Searching for Carolina’s 12th Chancellor

During a Carolina chancellor search 32 years ago — and after an exhaustive review that included interviews with 138 alumni, legislators, editors, students, faculty, University administrators, trustees and others — the review team issued a 107-page report identifying qualities it thought should be present in the new chancellor.

Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

The committee suggested the new chancellor:

• “Be a person with sufficient psychological strength to make difficult decisions and to press for institutional change;

• “Be an effective internal and external spokesperson but also secure and facile enough to function in the larger system of higher education in North Carolina;

• “Have a record of strong interpersonal skills sufficient to pull together the institution’s various constituencies;

• “Be articulate in one-on-one and group discussions and before large audiences;

• “Be in good health and have the physical stamina to work long hours;

• “Be an effective manager as well as a leader;

• “Have a personal warmth and a sense of humor;” and

• “Meet the full test of a field of the very finest candidates possible.”

Those qualities remain important today, but unlike 32 years ago, those serving on the chancellor search committee seeking candidates to succeed Carol L. Folt will have competition from more than a dozen private and public Association of American Universities’ member institutions. Former AAU President Hunter Rawlings, speaking at Carolina in 2012,  noted that of the 35 public university presidents and chancellors whose institutions were members of the AAU, 13 “left their positions, most prematurely, some fired, some resigned under pressure” during his 18 months as AAU president.

Rawlings identified five principal reasons for this turnover:

• Financial pressures;

• Ideological pressures;

• “Corporatization” of the university;

• Governance and financial tensions between flagship campuses and higher education systems; and

• The dominating influence of intercollegiate athletics that can undermine academic values and oversight.

The Board of Trustees must recommend no fewer than three finalists to UNC System Interim President William Roper, who will then nominate one person for approval by the UNC System Board of Governors. Each chancellor search is different — and for those who want to read more about that history, the Review has packaged its “History of the Chancellorship” series online at — but there are factors present during the searches of the past three decades that might suggest areas of likely emphasis.

Two obvious factors relate to fundraising and the health of the chancellor. Chancellor N. Ferebee Taylor ’42 created the position of vice chancellor for development and public service and led Carolina’s first campuswide fundraising campaign — the Carolina Challenge. He reluctantly left the chancellorship for health reasons. Chancellor Christopher Fordham ’47 put in place much of the needed foundation for the Bicentennial Campaign. With the then-mandatory retirement age of 65, Fordham recognized that he would be unable to serve throughout the campaign and retired before the campaign’s official launch. Chancellor Paul Hardin served throughout the Bicentennial Observance and the Bicentennial Campaign and announced 18 months before the end of the campaign that he would retire upon its conclusion.

Chancellor Michael Hooker ’69 was identifying the leadership and priorities for the Carolina First Campaign when, tragically, he was diagnosed with cancer, which subsequently took his life. Chancellor James Moeser served throughout the Carolina First Campaign and stepped down six months after its successful conclusion. Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 was forming the foundation for Carolina’s next capital campaign when he announced his decision to resign. In fall 2017, Carol Folt publicly launched the ambitious $4.25 billion Campaign for Carolina, which eclipsed $2.8 billion before she assumed the presidency of the University of Southern California on July 1 after stepping down at Carolina in January.

It is important that Carolina’s nearly 336,000 living alumni, our University’s largest and only permanent constituency, have a voice in the chancellor search. The GAA will be represented by our board chair — Rich Leonard ’71 (’73 MEd) — and me. After determining which qualities and experiences are most essential, since no candidate will possess all of the desired experiences and qualities, the search committee, the trustees, Interim President Roper and the BOG must take a leap of faith. Whoever becomes Carolina’s 12th chancellor will expect and need the full support of each of us.

GAA Chair Leonard and I invite you to suggest the qualities that should be reflected in the new chancellor and the priorities she or he should pursue. Please send your thoughts, concerns or suggestions by email to me or to or write to Chancellor Search Committee, c/o GAA, PO Box 660, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-0660. For more, visit

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature




Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

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