CHAPEL HILL – UNC President Emeritus Erskine B. Bowles is the 2011 recipient of the University Award, the highest honor given by the Board of Governors of the 17-campus University of North Carolina. UNC President Tom Ross and Board Chair Hannah Gage of Wilmington presented the award, which recognizes illustrious service to higher education in North Carolina, during a banquet Thursday evening (Jan. 12) on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. The award acknowledges the extraordinary leadership of Bowles, who retired in December 2010 after five years as the University’s chief administrator. During the evening, tributes were offered by two of his long-time friends and UNC-Chapel Hill classmates, Nelson Schwab III of Charlotte and William B. Harrison, Jr., of New York.
By 2006, when he succeeded Molly Corbett Broad as UNC President, Bowles already had built an enviable record of achievement in both the public and private sectors. Born and raised in Greensboro, he is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. He also holds eight honorary doctorates from universities and colleges throughout America. Bowles began his business career at Morgan Stanley & Co. in New York, but returned home to North Carolina, where he helped launch the Charlotte investment banking firm of Bowles Hollowell Conner. In 1993, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as director of the Small Business Administration, and later was tapped to serve as deputy White House chief of staff and White House chief of staff. As chief of staff, he was credited with helping to negotiate the first balanced federal budget in a generation. In between his two White House tours of duty, Bowles co-founded Carousel Capital, a merchant bank based in Charlotte.
Along the way, Bowles, who has shown a life-long commitment to public service, helped found Dogwood Equity, chaired the Rural Prosperity Task Force, and served as a trustee of the Golden LEAF Foundation—three entities designed to bring economic development to rural North Carolina. He also served as vice chair of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and as a trustee of the Duke Endowment. Family illness inspired him to help lead efforts to create an ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Center in Charlotte and to serve as the international president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2002 and 2004, and in 2005 served as United Nations deputy special envoy to 13 tsunami-affected countries in Southeast Asia.
As UNC President from 2006-2010, Bowles continually sought ways to operate the University system more efficiently and effectively, streamlining administration and implementing numerous operational improvements. He was instrumental in the conception, planning, and execution of UNC Tomorrow, an initiative to identify how the University must realign academic missions, programs, and resources to meet the current and future needs of North Carolina. Under his leadership, the University adopted a voluntary accountability plan, took steps to improve student retention and graduation rates, and took a larger and more active role in statewide economic transformation. He also insisted that the University do more to support and strengthen the public schools and helped facilitate unprecedented levels of cooperation and collaboration with the state’s community colleges. A staunch advocate for keeping UNC campuses accessible and affordable, he brought a new level of consistency and predictability to the tuition process, secured record levels of need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduates, and launched UNC Online. During his last year in office, he was named by President Barack Obama to co-chair a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform charged with proposing long-term strategies for reducing the federal budget deficit and restoring the nation’s fiscal health.