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UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently requested and reviewed hundreds of emails that UNC President Tom Ross received Jan. 16, the day he was forced out of his job by the UNC Board of Governors.

Ross, who had been the head of the UNC system since 2011, has said he hoped to stay on with the university system, but a board appointed by Republican leaders opted instead to replace him in 2016, a move that many by surprise.

Ross plans on staying on as president until January 2016 or until his successor is selected, whichever is later.

Among the messages Ross received on the day he was dismissed were notes from another former UNC president, Erskine Bowles, as well as Fred Eshelman, a former Board of Governor member and prominent Republican fundraiser.

You can read more of the email snippets over at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Commentary

Tom Ross_1162015If you haven’t done so already, check out Charlotte Observer contributor Alice Carmichael Richey’s essay decrying the UNC Board of Governor’s inexplicable firing of system president, Tom Ross (pictured at left).

As Richey argues persuasively, the Board’s actions simply ought not to be allowed to stand in their present form — i.e. unexplained.

“The board acknowledged its decision had nothing to do with Ross’s ‘performance or ability to continue in the office’ and was made despite the board’s belief that he ‘has been a wonderful president’ with a ‘fantastic work ethic’ and ‘perfect integrity’ who ‘worked well with [the] Board.’”

After quoting the board chair, she goes on:

“All of this begs at least two questions: Why did the board make this decision and, no less important in light of public reaction, will the board reconsider? Read More

Commentary

If you’re still scratching your head trying to figure out what was behind last week’s decision by the UNC Board of Governor’s to end its relationship with system President Tom Ross, be sure to read today’s Fitzsimon File where Chris works to unravel the mystery. Here’s an excerpt:

A politically appointed board unexpectedly fires a popular and respected president with no notice or no explanation and nobody even owns up to pushing for him to resign.

The head of the board then insists that it wasn’t politics that prompted the president’s dismissal, and says his age wasn’t a factor either, and then proceeds to talk about the incredible job the president is doing.

There is a conspiracy here all right, a carefully orchestrated plan by right-wing political interests to complete their takeover of the state by firing the head of the university system, a public institution that they have been seeking to dismantle for years.

Read Chris’ full column here, and click below to hear Board Chair John Fennebresque try to explain their decision to part ways with President Ross:
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Commentary

The tone is very measured, but the basic message of this morning’s editorial in the Wilmington Star News echoes the the negative reviews that have been appearing over the last few days to the UNC Board of Governors’ decision to fire President Tom Ross:

“It is understandable that the board would want to leave its own mark on the university, and the most effective way to do that is to appoint a president of its choosing. But given the partisan transition in state government, which is also reflected on the board, there is reason to worry that political ideology might play a larger role than it should in UNC’s future.

Historically, the president’s loyalty has been to the legacy of the University of North Carolina system, not to partisan agendas. There have been signs that this board intends to make major – and not necessarily positive – changes in an institution that has grown into one of the nation’s most respected public university systems.

While a strategic plan completed by Ross and the board rightly focuses on the need to increase graduation rates and provide a better pathway into the job market for students, a conservative push to marginalize liberal arts education – unfairly maligned even by Gov. Pat McCrory as being of less value than other types of degrees – has been disappointing.”

In short, Chris Fitzsimon put it more pointedly in his take down of the decision last week, but the basic message is the same: The Ross firing is just the latest act in the longstanding conservative scheme to remake the university system in a partisan and ideological fashion and the state is going to suffer as a result. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

News

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors pushed out the head of the state’s university system on Friday, sparking a search for a new leader of the 17-campus system.

Tom Ross, who had served as president since 2011, will remain in the president’s role until January 2016, while a national search is underway for his successor.

tom-ross

UNC President Tom Ross

Precise reasons for his announced departure weren’t articulated Friday, other than statements from UNC Board of Governors Chair John Fennebresque about the board’s general desire for a transition to a new leader.

The UNC Board of Governors met for close to two hours in closed session before announcing the changes.

“The board felt like at the appropriate time there should be a transition to a new president,” Fennebresque said, in comments to reporters.

Fennebresque also disputed media reports that Ross’ age was a factor. Ross is 64, and prior UNC system presidents had left their positions at 65. Ross said he was interested in working past that, and had hoped to continue in the job leading the public university system.

“I love it and I would love to be here forever,” Ross said.

Ross’ new terms of employment with the university system includes a salary of $600,000 for the next year, a tenured position at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government and $300,000 for a year to conduct research following his expected 2016 departure from the president’s office.

Conversations about Ross’ termination only began this week, Ross said, and he wasn’t made aware of any single event or issue that turned the Board of Governors against him.

Fennebresque went to lengths at a press conference with reporters to emphasize that Ross had been a strong leader that had the support of the board of governors, despite Friday’s announcement that the board wanted to part ways.

“This board believes Tom Ross has been a wonderful president,” Fennebresque told reporters Friday after the announcement about Ross. “Fantastic work ethic, perfect integrity.”

Ross’ departure was announced Friday after months of speculation about his future after his relationship with the UNC Board of Governors became more fraught.

Ross came to the UNC system after serving as the president of the private Davidson College. He previously had worked as a judge, the head of the state’s administrative office for the courts, and the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a Winston-Salem based group that funds several progressive nonprofits in the state. (Note: the N.C. Justice Center, which N.C. Policy Watch is a part of, receives annual funding from ZSR.)

He led the university through a period of rapid change, and significant budget cuts. The university system received more than $400 million worth of cuts in 2011,

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