The decision was announced at an emergency meeting of the UNC governing board. After the vote, board members stood up and clapped as Ross began his acceptance speech.
It is an honor to stand before you as president-elect," said Ross. "I love this state of ours and there is no insitution more important to it than the UNC system.
Ross said one of his priorities will be to use the resources of UNC to reach out to communities across the state to help economic recovery.
Ross succeeds Erskine Bowles who announced he was leaving earlier this year.
Ross, 60, became president just three years ago at his alma mater, a prestigious liberal arts school north of Charlotte that could be considered a destination job to wrap up a career. His two children also attended Davidson.
But Ross, a Greensboro native, has a distinguished public service and government career that, when combined with his connections to Democratic politics and UNC, makes him suited for the job leading campuses with about 200,000 students combined.
He got his law degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, taught at the School of Government, once led the UNC-Greensboro trustee board and served on a special commission recently to examine the UNC system's long-term future.
Then-Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, appointed Ross in 1984 to a Superior Court judgeship, marking him as the state's youngest judge at the time. He served as a judge for 17 years, during which he led a commission that reformed the state's sentencing system so that parole would be abolished and criminals would serve nearly all of their actual sentences.
Ross also served briefly as chief of staff to then-U.S. Rep. Robin Britt, D-N.C.
As director of the Administrative Office of the Courts from 1999 to 2000, Ross had to work with the Legislature to try to get more funds for the judicial system's budget. It's an effort he'd have to continue for a system that's been hit by large budget cuts the past two years, leading campuses to pass along supplemental tuition increases of up to $750 to help close an extra $70 million in spending cuts lawmakers directed them to make.
Ross served as executive director for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for seven years before becoming Davidson's president in August 2007.
The UNC system is comprised of 16 university campuses and the N.C. School of Science & Mathematics in Durham for high school students.