RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The UNC System created a search committee tasked with finding new chancellors for NC Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"It's always been said that higher education is the economic engine for North Carolina, and we're very pleased to contribute to the growth and the prosperity of North Carolina," UNC System President Peter Hans said during a sit-down interview Wednesday morning inside the UNC System's downtown Raleigh headquarters.
The UNC-Chapel Hill job opened after Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced he'd be leaving the university to become President at Michigan State University. Guskiewicz spent 28 years at UNC-Chapel Hill holding several roles; he had served as Chancellor since 2019. A renowned academic, Guskiewicz was the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences when he first assumed the Chancellor role on an interim basis before being named to the role full-time.
In December, the UNC System announced Lee Roberts would serve as Chancellor in an interim capacity.
"It was neither offered nor requested for him to be either a candidate or certainly to be the permanent (Chancellor). It'll be up to him to decide whether or not to apply and if he does, then there'll be a deep pool of candidates to compete with. But I'm very appreciative to him in his essentially a month on the job and working very closely with Chancellor Guskiewicz on the transition. I think he's impressed people. He's calm and he's cool and he's collected and he'll continue the progress that we've seen in Chapel Hill," said Hans.
Roberts was previously the State Budget Director under then-Gov. Pat McCrory and held several public and private sector positions. However, unlike Guskiewicz, he had no prior experience in university administration.
"They do have different backgrounds, so I'm not wedded to one particular background. I think it would be a challenge for somebody that was a pure academic with no operational experience, just as it would be a challenge for somebody coming from outside academia with no appreciation for the academy. So it's got to be someone who blends the two ideally," said Hans.
Guskiewicz earned praise from the university community for his handling of several issues during his tenure, though also had a reportedly tense relationship with the Board of Trustees, amidst concerns of political interference.
"There are those on the far right and far left that would probably like to see their brand of political chancellor. I'm not interested in that," said Hans.
While he described prior ties to North Carolina as a plus, it is not a prerequisite for the role.
"It's clearly somebody that has a vision for the institution, how we continue to grow at Carolina in our impact, someone who is capable of operating the budget and the finance and the operations of what is a sprawling enterprise, someone who can work closely with our world-class faculty to continue to grow research, teach our students, prepare them for successful lives and careers, someone who's got a bit of political savvy about how to deal with the many stakeholders that have strong feelings about Carolina and someone who can lead us forward into the future," said Hans about a potential fit for the school.
A 13-person search committee will hire a national search firm to assist their efforts, which will include opportunities for input from students, faculty, alumni, and community members.
"My phone has been ringing from across the country with sitting presidents and chancellors who are interested in the opportunity at Chapel Hill," Hans said.
The expedited departure of Guskiewicz necessitated the appointment of an interim chancellor, and Hans acknowledged this would be a months-long process.
"It'll take the better part of a year. I want to get it done right rather than get it done quick, as they say. But certainly, by the end of the year, we'll have a permanent chancellor in place," Hans said.
"We can hopefully have a new leader in place by the summer," said Hans.
Enrollment at NC Central increased by 5.5% for the fall semester. The university has nearly 8,000 students enrolled. Located just outside downtown Durham, it's viewed as a key talent pipeline to help fill the need for skilled workers throughout the region.
"Corporations are very interested in interacting with all of our HBCUs so that their workforce reflects a growing, diverse nation," said Hans.
In September 2022, NC Central received a $6.2 million federal grant to increase training for jobs in the life sciences industry. Last year, it announced a partnership with Halifax Community College to draw more students into its cybersecurity program.
"Undeniably there's a historical gap in funding but our state has made tremendous progress in that regard over the past 10, 20 years," said Hans, who pointed to the availability of Cheatham-White scholarships, and plans for a new dormitory, student union, and other projects at NC Central.
The search will include an online survey, on-campus listening forums, and focus groups with campus community members, while working alongside the university's alumni association, including during finalist interviews.
"Certainly prior HBCU experience at NC Central would be a plus, but not a prerequisite. I think to understand the history of an HBCU, the culture of an HBCU, the potential for black students to survive and thrive in that environment (is valuable)," said Hans.