- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s public university governing board is lending an ear to protesters in hopes of diffusing demonstrations that have gone on for months and led to some arrests, college leaders said Monday.

A handful of the 32-member governing board’s members will listen to up to an hour of public comments following each regular meeting, starting Friday. Speakers will be required to sign in.

“I think it would be an outlet for those people who have been protesting and want to come and have a reasoned comment for us,” UNC Board of Governors Chairman Louis Bissette said in a conference call with reporters. “The session is for us to hear from the public, not to respond to demands or engage in any sort of debate. So you will see we will be in full listening mode.”

Demonstrators have targeted UNC system board meetings several times in the past year and there have been sporadic arrests. Three people were charged for disrupting the board’s January meeting.

The UNC board was forced to adjourn briefly last month until police cleared its meeting room of nearly two dozen protesters. The meeting was moved to Chapel Hill from the UNC system’s Asheville campus because of a planned demonstration there.

The listening sessions are another step toward increasing transparency about the university board’s activities since UNC President Margaret Spellings started her job two months ago.

“We’re going from having nothing now to having a proper outlet and forum,” Spellings said. “We do believe that there ought to be a forum, an outlet, for people to be heard. This is a step toward doing that.”

Demonstrations against the public university board increased after Spellings’ predecessor, Tom Ross, was forced out in early 2015 in a surprise move that many blamed on political influence. Protesters also have objected to the Republican-dominated board killing an anti-poverty center headed by a sharp critic of Republican lawmakers and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Spellings also has been targeted by demonstrators for her political and professional past. She had a long career advising former President George W. Bush, including serving as U.S. education secretary. She then served on corporate boards for the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix and student-loan collector Ceannate Corp.

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/emery-p-dalesio .

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