The University of North Carolina is down two top administrators, and one of them needs to be made in a hurry. There’s a good chance for an untraditional hire.

The UNC Board of Governors has just a few days to choose an interim chancellor for UNC-Chapel Hill. Meanwhile, the board also has a search underway for a new system president.

Sources close to the UNC Board of Governors tell Longleaf Politics that the board wants to bring in somebody with business experience, and isn’t wedded to traditional academic credentials.

Former UNC system president Margaret Spellings announced she would down in October, and plans to serve until March. UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor change happened more recently, and more abruptly.

Margaret Spellings. Photo via Western Carolina University

Chancellor Carol Folt made the dual announcement in January that she would resign at the end of the school year, and announced that Silent Sam’s pedestal would be fully removed, precluding the Confederate statue being returned to its place. The Board of Governors accelerated her departure to the end of January.

[Read the Longleaf Politics guide to North Carolina and Confederate monuments]

That gives the board the chance to replace arguably the two highest-profile administrators in North Carolina higher education at the same time, and at a time of turmoil in academia.

After nearly a decade of Republican leadership of the General Assembly, the UNC-system Board of Governors is largely stocked with people of that political persuasion. The board will likely look to hire someone with conservative credentials to at least one of those positions.

Who could be considered for UNC positions?

Here are some other people who are getting mentioned in the discussion for one of the two roles.

Interim UNC chancellor

Art Pope. Some members of the UNC Board of Governors have bandied about conservative donor Art Pope’s name as a possibility to lead North Carolina’s flagship campus, according to a well-placed source.

The businessman was budget director for a year under Gov. Pat McCrory and once served in the state House. But he has a little higher education experience as well. The UNC-Chapel Hill alum served on a UNC-system task force looking at changes in higher education in 2012.

His selection would be certain to enrage the overwhelmingly liberal faculty at UNC. In the early 2000s, UNC approached the Pope family, asking for money to fund a new academic program dedicated to studying Western civilization. The faculty backlash was severe, and the plan was ultimately scrapped. He might be a better fit for UNC-system president.

Bernadette Gray-Little. The former UNC provost went on to lead the University of Kansas, recently retiring from the post. She’s actually on Interim UNC-system President Bill Roper’s transition team, so she already has a foot back in Chapel Hill.

Bernadette Gray-Little. Photo via University of Kansas

Clayton Somers. The former chief of staff to House Speaker Tim Moore is now vice chancellor for public affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

James Moeser. The former UNC chancellor has stayed around North Carolina higher education, serving as interim chancellor of UNC School of the Arts in 2013.

Donna Shalala. The former chancellor of University of Wisconsin–Madison just got elected to the U.S. House but depending on how things go, might be convinced to get back into academia.

Winston Crisp. The former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs just retired from UNC a month ago.

Bob Blouin. The current UNC provost could easy slot in to the chancellor role.

James Dean. “Dean Dean” served at UNC’s business school for years before becoming president of the University of New Hampshire in mid-2018.

UNC system president

Tony Zeiss. The former president of Central Piedmont Community College was reportedly on Trump’s short list for Secretary of Education.

Barbara Jackson. The UNC undergrad and law school graduate just lost her bid for re-election to the state Supreme Court.

Richard Stevens. He’s an attorney, former state senator, Wake County manager and sits on the UNC Board of Trustees.

Erskine Bowles. He’s been UNC system president before. Why not again? A source tells Longleaf Politics that Bowles was approached about the job but turned it down.

Cover image shows Silent Sam at UNC in the background, with the Unsung Founders Memorial on McCorkle Place in the foreground. Photo by Don McCullough via Flickr (Creative Commons). 


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