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Healthcare Executive To Replace Outgoing UNC President Margaret Spellings

Lisa Philip

Dr. Bill Roper, CEO of the UNC Health Care, will replace outgoing UNC System President Margaret Spellings on an interim basis starting in the new year. The UNC Board of Governors voted unanimously to appoint him to the position Thursday.Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said after the vote that Roper was his “number 1 choice” for the job.

“I was working through it, and when I called Bill and we had our first conversation, I whispered to myself, ‘Thank God,’” Smith said. “Bill has ran, grew [sic] and developed one of the most sophisticated and successful assets in the state of North Carolina.”

Roper has served as CEO of UNC Health Care and dean of the UNC School of Medicine since 2004 and had been planning to retire from those positions in May. He previously served as dean of the university's school of public health. In the late 80s he worked for President George H.W. Bush’s administration, and in the early 90s he led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During a press conference after his selection Thursday, Roper was asked if he wants to lead the UNC system on a permanent basis. He said he believes in public service and that means, “When you’re asked to do something, almost always you say yes, unless there’s a strong reason not to."

“So I said yes to this,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having supper with my wife tonight, and we’ll work on tomorrow. But we’re not worried about weeks and months in the future. That’ll take care of itself.”

Outgoing President Margaret Spellings announced her resignation last week, less than three years into her five-year contract. Her tenure has coincided with a tumultuous period for UNC system leadership.

Her predecessor, Tom Ross, was ousted in 2016 by a largely conservative Board of Governors. That body has since been marked by infighting, and was publicly criticized in August by a bipartisan group of ten former board members. Spellings herself has had spats with the board, most notably over the confederate monument known as Silent Sam at the UNC-Chapel Hill Campus.

Spellings will step down Dec. 31, but will continue consulting with the UNC system until March 1. Roper will step into his new role on Jan. 1 and will receive a base salary of $775,000.

Lisa Philip is an occasional contributor to WUNC. Previously, she covered education for the station and covered schools in Howard County, Maryland for the Baltimore Sun newspapers.
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