UNC system chairman: 'Thank God' Roper willing to step in as president

Posted November 1, 2018 12:44 p.m. EDT
Updated November 1, 2018 1:40 p.m. EDT

— The University of North Carolina's Board of Governors on Thursday named Dr. William Roper, chief executive of UNC Health Care, as interim president of the 17-campus university system.

Roper, 70, will assume his new post Jan. 1 at an annual salary of $775,000 – a 7.5 percent pay cut from his salary at UNC Health Care.

UNC President Margaret Spellings announced last week that she would resign March 1 after three years in charge of the university system. Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said Thursday that Spellings will leave office on Jan. 15 after a two-week transition with Roper but will be available "on call" for university officials until March.

"A lot of hard work lies ahead," Roper said during a news conference after the Board of Governors meeting. "I'm just excited to get over the ceremonies and get on with the work."

Roper said last spring that he planned to retire next May. The 70-year-old has headed UNC Health Care and served as the dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs since 2004.

"Bill was the No. 1 choice, in my mind, [for interim president]," Smith said. "When I called Bill and we had our first conversation, I whispered to myself, 'Thank God.'"

Smith praised Roper's work at UNC Health Care and said he expects him to bring the same talents to bear for the UNC system, another "sophisticated asset" for the state.

"Bill has run, grew and developed one of the most sophisticated and successful assets in the state of North Carolina," he said. "He is a known operator, and he has a long storied history of success."

Spellings agreed with Smith's assessment, saying Roper "has the heart of a public servant."

Under Roper's leadership, UNC Health Care has expanded into a statewide system with more than a dozen hospitals, including its flagship in Chapel Hill, Rex Hospital in Raleigh and hospitals in Smithfield, Rocky Mount, Goldsboro and Siler City. The system has more than 30,000 employees and nearly $5 billion in annual revenue.

At the UNC School of Medicine, total research funding has increased more than 50 percent during Roper's tenure, to $441 million last year. He opened doors for medical students to train in Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington, and the school now trains more than 2,400 inter-professional health care providers and medical students annually.

Roper, who has been a candidate for UNC president in the past, wouldn't say whether he wanted more than an interim assignment.

"I said yes to this [interim position]," he said. "We're not worried about weeks and months in the future. That will take care of itself."