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The Daily Tar Heel

Critics call Ross too liberal

System president elect questioned

Friends and colleagues have used many words to praise UNC-system President-elect Thomas Ross.

But this week, the John Pope Civitas Institute used new phrases to describe him and his work — “love child of liberal groups,” “friend to many far-left organizations” and “radical left,” among others.

As of Thursday, the conservative Raleigh think tank had released two sections of a three-part series on their website called “UNC President Scandal.” The articles highlight the current Davidson president’s political leanings and call into question their effect on his leadership.

They represent the first serious criticism Ross has faced since his election on Aug. 26, which was finalized by a unanimous Board of Governors vote, a standing ovation from state leaders and widespread praise for his integrity and commitment to the state.

Nonpartisan groups are calling the Civitas articles politically-motivated and not representative of Ross’s background.

The first two articles focus on Ross’s work at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, where he served as executive director for six years. The third, which was not released as of Thursday, will focus on his work within the judicial system.

“We saw there to be a lack of complete public exposure on the man that is Thomas Ross,” said Andrew Henson, a researcher at Civitas who wrote one of the articles.

The Reynolds Foundation, created in 1936 to support charitable organizations in the state, donates millions of dollars each year to groups dedicated to social justice, economic development, civic engagement and the environment.

Researchers at the Civitas Institute pointed to the group’s donations to organizations such as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and ACORN as evidence of Ross’s liberal leanings.

“We are just raising the profile of him as a person. I don’t want this framed as a knee-jerk reaction,” Henson said.

But Stephanie Bass, communications coordinator of Blueprint NC, a nonpartisan nonprofit that encouraged citizens to speak out against the Civitas claims, said the arguments are tenuous at best.

“I don’t think you can broadbrush paint the Foundation as left-leaning,” she said, pointing to the group’s strong reputation within the state.

“While they have not been shy about investigating new ideas or new approaches, the broad projects they’ve supported have had support from throughout the state.”

Ross will replace noted Democratic politician Erskine Bowles, who served as former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff but won praise for his bipartisan work as president.

“We have a very positive opinion of Erskine Bowles, at least comparatively,” Henson said. “Of course he ran for Senate on the Democratic ticket. But he has been very pro-business, very open.”

While Henson said he didn’t want to speculate on how Ross’s supposedly liberal leanings would affect his tenure as president, the Civitas postings were more forthcoming.

“After scrutinizing Ross’s record, it seems clear that the UNC System is positioned to take a decidedly left turn, and the new President’s credentials leaves much to be desired,” it reads.

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