Groups weigh in on desired traits for next UNC president

After weeks of opinion gathering, forums and surveys of 11 groups, committees searching for the next UNC president now have a wish list for the type of leader needed to guide the state’s public university system.

Online surveys yielded some 4,000 responses, and public forums were held across the state. On Thursday, a committee gave approval to a lengthy leadership statement that focused on broad areas of consensus among groups such as the UNC Board of Governors, chancellors, trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the business and military communities.

The UNC Board of Governors is expected to approve the statement, and then two committees will start the process of recruiting candidates and winnowing lists. A new president could be chosen this fall to succeed Tom Ross, who is stepping down next year at the request of the board.

Among the main points of agreement, survey respondents wanted a candidate who can manage innovation and change in a large, complex organization, with a proven record of bringing together an array of constituencies. Eight of 11 groups believed leadership experience in higher education was essential, but that was not a priority for university boards and businesspeople who took the survey.

All groups agreed on this point: The next president must demonstrate integrity in word and deed. This was the only characteristic that all groups voted as a top-three priority. Most groups agreed that encouraging meaningful input and involvement from others was important for the new leader’s decision-making. And there was broad consensus that the president should have a passion for public education.

Job one for the new leader may be a daunting one, at a time when the UNC system’s political upheaval has gained attention in the national media. All groups except students said that “maintaining the stature of the UNC system” was a high priority.

Despite consensus in some areas, the surveys reveal that some groups are far apart in their views of the most critical skills necessary to run the system.

For instance, 45 percent of the Board of Governors members said it was a top-three priority for the president to embrace a climate of change in higher education, but only 11 percent of the faculty and 16 percent of the students agreed. On the other hand, 62 percent of faculty thought it was a top-three priority for the president to support academic freedom and responsibility, compared with 13 percent of the UNC board and 27 percent of the business community.

“With 11 broad constituency groups, you can see and understand why there might be divergence,” said Therence Pickett, a UNC board member and vice chairman of the 2015 Presidential Leadership Statement Committee.

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