Ross Out as UNC System President
By Sara Owen, Managing Editor
UNC system President Tom Ross, 64, announced on Jan. 16 that he will be stepping down from his presidency in 2016. It was a joint statement made with the Board of Governors (BOG). Ross is currently the president over all 17 UNC schools in North Carolina.
The BOG met for two hours in a closed session on Jan. 16 and afterward announced it would seek out a new UNC president to replace Ross. The BOG chairman, John Fennebresque, told reporters that the change had nothing to do with politics or Ross’ performance or age.
“This decision has nothing to do with President Ross’ performance or ability to continue in the office,” the statement said. “The board believes President Ross has served with distinction, that his performance has been exemplary and that he has devoted his full energy, intellect and passion to fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of his office.”
Effect on UNCP
Chancellor Kyle R. Carter said he is disappointed that Ross is being forced to retire.
“I’m not happy with it. I’m disappointed, but I recognize that the board can make that decision,” Dr. Carter said.
Dr. Carter said he has “the greatest respect for Tom,” who he described as “a man of integrity.”
He said he is concerned that the turmoil and pushing out of the president could potentially scare off some of the candidates looking to be the next chancellor at UNCP.
Candidates could be scared off out of fear for losing their job as soon as a different president takes over for Ross. Dr. Carter said UNC system chancellors do not have contracts, which makes it easy for them to be pushed out if they are not who the president wants in the position.
Chancellors not having a contract is unusual, according to Dr. Carter, but that is how it always has been in the UNC system. Contracts usually give employees a sense of job security.
“There’s some security, but not a lot,” he said.
Dr. Carter said the search committee will have to be prepared to answer questions candidates have, because they will most likely ask about the situation. He said he did a lot of research about the UNC system, the president at that time and Pembroke before accepting the job as chancellor in 2010.
“It was hard to hear the news,” Dr. Carter said.
Dr. Carter said he and the other chancellors are trying to figure out why this happened, but they have no definite answer.
He said he cannot blame politics without proof, but does believe it has to do with a “difference in philosophies.”
When Ross became president in 2011, the board was made of different people than the current members. Only four of those members remain and 28 new people make up the BOG.
“I think it’s going to be a test for the board and Tom to find harmony,” he said.
Dr. Carter said he is concerned for Ross and how this will effect UNC.
According to Charlotte Observer writers Jane Stancill and Lynn Bonner, Fennebresque did not give reasons for the BOG making Ross retire. They said the only reason he gave was that the board thought it was “the time to start a transition to another leader who might bring other assets.”
Many North Carolina media outlets, including The Charlotte Observer and The News and Observer, reported that soon after the decision was announced there were rumors and speculation that politics were involved. Many writers said people were assuming Ross’ progressive stances were the reason members of the BOG may have been pressured to push him out by conservatives.
According to The Charlotte Observer, Ross was offered a contract that will allow him to stay on as president until Jan. 3, 2016, or until a new president is hired.
Ross was previously an “at will” employee with no contract.
His one-year contract gives him a base salary of $600,000 plus housing, car allowance and professional dues.
According to The Charlotte Observer, the contract benefits include:
•10 percent of base salary in an executive retirement plan and participation in state health and retirement plans.
•Research leave of one year following presidency, with 50 percent annual president’s pay.
•Faculty appointment as a tenured professor of public law and government at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government after the research leave.
Before becoming the UNC system president, Ross was the president at Davidson College, where he got his bachelor’s degree. He got his law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, where he later taught at the UNC School of Government. He also used to serve as a Superior Court judge.
Photo by Jonathan Bym. UNC system President Tom Ross speaks at an event in the UC Annex on the UNCP campus.