Following an hour of closed deliberation at an emergency session of the UNC-system Board of Governors on Thursday, UNC Health Care CEO and Gillings School of Public Health Dean Bill Roper was officially named interim president of the UNC system.
"I need to say abundantly, thank you for entrusting me with this important honor and challenge of leading the University of North Carolina system," he told the Board of Governors following his nomination. “I'm grateful to my wife, Maryann, and to our son, Will, for their love and support and advice.”
Roper will begin his role as interim system president on Jan. 1, 2019. His nomination comes just a week after Margaret Spellings’ announcement of her decision to step down as system president effective early next year. Jason Tyson, spokesperson for the UNC system, said Spellings will continue to serve as acting system president until Jan. 15, 2019. Spellings and Roper will overlap as president and interim president respectively for 15 days.
Spellings will step back from the role and serve as an adviser to Roper until the end of her contract on March 1.
"I know that whatever success I may have will in large part be due to the things she has already done and the things that she's put in motion, such as advancing priorities to improve graduation rates, reduce achievement gaps and ensure access for all students across the entire state," Roper said of Spellings.
In a press conference following the nomination, Spellings said her successor "has the heart of a public servant.”
"I can't think of anyone I'd rather give the reins to than Bill Roper,” she said.
Roper, 70, served as the director of the Centers for Disease Control from 1990 to 1993 and has held senior leadership positions within the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Roper joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1997, serving first as the dean of the Gillings School of Public Health and later as the school’s vice chancellor for Medical Affairs.
Board of Governors Chairperson Harry Smith said this diversity of experience made Roper the “number one choice” for the position.
“Bill has run, grown and developed one of the most sophisticated and successful assets in the state of North Carolina, and he's done it well," he said of Roper’s time at UNC Health Care. "The two pillars of society are health care and education. That's what's built the country, and I don't think we could have anyone better at the helm of the great state of North Carolina than Bill Roper."
Smith declined to speak in detail about the transition process, including the intended length of Roper’s term as interim president and the terms of Spellings’ severance.
When pressed about whether he had his eyes on the full presidency rather than just an interim term, Roper declined to speak in specifics.
“I'm looking forward to having supper with my wife tonight, and we'll work on tomorrow,” he continued. “But we're not worried about weeks and months in the future. That'll take care of itself."
Roper said he is looking forward to finishing the ceremonial phase and begin work as interim president.
"I really do believe in public service,” he said. “And I believe that part of what that entails is that, when you're asked to do something, almost always you say 'Yes,' unless there's a strong reason not to. So, I said yes to this.”
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