The University of North Carolina system handed its presidency Monday to Erskine Bowles, a successful Charlotte businessman and politician with no prior experience in higher education. He will take office Jan. 1.
The UNC Board of Governors confirmed him unanimously as a replacement for Molly Broad, who is retiring after eight and a half years in the top job.
As president, the 60-year-old Bowles will be expected to oversee the oldest public university system in America.
The UNC system boasts a $5 billion annual budget and employs 37,000 people across its 16 branches. More than 195,000 students are enrolled across the state, including about 30,000 at North Carolina State University and 25,000 at the flagship campus in Chapel Hill.
J. Bradley Wilson, chair of the Board, formally endorsed Bowles for the position Monday. As he acknowledged that the search committee had interviewed five applicants, Wilson added that Bowles had "aced the exam."
"The president's job takes a unique blend of skill, character and passion. We searched for a president who possesses all three, and no one possesses that blend more than Erskine Bowles," Wilson said in a statement.
Bowles earned a bachelor's degree from the Chapel Hill campus in 1967. Following the vote, he assured the Board that its confidence was not in vain.
"I promise you that I will be prepared to accept this public trust, and I thank you for entrusting me with the opportunity to serve this great University," he said.
A multimillionaire, Bowles has pledged to donate $125,000 of his $425,000 annual salary toward student financial aid.
Although Bowles has no professional experience in academia, many believe he possesses an understanding of leadership.
A co-founder of the private equity firm Carousel Capital, he was also White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton from 1996-1998.
Braxton Fonville, UNC '09, said he hopes Bowles looks past partisanship in his new job.
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"I would be expect him to be able to put aside his political beliefs," Fonville said.
After a stint as a general partner in a New York private equity firm, Bowles returned home to North Carolina in 2001 to run for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. He lost campaigns in 2002 and 2004 to current senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, respectively.
Bowles is the second high-profile North Carolina Democrat to recently accept a position in the state's public university system. John Edwards, U.S. vice-presidential candidate in 2004, is the director of the new UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.