When students return to campus next month, five of the 17 University of North Carolina System campuses will have either a new or interim chancellor at the helm. The system itself also is in search of a permanent leader, marking a significant time of transition for state universities.
Harry Smith, chairman of the UNC System Board of Governors, recognizes there’s been a lot of leadership change. But he said he and other board members see this as an opportunity to appoint university leaders who know how to successfully manage and grow a large business, manage its finances and make good long-term strategic decisions.
They’re interested in non-traditional chancellors who are more like CEOs than academics and who will then be accompanied by a “powerhouse” provost, CFO and athletic director.
Smith said it’s important to look at each college’s performance data, including enrollment, graduation rates, athletics and campus life services for students and faculty.
“When we see our schools fail it’s because the people weren’t properly trained or didn’t have the skills to manage the asset,” he said.
Smith said he’s encouraging search committees to get behind closed doors and think about people outside the university system and see if they’re interested in a career change. Those candidates should know and love the individual institution, he said, but could come from outside academia.
“Every single one of our schools has its own personality,” Smith said. “What I tell Boards of Trustees is ‘do what works for you.’”
Here is the background of each school with a new or interim chancellor this fall:
East Carolina University
Dan Gerlach, interim president of East Carolina University, is a clear example of what Smith described as a true businessman taking the reins of a university.
Prior to his appointment in April, Gerlach served as president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, a nonprofit focused on increasing economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities. He was also a budget and financial advisor to former Gov. Mike Easley.
While he has no experience running a university that has about a $900 million budget, Gerlach is confident he can properly manage the budget, serve a variety of students and enhance the local economy. His biggest immediate challenge is to improve ECU’s financial condition, which is currently facing a $16 million budget cut caused by decreasing enrollment.
To fix it by 2020, he plans to increase enrollment and raise money for student scholarships, postpone capital projects not related to health and safety or enrollment growth, and freeze hiring of faculty and staff, with the exception of those who focus on bringing in money to the university.
“The point is to have some long-term financial plan for how you balance all the needs of academics, athletics, community assets and the student experience,” Gerlach said.
Gerlach replaced Cecil Staton, whose unexpectedly short tenure was marked by controversy and disagreement on his performance among university and system leaders.
When Gerlach was announced as the successor, UNC System interim Chancellor William Roper said Gerlach could be a candidate for the job, the News & Observer previously reported.
Asked in July whether he had an interest in pursuing this position, Gerlach said the search committee and Board of Trustees must decide what characteristics they want in a leader, but he’s committed to ECU.
“If I meet those characteristics,” Gerlach said with a long pause. “My area code is 252 and my zip code is Greenville. I’m committed to this place.”
UNC Chapel Hill
UNC-Chapel Hill is also in the midst of a crucial transition, but the UNC System looked inward to find Carolina’s interim leader.
Kevin Guskiewicz, who was appointed as interim chancellor in February, previously served as the dean of the UNC College of Arts & Sciences and has been a researcher and faculty member at Chapel Hill for more than two decades.
Guskiewicz stepped into the position during a tumultuous time for the university marked by the intense controversy of what to do with the Silent Sam Confederate monument and the expedited resignation of the former chancellor, Carol Folt.
He was already an active leader, well known and trusted at Carolina and was someone who could “chart a course” for the university, Roper said of Guskiewicz when he was appointed.
As dean, he oversaw the largest academic unit at UNC-Chapel Hill, with more than 17,000 undergraduate students, 2,400 graduate students and more than 70 academic departments, curricula, programs, centers and institutes.
Guskiewicz prioritized interdisciplinary teaching and research and oversaw the overhaul of the General Education curriculum. He also led the College in raising more than $400 million of its $750 million goal as part of the historic Campaign for Carolina, which runs until December 2022.
He’s also a neuroscientist and internationally known expert on sport-related concussions. His research contributed to the NFL and NCAA guidelines on addressing those injuries.
While he’s had to cut back on his research, Guskiewicz is embracing his new role and hopes to be a candidate for the chancellor’s job permanently. His goal is to be a “strategic, bold and student-focused” leader, The News & Observer previously reported.
“I’m thrilled to be leading the university right now,” he told reporters in a brief media event at the Carolina Inn in February. “I’m confident that we’ll do the right things that I hope would allow me to be a candidate in that search. I’m excited about it.”
Dr. Peggy Valentine will take the helm of Fayetteville State, one of North Carolina’s oldest historically black colleges and universities, as interim chancellor on Aug. 7. She replaces James Anderson, who resigned in June for “personal reasons” after 11 years.
Valentine is currently the dean of the School of Health Sciences at Winston-Salem State University. In that role, she oversees and has expanded educational programs including clinical laboratory science, exercise physiology, health care management, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy and rehabilitation counseling. She’s also worked as a physician’s assistant, a registered nurse and as an administrator at the Center of Excellence for the Elimination of Health Disparities. Her research focuses on homeless and minority health issues.
Valentine said in a news release she’s honored to serve as interim and is looking forward to moving FSU forward during the transition.
“FSU has a proud tradition of excellence and is one of the most diverse universities in the country,” Valentine said. “With nationally-ranked academic programs, growing research capacity, and strong military partnerships, FSU is a major economic engine for the entire Fayetteville and Cumberland County region.”
Fayetteville State expects there will be a national search for the chancellor’s position now that Valentine has been appointed as interim.
The UNC Board of Governors elected Kelli Brown to be chancellor of Western Carolina University. She took office in July, nearly a year after the previous chancellor search crumbled at the last minute when some UNC Board of Governors members interfered with the process.
Brown was the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Georgia College & State University before coming to Cullowhee, where she’ll be earning $325,000.
While at Georgia College, Brown helped raise the school’s four-year graduation rate, improved academic advising and revamped a Center for Student Success, The News & Observer previously reported. She joined the school’s faculty in 2013 as a professor in the College of Health and Human performance.
Brown also has some brief experience at the helm of a university. She served as interim president of Valdosta State University in southern Georgia for about six months until a permanent president was named in 2017.
Brown will lead the Western Carolina campus through its second year as part of the NC Promise program, a UNC system effort to make college more accessible for all North Carolinians. Undergraduate students at Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University will pay $1,000 a year for in-state tuition and $5,000 a year for out-of-state, not including student fees.
“Western Carolina deserves a chancellor with a keen focus on student and faculty success, and Dr. Brown has demonstrated that focus throughout her esteemed academic career,” Roper said when Brown was announced.
UNC School of the Arts
Brian Cole was appointed as interim chancellor of UNC School of the Arts starting Aug. 1. He replaces Lindsay Bierman, who served as chancellor for five years and moved on as the new chief executive officer of UNC-TV Public Media North Carolina.
Cole had been the dean of the School of Music at UNCSA, where he oversaw the school’s operations and graduate, undergraduate and high school programs. He developed the school’s first strategic plan to expand and improve programs and helped double merit-based scholarship resources to $4 million through fundraising, according to UNC.
He also led the Summer Intensive Programs, the UNCSA Community Music School and two pre-professional graduate institutes, the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute and the Chrysalis Chamber Music Institute.
“I’m honored to be stepping into the role of interim chancellor at UNCSA, an institution I so strongly believe in,” Cole said in a news release. “I have been continuously inspired by the level of talent and dedication of the students, alumni, faculty and staff throughout this unique institution, and by the collaborative and creative ethos that permeates the school.”
Cole said he hopes to “propel the school forward during this time of transition, in particular supporting UNCSA’s first comprehensive campaign in 20 years, which launches publicly this fall.”
Cole has conducted orchestras and operas throughout the United States and around the world, including with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He also spent several years as the founding dean of Academic Affairs at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain and as associate dean of Academic Affairs at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music.
Former UNC Health Care CEO Dr. William Roper has been serving as the interim president of the UNC system since January. He’s already been part of key leadership decisions across the system and will continue to be a stakeholder in this interim role until a new president is elected.
Roper took over for Margaret Spellings, who stepped down from the position unexpectedly after three years of leading the system through some challenges and political controversies, including Silent Sam.
Roper, who previously served as dean of UNC’s medical school, hasn’t said publicly whether he wants to be a contender for the position permanently.
“Bill Roper is a terrific leader who has spent decades working on the issues that matter most to North Carolinians,” Smith, the UNC Board of Governors chairman, said in a news release when Roper was named. “He has run an extremely complex organization. His strong leadership and a sense of public purpose has allowed his organization to thrive amidst a challenging environment.”
Some of that leadership has been in the news recently as the UNC Health Care system was criticized for problems with the pediatric heart surgery program. He led the health care system for 14 years.
Before joining UNC Health Care, Roper served as dean of Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health. He’s also been in senior administrative roles at Prudential Health Care, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the White House staff for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and in the Health Care Financing Administration, which is responsible for Medicare and Medicaid.
The search processes
The UNC System took the first steps towards finding Spelling’s permanent successor in June. The search process will be done behind closed doors and the finalists won’t be announced publicly.
UNC system spokesman Jason Tyson previously told The News & Observer that the process has historically been confidential and will remain that way mainly because they want to protect candidates from being exposed to their current employers.
The process for hiring chancellors will also be confidential, with no public disclosure of candidates, a change that came in October after problems with previous searches.
The new process also toughens up background checks and takes Board of Governors members off campus search committees, The News & Observer previously reported. The board will still vote to elect a new leader, but members will have more information about candidates and more time to review them.
Four private colleges and universities in North Carolina, which are not part of the UNC System, will also have new leaders this fall.
▪ Scott Bullard started as president of Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer on June 1.
▪ Daniel Lugo became president of Queens University of Charlotte in July.
▪ William Downs took office as president of Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs in July.
▪ Suzanne Walsh will be president of Bennett College in Greensboro beginning Aug. 1.