In his first report to the UNC Board of Governors as Interim President, Dr. William Roper addressed a variety of issues facing the University System…
Thank you, Chair Smith.
It’s an honor to be with you today in my first Board meeting as interim President.
North Carolina has been my home for 22 years. Public service has been my vocation for more than 40 years.
This opportunity, to lead our state’s finest public institution, is an unparalleled honor. The call to serve is something I take very seriously and I intend to lead over the coming months. Some of the best advice I’ve received since I accepted the position is this: I should do the job of president for an interim period, but I should not act like an interim caretaker.
The issues we face are too pressing for a caretaker period. I intend to keep the UNC System’s foot on the pedal, and do so for however long this Board deems appropriate.
We are one of the top university systems in the nation. We can and will be the very best.
Getting there takes stability, planning, and vision.
I’ve had the privilege and the honor to lead great public institutions before, from CMS which governs Medicare and Medicaid, to the Centers for Disease Control, to UNC Health Care. This is not my first rodeo.
I believe great leaders have a three-part role.
The first is chart a strategic direction for the institution. This Board and this System have done that through the strategic plan that you all have championed; it is a plan with the strong support of our chancellors and it is producing exceptional results.
As President Spellings announced in December, the UNC System has surpassed its targets in 11 of 12 areas. Areas like low-income and rural student enrollment; research productivity and critical workforce degrees; graduation rates and achievement gaps. We’ll be announcing data showing how each of our 17 institutions have progressed towards their own specific goals in March.
I intend to carry this work forward. I intend to continue our focus on accountability. Our strategic direction remains the same: getting more students from more backgrounds, into and graduated from college. And doing so faster, more conveniently, and more affordably than ever before.
And if the first role of a leader is to chart the strategic direction we’re taking internally, then the second is to deal with the external factors that can affect it. Public institutions must be accountable to the public, to the legislature, to their governing boards, to the media, to the taxpayer.
Making the most of all those relationships is my job.
Being held accountable for our mistakes and shortcomings is surely my job.
And helping prevent distractions for those who do our core work of teaching, research, and service, that’s also my job.
There are a lot of people in North Carolina who care about higher education. We’re strong because of that. But we must have some calm and stability – regular order and process – so that we can all keep our eye on our students, our classrooms, our labs, our hospitals, our communities.
Finally, my third role as interim President is simply Management 101. It is to empower and give resources to the people doing the real work and then get out of the way and let them do their job.
Yesterday, the Committee on Public Affairs and the Committee on Budget and Finance considered a strong, unified set of legislative priorities that will help ensure we give our institutions the resources they need – and that we get out of their way.
I am encouraged by these priorities. They include a number of items designed to make this university system run better. I’ve been privileged to lead many large public institutions. And when leaders have flexibility – the kind that private sector CEOs take for granted – they excel. With this Board’s blessing, I’m asking our elected officials to empower this System to rise to that level. I hope they will trust this Board and its President to be held accountable, but do so with the flexibility to lead effectively.
Our proposed priorities are also unique. It’s the first time we have presented a united agenda with our friends and partners in the North Carolina Community College System. And it’s intentionally a System-wide agenda. This is not a grab-bag of institutional priorities.
We will speak with one voice in Raleigh. One voice unified by the need to get more North Carolinians through college and give them the opportunity that comes with a good education and a degree.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
I’m proud to stand with so many other leaders across this state behind a united legislative agenda and I look forward to continuing our conversations with lawmakers about the opportunities ahead of us.
The strong leaders at every level – from the classroom to the boardroom – are why we are one of the best systems of public higher education in the nation. I’m standing here having followed some terrific public servants.
Margaret Spellings is a friend, a visionary leader, and a towering voice in education policy. Our strategic direction is strong because of her and her team. I know I speak for many in this state in saying I’m grateful she helped elevate the UNC System during her time in North Carolina.
Carol Folt is a friend, and an outstanding leader of an outstanding flagship, who has stewarded and guided her university through treacherous waters. From where I worked at UNC’s School of Medicine, and at UNC Health Care, I’m grateful for her unwavering support for the cutting-edge research and work we did together in communities large and small across this state. North Carolina owes Carol a debt of gratitude for her service and commitment.
The leadership bench at UNC-Chapel Hill is strong. On January 31stwe will have strong leadership in place to continue the institution’s progress.
My top priority over the past week has been to find the right interim leader for UNC-Chapel Hill. I’ll be speaking with faculty at Carolina later today, and with student representatives after that.
But this is an important moment and I believe in full transparency. So, as I decide on an interim Chancellor, I want to share four big criteria that I am guided by:
First, this is an interim position. There will be a national search to come later for a permanent chancellor.
That said, the interim chancellor must be able to lead during that period. A national search likely won’t start until the summer and may take the better part of a year to finish. Carolina cannot and will not drift during an interim leader’s tenure. It will surge forward under a strong leader.
Second, this person must be someone who is a well-known entity here in North Carolina. They must be ready to start on day one, and that means they cannot spend many months getting to know the lay of the land.
Third, this person must be someone of stature. Carolina needs a leader who has the gravitas to lead. We need an interim chancellor who will be able to chart the right course ahead and push back where needed.
And finally, the next interim Chancellor must be someone who has the trust of our leaders and who has my trust. We are not in the business of micromanaging our key leadership. We have 16 other institutions, from Elizabeth City to Cullowhee, and our state rightly expects all our institutions to receive the attention and support they need to thrive.
We are working hard to identify the right interim Chancellor. In the meantime, I am confident UNC-Chapel Hill will have strong leadership. UNC-Chapel Hill has important work ahead.
Finally, I want to acknowledge several people who are joining the team at the UNC System Office as part of my transition team. They are Chris McClure, Pete Brunstetter, Jim Blaine, Dan Gerlach, Bernadette Gray-Little, Charles Leffler, Carol Lewis, and Andy Willis.
Please join me in thanking all eight of these leaders for stepping up and joining the great team already at the UNC System office during this transition period.
I want to thank this Board and this System again for the opportunity to serve. I’ve had the chance to meet many of this state’s leaders over the past two decades but I look forward to meeting many more as I wear a new hat as your interim President.
I believe education and health care are the pillars that can uphold and transform our communities. I believe that is true in our biggest cities and our smallest towns. And I believe that the chance to serve, to play a part in making an impact for the people of North Carolina, is a great and noble honor.
Thank you for the chance to do so.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my report.