Bowles honored at final UNC system board meeting

Posted November 5, 2010 1:23 p.m. EDT
Updated November 5, 2010 3:54 p.m. EDT

— The University of North Carolina Board of Governors voted Friday to name President Erskine Bowles president emeritus upon his retirement at the end of the year.

Bowles has headed the 17-campus UNC system since the beginning of 2006, but he said early on that he wouldn't remain in the post for more than five years.

"I have loved it, and I thank you for entrusting this treasure to me for these five years," Bowles said during his final Board of Governors meeting.

Afterward, he said he wasn't ready to contemplate his legacy.

"I'm really focused on getting the job done, and I'll have time for reflection after Dec. 31," he said.

The board approved a $2.7 billion proposed budget for the 2011-12 year. The proposal will be sent to lawmakers when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

UNC system officials expect to cut 5 to 10 percent from campus spending in the coming months to help erase a $3 billion state deficit.

Board members praised Bowles for the way he has handled tight budgets in recent years. They said his business-like approach to the university system introduced efficiencies that made it easier to make cuts when state funding was reduced.

"I'm not sure that anyone in this country could have done a better job," said John Davis, a member of the search committee that recommended Bowles' hiring five years ago.

Shortly after he announced his retirement in February, Bowles was tapped by President Barack Obama to serve as co-chairman of a deficit reduction task force.

"We got the right leader at a critical time – at a critical intersection – and it has made all the difference," board Chairwoman Hannah Gage said. "It's hard when you've got a president that nobody really wanted to leave, which is a compliment."

The board in August named Davidson College President Tom Ross to succeed Bowles as UNC president.

Private donors are paying $60,000 for Asheville artist Ben Long to paint a portrait of Bowles, which will hang beside portraits of other former UNC presidents in the General Administration building in Chapel Hill.