UNC Board of Governors Chairman Fennebresque resigns

UNC system board chair John Fennebresque discusses the ouster of President Tom Ross. (WNCN)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – John Fennebresque, who led the ouster of UNC system president Tom Ross and the hiring of Margaret Spellings, has resigned from his position on the UNC Board of Governors effective immediately, the UNC system announced Monday.

Fennebresque, 68, was elected chairman of the Board of Governors in 2014. The Charlotte-based lawyer served on the board from 1995 to 1999 and then returned in 2011. But his second tenure was marked by intense controversy, as Fennebresque orchestrated the ouster of Ross and refused to say why at an awkward and combative news conference.

Then just before the hiring of Spellings, Fennebresque faced multiple calls for his ouster from board members, who felt the search for Ross’ replacement was too secretive and had been handled poorly. Board member Thom Goolsby of Wilmington led the revolt, telling Fennebresque in an email, “a majority of the board lacks confidence in your continued leadership.”

Fennebresque said he wanted to have a new president in place before stepping down.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve on the UNC Board of Governors, and I am delighted we could bring in a nationally proven and accomplished leader to serve as the next president of this great University system,” said Fennebresque. “Margaret Spellings has the experience, vision and courage we need to navigate the forces transforming higher education.”

Spellings was elected president Oct. 23.

Recently, many board members called for the resignation of Fennebresque, who pushed through the resignation of current president Tom Ross.

“While John Fennebresque and I may have had our differences at times, he truly loves the University of North Carolina and has been a tireless, passionate advocate for it,” Ross said in a statement. “He has served the UNC system with great dedication and commitment.”

Board member Marty Kotis called for Fennebresque to resign. In a phone interview with WNCN from Atlanta, Kotis said Monday’s announcement was in the best interest of the university system.

“John has a lot of passion for the university and I think he realized that with the board a little fractured,” Kotis said. “I think we realized, just in general and it’s been a consensus of the board, that we need a chair that’s focused on consensus building and frankly, for a lot of us that’s challenging because we’re used to being in leadership roles so it takes a special talent to do that.”

W. Louis “Lou” Bissette, Jr., will serve in Fennebreesue’s position until a replacement is found.

The state Senate will elect a successor to serve the remainder of Fennebresque’s term.

Fennebresque is a Charlotte-based lawyer for the McGuireWoods law firm, which is based in Richmond, Virginia. Richard Cullen, chair of McGuireWoods, said in a statement, “John has given his heart and his soul in the year and a half of his chairmanship of the UNC Board, and all of us at McGuireWoods are extremely proud of what John has accomplished. That said, we are delighted to have John returning full time to McGuireWoods as vice chairman of our law firm.”

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