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Dr. William Roper, UNC Health Care CEO, to become interim president of UNC System

Dr. William Roper, UNC Health Care CEO, will be named interim president of the UNC System effective Jan. 1, 2019 (Photo from UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business website)
Dr. William Roper, UNC Health Care CEO, will be named interim president of the UNC System effective Jan. 1, 2019 (Photo from UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business website)

This story was updated noon Wednesday, Oct. 31.

The University of North Carolina System’s Board of Governors is expected to confirm Dr. William Roper, dean of UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health Care, as interim president of the UNC System, sources confirmed to Carolina Journal.

The announcement comes just one week after UNC President Margaret Spellings submitted her resignation to the board. She will exit UNC March 1. Roper, upon appointment, will take the seat Jan. 1.

A long-time public servant, Roper, who is 70, joined UNC Chapel Hill in 1997 as dean of the School of Public Health. He became CEO of UNC Health Care and UNC’s medical school dean in 2004. He plans to leave both posts May 15.

Board member Marty Kotis declined to comment on the search and selection process for UNC’s interim president.

A North Carolinian from the private sector — someone with an advanced degree and successful business track record — would do well as UNC System’s next permanent president, Kotis said.

“If I were to wave a magic wand, someone like Jim Goodnight would be at the top of my candidate list,” he told CJ.

Goodnight, a businessman worth $8.5 billion, is a co-founder of the SAS Institute, a successful software company in Cary.

Kotis also named Fred Eshelman, a former UNC board member and venture capitalist who founded the global pharmaceutical research giant PPD. Echelon is worth roughly $380 million.

Kotis and Eshelman frequently butted heads, but the Wilmington businessman could get the job done, Kotis said.

“We need someone who knows the value of a dollar and understands the UNC System isn’t a monopoly,” Kotis said. “I’d prefer someone who would take a pay cut, who is willing to go from something like a $10 million to $1 million salary.”

Spellings collects an annual salary of $775,000, plus benefits. Her predecessor, Tom Ross, closed out his time as president with a salary of $600,000.

Former UNC President C.D. Spangler, a billionaire businessman from Charlotte, didn’t accept a salary during his 11 years in office. He donated the money to UNC campuses, mostly contributing to the system’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  

The board has no official process for appointing interim presidents, UNC spokesperson Jason Tyson told CJ.

Board members haven’t set a protocol for selecting a permanent president. The board is in no rush to make that decision, board Chairman Harry Smith said at an Oct. 24 news conference.

In 2010, the board established three ad hoc committees to head the presidential search. A leadership statement committee collected public input and created a list of characteristics for candidates. A screening committee reviewed the applicant pool and made recommendations to the full board, while a search committee coordinated the entire process.

That same process was used during Spellings’ selection in 2015.