Politics & Government

UNC system takes first steps to find a new, permanent president to replace Spellings

The University of North Carolina system took the first step in its search for a new president Friday, eight months after Margaret Spellings stepped down from the job.

It will be done behind closed doors and the public won’t know who’s in the running, even when it’s down to the finalists.

UNC system spokesman Jason Tyson said 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 UNC system Board of Governors voted Friday to establish a search process to appoint the new president, who will oversee 17 campuses across the state, including UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State, that serve nearly 250,000 college and gifted high school students.

Spellings’ departure was unexpected and came three years into her 5-year contract. She faced some challenges and political controversies during her tenure, including protests over the Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill, “Silent Sam,” and the short-lived state law regulating transgender bathroom use, known as House Bill 2.

Spellings was at odds with a faction of the board, and in the end, both parties agreed it was time for a change, The News & Observer previously reported. She was earning $775,000, plus deferred compensation of $77,500 annually.

Dr. William Roper, former UNC Health Care CEO and dean of UNC’s medical school, has been the interim president since January and will continue in that role until a new president is elected. Roper hasn’t said whether he is vying for the position permanently. His leadership has been in the news recently as the UNC Health Care system has come under fire for problems with the pediatric heart surgery program.

Although the process will be private, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger will be kept in the loop about the progress.

Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith will put together a search committee of seven people. The only two named so far are Randy Ramsey, vice chair, and Wendy Murphy, chair of the committee on personnel and tenure.

That search committee will choose at least three candidates and can elicit the help of an executive search consultant and other staff.

The board previously hired Boston-based firm Isaacson Miller to assist in the previous presidential search that found Spellings was the best fit. The cost of that search was expected to be nearly $300,000 and more than half was spent to pay Isaacson Miller.

The search committee will present the prospective candidates to the board’s presidential assessment and advisory committee, which will give the full board a list of at least three finalists. The board will then vote to appoint the new president of the system among those finalists.

There was no discussion of potential candidates, a time line, costs or a consulting firm for the search at the meeting Friday. Tyson said the UNC system office has designated funds for these expenses.