Education

UNC system names new president

Posted August 26, 2010

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— The UNC Board of Governors on Thursday named Davidson College President Thomas Ross as the 17th president of the University of North Carolina system.

Ross called it "daunting and a little scary" to follow former UNC presidents like William Friday, C.D. Spangler and Erskine Bowles., but he pledged that he would do whatever necessary to move the 17-campus system – and the state – forward.

"I'm far from perfect, and I'm no miracle worker, but I am committed to the task ahead," he said in remarks after the board unanimously approved his appointment.

Bowles announced in February that he would retire at the end of 2010, after five years as UNC president.

Fifty-five to 65 candidates applied for the position, and the Board of Governors' search committee interviewed nine, said Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board.

Ross will begin at UNC on Jan. 1, at an annual salary of $525,000.

He has led Davidson for three years, and he previously served as a Superior Court judge, director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts and executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem.

The 60-year-old Greensboro native earned a bachelor's degree from Davidson and a law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He also taught at the UNC School of Government.

Gage said Ross' combination of skills will allow him to take the reins of the UNC system quickly and lead with authority.

"Our nationwide search attracted talent from many different professional backgrounds and from every part of the country, but in the end, that long road led us back to North Carolina, to one of our own," she said. "In a time of great challenge and constant change, Tom Ross’s thoughtful leadership, his proven integrity, his deep understanding of North Carolina and his lifelong commitment to improving the lives of people in every corner of our state make him the perfect choice to lead the university in the years ahead."

Budget cuts among challenges

Gage says it's important that UNC's president be able to negotiate with lawmakers to get through the continuing budget crisis while still being able to see the bigger picture for the university's future.

State budget cuts over the past two years have forced UNC campuses to lay off hundreds of people and cut classes and programs. The Board of Governors approved hefty tuition increases last month to offset some of the lost funding.

UNC President Thomas Ross Observers say Ross has all necessary skills

A $3 billion budget deficit has been forecast for next year, which likely will lead to more spending cuts.

"This (budget situation) will end, and we want someone here beyond this crisis," Gage said.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, a member of the Board of Governors, predicted that Ross will work well with lawmakers.

"He knows the legislature inside out, and they know him and trust him," Mitchell said.

Ross said budget problems come and go, so UNC needs to create a financial model that can accommodate growing enrollments and withstand cuts in funding while remaining affordable for students and their families.

"What's most important is that this university be in a position to provide high-quality education to as many people as want it," he said.

The model could include aspects like developing new partnerships with the North Carolina Community College System or incorporating new technology, he said.

"We've got to figure out how to be ahead of it and get on top of it and use it to better educate students," he said of technology.

Decision was difficult

Leaving his alma mater for UNC was a difficult decision, Ross said, noting Davidson "nurtured me and helped me grow as a student and again as president."

Still, Ross said he felt called to lead North Carolina's university system, which is the oldest public university in the U.S. UNC offers the opportunity to develop young minds, encourage economic growth and lead to breakthroughs that benefit the world, he said.

UNC President Thomas Ross Ross looks forward to leading UNC

"No institution is more important to North Carolina and her future than the University of North Carolina," he said.

Although Davidson has about 1,700 students and the enrollment at UNC's 16 university campuses tops 200,000, Ross said the institutions face many of the same challenges.

"There might be a difference in scale, but you are dealing with personnel problems, you are dealing with budget problems, you are dealing with technology issues," he said.

Ross said he doesn't have a specific agenda yet for UNC but said excellence would be his main goal. He said he wants to make time to get to know students and faculty on the various campuses.

Bowles discussed the presidency with Ross, which Ross said was helpful in his decision to accept the job.

"He is exactly the right guy," Bowles said of his successor. "He has everything I could have hoped for, and I'm not guessing at it – I've known Tom for 50 years.

"He's thought of things that I've never dreamed of. He'll be a great president for the university," Bowles said.

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  • Boostershot Aug 27, 2010

    ---If students were assigned to higher or lower ranking colleges based on something arbitrary like their race, gender, religion, county of residence, alphabetical order, month of birth... then it would be a problem. As it stands, any student in NC can attend any school in the system as long as he/she meets the admission standards of the school and is among the most qualified in that year's group of applicants. If they don't get into their first choice, they can wait a year and transfer. College admission is not a given, it must be earned.

    Ok mpheels, example: 2 years ago, my son was offered a FULL ride to attend Elizabeth City State along with Fayetteville State to play football...my son is white, these schools are predominately black schools. Reason..these schools need a certain amount of students of another race on their admissions list in order to get the funds they need to operate. We choose not to attend the schools offering the scholarships and in turn applied for financial ai

  • prn13norm Aug 27, 2010

    The ONLY experience in higher education Mr. Ross has is as President of a tiny, private, liberal arts college. His resume is not strong enough to even be considered for such an important position with the UNC system. This appointment reeks of political improprieties!

  • ncken1 Aug 27, 2010

    Another democratic appointee. When will this partianship end? Do you think this guy is a crook, too?

  • WHEEL Aug 27, 2010

    He better be one whale of a good fund raiser because that's the only thing he can do to justify the salary. The other duties are inconsequential or Boles would never have been able to do them.

  • mpheels Aug 27, 2010

    "I do believe that there should be funds allocated to provide all students a chance for the best education possible. Isn't that discrimination?"

    If students were assigned to higher or lower ranking colleges based on something arbitrary like their race, gender, religion, county of residence, alphabetical order, month of birth... then it would be a problem. As it stands, any student in NC can attend any school in the system as long as he/she meets the admission standards of the school and is among the most qualified in that year's group of applicants. If they don't get into their first choice, they can wait a year and transfer. College admission is not a given, it must be earned. I worked my tail off in high school so I could get into the college of my choice. Once you're at the college level, it's hard to level the playing field. If you want the gov't to spend more money, send to elementary schools.

  • mpheels Aug 27, 2010

    Booster, I did not say anyone is getting a less than quality education. I said none of the schools are bad, but some are better than others. If you truly believe every school in the system can and should be the same academically, then I have a nice new rock you can live under. There will always be schools that attract a higher performing set of students. In the UNC system those schools happen to be UNC-CH and NCSU, which also happen to be the most expensive, in large part because the faculty demand (and deserve) higher salaries. There are 14 other universities in the system. I don't know enough about all of them to give an honest ranking, but I do know that some are more academically rigorous than others and some offer a wider range of courses and majors than others.

  • prn13norm Aug 27, 2010

    geosol your personal attack does little to make your point. My question is still: Where are his higher education credentials. Ross, by his own admission, had absolutely NO experience in higher education until he was appointed as the President of a tiny, private, liberal arts college. Hardly the resume required to lead the UNC system. Therefore we can only assume the appointment was political. Since the Democrat Party controls this appointment and is currently under investigation for extensive corruption, he is the political appointment of the corrupt North Carolina Democrat Party.

  • leathajh Aug 27, 2010

    and unc system employees (at least the university i'm at) haven't had a raise in 4 or 5 years - THOMAS ROSS Salary - THIS MAKES ME SICK!

    tired of it

  • ORMA Aug 27, 2010

    So let me get this straight. He is going to be paid $525,000 a year. OK, I don't like that but I can see where the justification may be. But on top of that, with a salary like that, we the taxpayers are also going to pay for his country club membership, his car, insurance, fuel, and maintenance, his house, his housekeeping staff, and his grounds keeping staff, his property taxes on the house, maintenance and upkeep on the house and the list goes on. I would like to think that if I were making over a half million dollars a year, I could pay my own bills. What in the world is going on at the higher levels of government and education? I can't believe all of the perks that upper levels get that are paid for by the taxpayers of this state. What a shame.

  • geosol Aug 26, 2010

    "Another political appointment by the corrupt Democrat Party of North Carolina. Where are his higher education credentials?" - some right wing nut.
    Classic!!! No wonder they hate education so much!!! Man, you just can't make this stuff up!!!

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