Margaret Spellings

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Margaret Spellings
Margaret Spellings, official ed photo 2.jpg
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
Domestic Policy Adviser
In office
President George W. Bush
Succeeded by Claude Allen
Personal details
Born Margaret Dudar
(1957-11-30) November 30, 1957 (age 57)
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater University of Houston

Margaret Spellings, nee Dudar (born November 30, 1957), is an American politician and education administrator. She is currently President-elect of the University of North Carolina and is scheduled to take office on 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 is 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 this episode, but WGBH, the public radio 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 this 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]

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]

University of North Carolina System President[edit]

On October 23, 2015, Spellings was elected to be the President of the University of North Carolina System by the Board of Governors.[16] She will succeed Thomas W. Ross. She is the second woman to serve as President of the University of North Carolina System.[17]

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.[18] [19]

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.[20] 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 [21]

On October 23, 2015, Spellings was heavily criticized for making a homophobic comment about members of the LGBT community, suggesting it was a "lifestyle."[22] The President of the UNC-System Association of Student Governments expressed his concern about Spellings' "disservice" to LGBT students, suggesting her remark would alienate them on campus.[22] Meanwhile, the Executive Director of Campus Pride, a non-profit organization which promotes LGBT inclusion on US college and university campuses, concluded that Spellings' comment was "ridiculous" and "moronic."[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] She also appeared on The Colbert Report on July 22, 2008.[25] She appeared over the phone on NPR's News Quiz Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! on March 8, 2008.[26]


  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[dead link]
  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 –
  10. ^ "Online NewsHour: Margaret Spellings Discusses New Guidelines for the No Child Left Behind Law - April 7, 2005". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  11. ^[dead link]
  12. ^ Lipka, Sara (2008-01-10). "". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  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. 
  16. ^
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  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c 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. 
  23. ^ "J! Archive, Show #5107". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  24. ^ "The Daily Show, May 22, 2007". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  25. ^ "''The Colbert Report'' Episode Guide". Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  26. ^ 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
Roderick Paige
U.S. Secretary of Education
Served under: George W. Bush

Succeeded by
Arne Duncan