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September 8, 2010 

Even for a person like Tom Ross, who has been a judge, a courts administrator and a foundation and university president, the job of president of the University of North Carolina system will be a challenging one, to understate it. Ross will need to focus his considerable talents on running that 17-campus operation, and he'd do well to avoid memberships on other public and private boards, or at the least, to be very selective about them.

Ross was named earlier this year to membership on the board of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, which has other members who are current or former officials with the university system. At the time he was selected for the BCBS spot, Ross was president of Davidson College. It's no mystery why he'd be sought after, given his talents and intellect. And the company has a number of ties to the university and state government in terms of business.

But board memberships can be time-consuming, as a recent New York Times story on university presidents and boards noted, and Ross is taking on a job that will require his full energies as he reaches out to campuses and constituents around the state. He should resign from the Blue Cross board, and ideally, he would pass on others as well.

In concentrating solely on the UNC job, Ross also would avoid potential conflicts of interest that might have seemed innocuous prior to his selection. As a BCBS board member, for example, he'd have a hand in decisions about company executives who might be active on boards of trustees or on the system's Board of Governors. And private companies in general can sometimes become mired in controversies that a university system president doesn't need to be a part of.

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