UNC board begins search for next president

The search for the next UNC president got under way Wednesday, launching a process expected to conclude in the fall.

In a conference call, the UNC Board of Governors appointed a nine-member group that will nominate people to three committees that have a role in finding a successor to UNC President Tom Ross, who is leaving the job in early 2016 at the request of the board.

Next month the group is likely to present to the board nominations for a leadership statement committee, a screening committee and the search committee itself. The nine nominators are: Ann Maxwell, Steve Long, Ed McMahan, Rodney Hood, Tommy Harrelson, Frank Grainger, Lou Bissette, Joan Perry and John Fennebresque.

The search committee will do most of the work, including hiring a search consultant. The leadership statement committee – a large group to include chancellors, faculty, staff, students and alumni – will craft a description of the qualities needed in the next leader. A screening committee will review applicants and narrow the field.

Both the screening committee and search committee are made up entirely of board members. The nine members of the search committee will have the most outsized influence in the process and will be part of all three committees, as prescribed by a new policy adopted by the board in February. The three board officers – Chairman Fennebresque, Vice Chairman Bissette and Secretary Perry – are automatically on all committees.

Few on the board have experience in university presidential searches. Most members were elected by the Republican majority legislature, which took control in the 2010 elections, just after Ross was chosen as president. And one of the most experienced members, former chairman Peter Hans, resigned from the board on March 3 to serve on the State Banking Commission.

The timing also means that some search committee members are likely to no longer be on the board when the ultimate selection is made. Half of the board members’ terms expire June 30; the legislature will soon elect or re-elect people to fill those seats.

In an interview, Fennebresque said having a core search panel of nine will not shut out opinions of others. “I would think with this board people are going to have input all along the way,” he said. “There is plenty of work to do for everybody. It’s going to be very time-intensive.”

He said it will be important for the leadership statement to reflect the skills necessary for a university president in a changing landscape.

“Higher education is getting pummeled by critics every day,” Fennebresque said. “Huge financial squeezes on higher education, and people are actually saying it’s not worth it to go to college. So my own feeling is that we want to educate as many North Carolinians as we can, with a degree that means something.”

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Twitter: @janestancill