Ross Has His Work Cut Out as New UNC President
"We wish he would stay just a little longer. But it was three great years and we wish him well as he takes on an even bigger assignment."
That is what folks at Davidson College said last year when Stephan Curry opted out of his senior year and a chance for one more year with the Wildcat basketball team.
Those same words are coming out of the same mouths as Davidson gets used to giving up the man who served as its president for the past three years, Tom Ross.
Last week, the UNC Board of Governors named the Davidson president to succeed Erskine Bowles at the end of the year. Ross will be the 17th UNC president. But he is only the fifth since the 1971 reorganization and consolidation of all state universities. William Friday, C.D. Spangler, Molly Broad and Bowles are Ross' immediate predecessors.
As a North Carolinian with limited experience in the complex world of public higher education, Ross seems to fit the model of Spangler and Bowles. Like them, he brings a reputation of dedicated and unselfish public service and a native's understanding of North Carolina culture and politics,
Although he does not have the national credentials and career experience that Molly Broad brought to the job, his three years at Davidson and his service as Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation executive director give him more experience in higher education issues than either Spangler or Bowles had at the beginning. Like them, Ross brings a demonstrated ability to manage complex organizations and tackle new challenges.
Because of his Davidson experience and my observation of his success in dealing with the state legislature as a representative of the justice system, I mentioned Ross as a possibility for the UNC position in this column back in February.
But even though I thought he was perfect for the job, I believed that he would be a long-shot candidate.
I was afraid his relative short time in higher education leadership would overshadow his assets as a leader in the North Carolina public arena. Maybe I underestimated the wisdom of the search committees.
Or maybe Ross just simply fit perfectly the profile of the kind of servant leader they wanted.
Now that the selection process is over, how will Ross compare to his predecessors? One of them, Bowles, with typical modesty, was heard to say, "He'll be a much better president than I am." That might be a too high a performance bar to set. In his five years of service, Bowles' example of committed hard work and success will be a hard act to follow.
However, Ross seems ready to challenge Bowles on the modesty front. "I've got a lot to learn, and ... I know that I'm going to have to jump right in, that I'll make mistakes. And I just hope people will be patient and understand and know that I'm giving it all I have."
He also said, "I am far from perfect and I am no miracle worker, but I am committed to the task at hand."
Maybe not miracles, but Ross has shown he can make the most of challenging situations. And he probably knows that the Presbyterians at Davidson, along with people of all faiths all over North Carolina, will be praying for him.
They should also pray for the something-close-to-a-miracle that it is going to take to keep the university strong, given the state's economic situation and competing priorities.
Postscript: Ross will have Davidson-related company in the high levels of university administration. East Carolina Athletics Director Terry Holland, N.C. State Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Tom Stafford and UNC-Chapel Hill Associate Deans Bill Andrews and Jamie May are Davidson alums.
D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. This Sunday's (Sept. 5) guest is Roy Williams, author of "Hard Work."
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