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Tuesday December 7th

Thomas Ross to face significant UNC-system budget cuts

Tom Ross is the new UNC System president.
Buy Photos Tom Ross is the new UNC System president.

This story appeared as part of the 2010 Year In Review issue. The Daily Tar Heel resumes publication Jan. 10.

On Jan. 1, Thomas Ross will take office as the 17th UNC-system president.

Ross, who is the current president at Davidson College, will be faced with mounting budget cuts and a state budget shortfall of $3.5 billion, but his predecessor — UNC-system President Erskine Bowles — said in August that it’s nothing Ross can’t handle.

“He enters the job a lot more prepared than I was. I don’t have any concerns or reservations about his selection at all,” Bowles said.

“I spent about three hours with him on the phone talking about the job. He’s the right guy for the job — there’s no doubt in my mind.”

Ross was unanimously appointed by the UNC-system Board of Governors.

As UNC-system president, Ross will become the chief executive officer of the 17-campus system and will oversee policies dealing with inevitable tuition increases and growing enrollment.

The UNC system is dealing with a total of $575 million in cuts in the last three years and has already cut 23 percent in expenses and nearly 900 administrative positions.

But Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board and head of the search committee, said after Ross was selected that she was confident that Ross will be able to handle the challenges ahead.

Gage said Ross’s political background and experience will help him work well with the legislature — an important component of the often-political job.

But some have raised questions about Ross’ Democratic leanings. With Republicans taking over the N.C. General Assembly this year, lobbying legislators to keep cuts low for the University system could be difficult.

Former UNC-system President Bill Friday said Ross would have no problem getting acquainted with the new legislators.

“The University doesn’t choose sides in politics,” he said.

Though Ross comes to the UNC system from a small, private institution, system leaders have stressed his dedication to higher education and the state as a whole.

Before he was president of Davidson, Ross earned his law degree with honors from UNC in 1975 and was named the youngest N.C. Superior Court Judge in 1984.

Ross also served as director of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts — a job tied to the legislature — and executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, which distributes funding and grants across the state.

The presidential search committee that selected Ross to oversee the UNC system took six months and cost more than $100,000, but board members say the time and effort allowed them to find a qualified individual to follow in Bowles’ footsteps.

Senior writers Eliza Kern and Tarini Parti contributed to reporting.

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