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UNC system chancellors weigh in on search for next UNC system president

Chancellors from UNC System schools weighed in on the search for the system’s next president Thursday at a meeting of the UNC Board of Governors’ Presidential Search Committee.

N.C. State University President Randy Woodson told the board he believes it’s essential the next president of the system understand the system, its schools and how the ways in which they are all unique. As important, he said, is that they be willing to do things differently in a fast-changing higher education environment.

To do that effectively, he said, the next president will have to have the support of the board.

“We need a leader who is embraced by this board and empowered by this board to lead the system,” Woodson said.

The relationship between the board and the system’s new leader was a recurring theme among the chancellors Thursday, with allusions to the tensions between the board and its last president, Margaret Spellings.

Spellings resigned her position last year after just three years as president of the system. During her tenure political and personal tensions with members of the board of governors exploded into public acrimony.

N.C. A&T Chancellor Harold Martin addressed that problem most directly, saying the system’s next leader needs both the support of the board and also the system’s chancellors.

“My observation — and I think I speak for our chancellors around the table — is the president seemingly over the last few years of tenure, has had the appearance of protecting the universities from the board around matters that were in our minds relevant, quality, competitive conversations we should be having,” Martin said.

That led chancellors to feel they had to defend their universities and the roles they play, Martin said — not a position in which most leaders want to find themselves.

There was disagreement among the chancellors and board of governors members Thursday about how important it is for the system’s next leader to be a native North Carolinian or at least a long-time resident of the state.

UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois said he doesn’t believe it’s important the system’s next leader come from North Carolina — but he would like to see the next system president serve from between 8 and 10 years.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz agreed that where the next president comes from shouldn’t be a determining factor – but did say he believes they should have a strong grounding in higher education. His comments may be in response to some board of governors members who have said they believe chancellors and presidents should be chosen from other areas — especially business.

Board of Governors member Philip Byers said he doesn’t believe the board needs to look far for its next president.

“When I look around this table, I see people who could be the next president of the UNC system,” Byers said. “I don’t think we need to look all over the country.”

One person around that table — board of governors member Tom Fetzer — denied persistent rumors he wants the job as system president or to become the next chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Lord no,” Fetzer told Policy Watch Thursday.

Fetzer said he has young children and wouldn’t want to put his family through the current social media environment in either a bid for that sort of leadership position or a run for office.

Under rules approved by the board, any Board of Governors member who did want to be considered in a search would need to resign their board position first.

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