General Assembly leaders back off criticism of UNC search

House Speaker Tim Moore says he is confident the UNC system has followed protocol. (WNCN)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The UNC Board of Governors is expected to vote Friday on a new system president to replace Tom Ross, who was pushed into retirement.

Last week, Senate Preside Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore wrote a letter to the board expressing concern that only one candidate was being interviewed. The board had an emergency session Friday to meet with a candidate, sparking the outcry.

Many board members also complained about the process, according to emails obtained by WNCN. Many called for the resignation of board chair John Fennebresque, a Charlotte attorney.

The General Assembly had passed a bill requiring three candidates for the position, but the bill has not yet been signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

Moore said Wednesday he is confident the UNC board is meeting the will of the General Assembly.

“My understanding is that process has essentially been followed at this point, at least up until now,” Moore said. The representations I’ve got from the Board of Governors members are that will continue to happen.”

And Berger, asked about the search Wednesday, said, “We’ll just have to trust that they’re going to make a decision that’s best for the university system.”

But Sen. Mike Woodard a Democrat from Durham County, said, “Good candidates who might be interested in the UNC job, which is a prestigious job in American academics, may be scared off by the infighting they see in their board.”

Margaret Spellings, the former Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, is believed to be the front-runner for the job. She is now the president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, and a spokeswoman there referred questions for her to the UNC system.

Randy Woodson, the chancellor at N.C. State University, said he is eager to see the search concluded, especially as the state begins a campaign to sell a $2 billion bond proposal to voters.

“We desperately need to get the search finalized, get a strong president in here to move the system forward,” Woodson said.

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