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Erskine Bowles to retire as UNC-system president

Major initiatives still in the works

Erskine Bowles, 64, announced that he will retire after nearly five years with the UNC system.
Erskine Bowles, 64, announced that he will retire after nearly five years with the UNC system.

UNC-system President Erskine Bowles announced Friday that he will retire from his post at the end of the year.

The search for his successor will be launched in the next couple of weeks, but Bowles said he is prepared to stay until a replacement has been chosen and the transition is complete.

His final months will be spent implementing parts of UNC Tomorrow, a plan launched in 2007 under Bowles’ leadership that outlines how the UNC system can use its resources to help North Carolina meet its needs.

Priorities include teacher recruitment and development, raising retention and graduation rates at UNC-system schools, increasing college access in underserved areas and populations and expanding programs that train health professionals to address health care shortages in the state.

The retirement announcement was expected sometime this academic year.

Bowles, who took the job in 2006, repeatedly said he only intended to hold the position for five years.

Bowles turns 65 in August, the customary age for the system president to step down.

“Five years is about all anyone can stand under Erskine Bowles,” he said at the UNC-system Board of Governors meeting, where he made the announcement.

“While I am still as energized and committed to this job, and while I love this university, I want to give this board plenty of time to launch this search and identify the right person to lead this university in the years ahead.”

He said he plans to leave by the end of 2010, but that is contingent on the Board of Governors naming his successor and on the transition being completed, he said.

Board of Governors Chairwoman Hannah Gage said that a search committee will be organized within the next two to three weeks to find a replacement for Bowles.

She also said that many of the board members have already expressed interest in being part of that committee.

The board wants someone who can carry on Bowles’ initiatives and his approach to higher education, she said.

“In the last four years, we’ve redirected and redesigned the way we do things.” Gage said. “In a perfect world, you would clone Erskine. The mind-set in the system is not something we’re eager to change.”

The board has known for awhile that Bowles intended to step down in 2010, Gage said.

Bowles opted to make the announcement now so that questions about his resignation wouldn’t get in the way of getting things done.

“As long as people were speculating, he couldn’t buckle down,” she said.

Bowles said he might pursue projects in the business sector and could get involved with government and politics again, but not anything partisan. He also said he has no intention of running for office again.

“What I’m good at is bringing people together to find commonsense solutions to problems,” he said.

Prior to coming to the UNC system, Bowles served in the administration of former President Bill Clinton.

He was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff from 1994-95 and chief of staff from 1996-98. He also ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004.

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