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2010 September 20 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Davidson College President Named To Run UNC System

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The University of North Carolina’s hiring of Davidson College President Tom Ross as the system’s next leader brings in a public servant with a perfect set of credentials to lead during tough fiscal times, enrollment growth and technological advances, school officials said.

Even better, they said, Ross is a lifetime resident of North Carolina.

“He doesn’t need a lot of advice. Tom knows the state. He knows our people. He knows our needs,”’ outgoing UNC system President Erskine Bowles said after the Board of Governors unanimously chose Ross to succeed him starting Jan. 1. “He will make an enormously positively influence.”

Ross, the Davidson president since 2007, was the lone recommendation from the board’s search committee, which initially presented its findings to the full board in a closed meeting before the public vote. The nationwide search attracted around 60 applicants, and nine were interviewed, board chairwoman Hannah Gage said. But Ross rose to the top, she said.

“There was no one single quality of characteristic that outshone the others,” Gage said. “It was the entire authentic package that resonated deeply and drew us to our conclusion.”

Ross’ resume marks him with a long career in state government and nonprofits that ultimately took him Davidson, his alma mater, three years ago. The former Superior Court judge and director of the state courts system told the board it will be difficult to leave the prestigious liberal arts school north of Charlotte that he and his two children also attended.

“It is the place that nurtured me and helped me grow as a student and again as its president. It has been an emotional struggle for me to come to my decision,” Ross said in accepting the job as the fifth system president since a unified governing board for all public universities was created in 1971. “But I do so feeling called to this position and to this university.”

Ross, a Greensboro native, has experience in the UNC system. He went to the law school in Chapel Hill and has been on several UNC boards.

Davidson, a school of 1,800 students, is dramatically different compared to the UNC system’s 17 schools and more than 225,000 students — with an additional 50,000 projected in the next seven years. Ross said many challenges with his new job are similar to those at Davidson.

“You’re dealing with personnel problems, you’re dealing with budget problems, you’re dealing with technology issues,” Ross said. “I suspect that in some ways, there won’t be a huge difference. It is just a larger, more complex organization.”

Ross said he’s still putting together his goals for the UNC system during his tenure and will listen to faculty and staff while forming those initiatives. But he said he’s committed to keeping tuition affordable while making sure those fees are used wisely to benefit students and the state. New ways of partnering with community colleges and using technology more effectively can help. Davidson implemented a program during his tenure that would allow students to graduate from school debt-free.

Ross, 60, already has had experience with one of his new key prime relationships — the Legislature — through his term as courts director in 1999-2000. He also led a sentencing policy commission in the early 1990s that helped persuade the General Assembly to pass reforms so that parole would be abolished and criminals would serve nearly all of their actual sentences. At a news conference, he rattled off the vote totals by which the structured sentencing bills passed — a hint of his knowledge of the legislative process.

That’s important because he’ll have to go to the Legislature next January to try to protect the UNC system from additional budget cuts from a potential $3 billion shortfall in state government.

“Judge Ross is as well equipped as anybody living to address them immediately,” said former Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, a board member who hired Ross as courts director. “He knows the Legislature and more important, they trust him.”

Ross said he has every intention of staying at the job for a long time.

“We also tried not to look for a president for just this particular crisis,” Gage said. “This will end, and we want someone here beyond this crisis.’’

Ross will make $525,000 annually, Gage said, compared to the roughly $478,000 that Bowles has made. A board committee set a salary range for the new president earlier this year of between $495,000 to $550,000.

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