Roper named interim UNC president. He and Spellings will overlap for 2 weeks during transition.

UNC Health Care CEO Dr. William Roper was named interim president of the UNC system on Thursday, succeeding Margaret Spellings, who will step down at the end of the year.

He will be paid $775,000 — the same base salary as Spellings — and will start the job Jan. 1. Spellings is under contract until March 1, but will cease to be president Dec. 31. Still, she will stay on for two weeks in January to help with the transition, UNC officials said.

Roper will leave his dual role as executive of the health care system and dean of UNC-Chapel Hill’s medical school. Roper, 70, has led the health care system for 14 years. Before that, he was dean of the public health school at UNC-Chapel Hill. A search for his successor is under way.

He will lead the 17-campus system, which enrolls nearly 237,000 students across the state, for an undetermined period of time. UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said the board had not set out a timetable for the presidential search.

The Roper election occurred during an emergency meeting Thursday of the UNC Board of Governors, which has regularly scheduled meetings next week.

Roper was introduced to a roomful of UNC Health Care senior staff, reporters and UNC system administrators. N.C. Community College System President Peter Hans also attended the announcement.

“Our mission is proudly public,” Roper said, adding, “Everything we do, all of this, is what makes this great public university system the precious resource it is for North Carolina.”

UNC President Margaret Spellings congratulates Dr. William Roper after he was named UNC system interim president at the UNC Board of Governors meeting at the UNC Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

He started by thanking Spellings, for what he called her “amazing leadership.”

“I know that whatever success I may have will in large part be due to the things she has already done and the things that she has put in motion, such as advancing priorities to improve graduation rates, to reduce achievement gaps and to ensure access for all students across the state,” Roper said.

Spellings’ departure last week was a surprise to many. Her contract was to run through February 2021. She said it was time to make a change, and Smith said the board agreed the time was right for a transition.

Roper previously had announced he would step down in May of next year and return to the Chapel Hill campus in 2020 to teach at the medical school. A pediatrician by training, Roper has held high-profile managerial roles in business, government and academia.

He led the 13-hospital UNC Health Care system through a period of growth, but one large health care deal never panned out despite months of negotiations. The planned partnership between UNC Health Care and Atrium Health, formerly Carolinas HealthCare, was dropped in March after concerns about whether the state could retain enough control of its large asset.

UNC Board of Governors chair Harry Smith, left, congratulates Dr. William Roper after he was named UNC system interim president at the UNC Board of Governors meeting at the UNC Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. UNC President Margaret Spellings is in the background. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Smith said he is convinced that Roper is the right person for the president’s role right now.

“Bill was the number one choice in my mind,” Smith said, adding, “He is a known operator and has a long, storied history of success. I have had the pleasure to work with Bill for five years. I’ve got a chance to work with him through delicate issues and emotional issues, and through them all, he has maintained steadfast professionalism and tireless commitment to just get it right.”

Spellings sat beside Smith and Roper at the news conference after the board’s action.

“I can’t think of anybody I’d rather give the reins to than Bill Roper, my friend and colleague,” she said. “I know the chancellors and everyone that works for the system is thrilled. Bill is a longtime public servant who exemplifies and has the heart of a public servant.”

Roper’s compensation will include a $77,500 annual retirement contribution and the possibility of up to $125,000 in an annual performance bonus.

At the conclusion of his service, he will be eligible for a one-year research leave while paid $837,720. He then can return to the medical school faculty at UNC at an annual salary of $402,106.

Roper did not directly answer a question from a reporter about whether he was interested in the permanent job.

“We’re not worried about weeks and months into the future,” he said. “That’ll take care of itself.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559; @janestancill

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