Ross Elected President of the University of North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL – Thomas W. Ross, President of Davidson College and a former North Carolina Superior Court judge and foundation executive, was today (August 26) unanimously elected president of the 17-campus University of North Carolina during a specially called meeting of the UNC Board of Governors. G. Leroy Lail of Hickory, chairman of the 13-member Search Committee charged with bringing one or more candidates before the full board for consideration, placed Ross’s name in nomination and Board Chairman Hannah D. Gage of Wilmington commended him to the Board. Ross, 60, will take office January 1, 2011, succeeding Erskine Bowles, 65, who announced in February that he would retire this December after five years in the post.
In recommending Ross to the Board of Governors, Gage said: “Our nationwide search attracted talent from many different professional backgrounds and from every part of the country, but in the end, that long road led us back to North Carolina, to one of our own. In a time of great challenge and constant change, Tom Ross’s thoughtful leadership, his proven integrity, his deep understanding of North Carolina, and his lifelong commitment to improving the lives of people in every corner of our state make him the perfect choice to lead the University in the years ahead.”
Ross has served as President of Davidson College, his alma mater, since 2007. Consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, the highly selective college enrolls approximately 1,800 students and has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars. It offers more than 20 academic majors, as well as pre-professional programs in pre-med, law, business, and management, and 21 Division I men’s and women’s sports. Under Ross’s leadership, Davidson adopted a visionary strategic plan for its future and implemented The Davidson Trust. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Also during Ross' tenure, Davidson established the Alvarez Scholars Program, which provides scholarships for international students at Davidson. Last year, Davidson completed the most successful year of fundraising in the college's history.
Born and raised in Greensboro, N.C., Ross earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Davidson in 1972. Three years later, he graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Law. After a short stint as an Assistant Professor of Public Law and Government at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government, Ross joined the Greensboro law firm of Smith Patterson Follin Curtis James & Harkavy in 1976. He left the firm in 1982 to serve as chief of staff in the office of U.S. Congressman Robin Britt. The following year, at the age of 33, Ross was appointed by then-Governor Jim Hunt to fill a vacancy on the North Carolina Superior Court. He held the position for the next 17 years (1984-2000).
From his vantage point on the bench, Ross witnessed first-hand a state justice system beleaguered by uneven sentencing and a fast-growing prison population. In 1990, North Carolina’s Chief Justice tapped him to lead a new Sentencing and Policy Advisory Committee. Over the next two years, this panel of judges, lawyers, legislators, law enforcement officers, and citizens devised a structured sentencing system that would toughen sentences for violent crimes and repeat offenses, while increasing community-based alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenses. Key goals were to minimize sentencing disparities and to prioritize resources more effectively without sacrificing public safety. Adopted by the NC General Assembly in 1993, the new system has become a model for similar programs nationwide.
In 1999, Ross was appointed director of the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts. Over the next two years, he led efforts to improve the management of the court system and advocated for additional resources. In 2001, he left the bench to serve as executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a Winston-Salem-based philanthropic organization devoted to improving the lives of the people of North Carolina. During his seven-year tenure at Z. Smith Reynolds, (2001-2007), the foundation awarded about $20 million annually to non-profit groups focused on community economic development, democracy and civic engagement, the environment, pre-college education, and social justice. Ross stepped down in 2007 to return to Davidson as its President.
Active in civic and community activities, Ross currently serves on the boards of Davidson College, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the Hueston Foundation, the Warner Foundation, the Center for Creative Leadership, and the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. He also serves on advisory boards for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the NC Humanities Council, and the NC State University Institute for Emerging Issues. A former chairman of the UNC Greensboro Board of Trustees, he has previously served on the Boards of Visitors for UNCG, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest University. In addition, he has served on the boards of the North Carolina New Schools Project, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the Institute of Government Foundation, the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law Alumni Foundation, and the Wake Forest Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Ross has received numerous awards and accolades for his vast public service and professional achievements. His many contributions to the judicial system have been recognized through the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence (2000), given annually to one state judge in the nation; Governing Magazine’s National Public Official of the Year Award (1994); the Foundation for the Improvement of Justice Award (1995); the NC Academy of Trial Lawyers Trial Judge of the Year Award (1996); the American Society of Criminology President’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Justice (2007); the NC Justice Center Defenders of Justice Award (2008); and the NC Bar Association Citizen Lawyer Award (2010). He has been honored with Distinguished Alumni Awards from Davidson (2001) and the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law (2005) and holds an honorary doctorate from UNCG. In addition, he has received the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award (1993), the National Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Eagle Scout Award (1999), and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine (1999).
Following his election as UNC’s next President, Ross told the Board of Governors: “To accept this job will require that I leave a job and place I love dearly. Davidson College is one of the top liberal arts colleges in this Country, and it is also my alma mater and the place that nurtured me and helped me grow as a student and, again, as its President. It has been an emotional struggle for me to come to the decision to leave, but I do so feeling called to this position and to this University. I love this State of ours, and there is no institution more important to North Carolina and her future than the University of North Carolina.”
Ross has been married since 1972 to Susan Donaldson Ross, a graduate of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education and a former executive director of the Greensboro Bar Association. They have two adult children: Thomas W. Ross, Jr., who lives with his wife, Lindsay, in Washington D.C., is a graduate of Davidson and Union Seminary and serves as the Senior Advisor for Intelligence and Defense for the U.S. Senate Majority Leader. Mary Kathryn Ross Elkins of Charlotte is also a Davidson graduate who, along with her husband, Chris, operates Run for Your Life, a specialty running store in Charlotte. They also have a nine-month-old grandson, Nolan Elkins.
The oldest public university in the nation, the University of North Carolina enrolls more than 225,000 students and encompasses all 16 of North Carolina’s public institutions that grant baccalaureate degrees, as well as the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the nation’s first public residential high school for academically gifted students. UNC campuses support a broad array of distinguished liberal-arts programs, two medical schools and one teaching hospital, two law schools, a veterinary school, a school of pharmacy, 11 nursing programs, 15 schools of education, three schools of engineering, and a specialized school for performing artists. The UNC Center for Public Television, with its 12-station statewide broadcast network, is also under the University umbrella.