. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  4. ^ Houston Independent School District Archived February 3, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ "Bush Taps Spellings For Education". CBS News. Associated Press. 2004-11-17. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  6. ^ "Rice confirmation vote delayed". CNN. 2005-01-20. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  7. ^ Feller, Ben (2005-01-31). "Spellings touts role as first education chief with school-age children". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  8. ^ a b Lisa de Moraes. "PBS' 'Buster' Gets An Education" (TV column), Washington Post, January 27, 2005.
  9. ^ "Controversial PBS Cartoon Is Focus of Denver World Premiere, Dusty –". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  10. ^ "Online NewsHour: Margaret Spellings Discusses New Guidelines for the No Child Left Behind Law - April 7, 2005". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  11. ^ Archived May 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Lipka, Sara (2008-01-10). "". Retrieved 2011-02-14.  External link in |title= (help)
  13. ^ a b Naming of Margaret Spellings as UNC system president called ‘a disturbing new low’, By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, November 14, 2015
  14. ^ "In Focus: The Spellings Commission". Inside Higher Ed. 
  15. ^ Doug Lederman (September 8, 2006). "". Retrieved 2011-02-14.  External link in |title= (help)
  16. ^ a b "Margaret Spellings chosen as next UNC system president". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  17. ^ WRAL (16 October 2015). "Contentious UNC board meets for hours without update on president search ::". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  18. ^ WRAL (26 October 2015). "Chairman quits UNC Board of Governors ::". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  19. ^ "Next UNC president faces faculty skepticism". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  20. ^ "Tom Ross asked to leave UNC system presidency". Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  21. ^ Saacks, Bradley; Fowler, Haley (October 26, 2015). "UNC-system's president-elect criticized for word choice: Spellings called LGBT a lifestyle Friday". The Daily Tar Heel. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  22. ^ "Spellings: Heeding HB2 not acceptance," News & Record, Greensboro, NC, April 9, 2016, p. A-4
  23. ^ "US Justice Department: HB2 violates Civil Rights Act,", accessed 4 May 2016
  24. ^, accessed 1 June 2016
  25. ^ "J! Archive, Show #5107". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  26. ^ "The Daily Show, May 22, 2007". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  27. ^ "''The Colbert Report'' Episode Guide". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  28. ^ The topic she was grilled on was the Roleplaying Game Dungeons & Dragons owing to the death of D&D co-creator Gary Gygax that week. Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! : NPR

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Bridgeland
Director of the Domestic Policy Council
Succeeded by
Claude Allen
Preceded by
Rod Paige
United States Secretary of Education
Succeeded by
Arne Duncan
Academic offices
Preceded by
Junius Gonzales
President of the University of North Carolina System