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UNC System Board of Governors elects next chancellor of UNC-Asheville

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UNC System Board of Governors elects next chancellor of UNC-Asheville

Nov 29, 2023 | 1:35 pm ET
By Joe Killian
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UNC System Board of Governors elects next chancellor of UNC-Asheville
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Dr. Kimblerly van Noort was elected the next chancellor of UNC-Asheville at a special meeting of the UNC System Board of Governors Wednesday. (Image: UNC-Asheville)

Kimberly van Noort was elected the ninth chancellor of UNC-Asheville Wednesday, by unanimous vote of the UNC System Board of Governors.

She will begin the new role Jan. 1 with an annual base salary of $300,000. Additional incentive compensation based on performance markers could raise her earnings to twice that amount.

UNC System President Peter Hans chose van Noort as interim chancellor after previous Chancellor Nancy Cable stepped down last year, making van Noort the presumptive favorite in the search process.

Though more than 130 candidates applied from across the country, Hans said in a special meeting of the UNC Board of Governors Wednesday, that van Noort is “the right leader for this moment in UNC-A’s proud history.”

“Her deep background in the liberal arts affirms that she will be an enthusiastic steward of UNC-Asheville’s unique place among public universities,” Hans said. “Her wealth of experience as an administrator means that she can back up her support for UNC-A’s mission with the skills and insight to strengthen the university and put its commitments into effective practice for more students.”

An image of UNC System President Peter Hans speaking to the UNC System Board of Governors at Wednesday's meeting
UNC System President Peter Hans speaks to the UNC System Board of Governors at Wednesday’s meeting to elect Kimberly van Noort. (Image: Screen grab from PBS NC live broadcast)

In the six years before she was chosen as interim provost at UNC-Asheville, van Noort held several positions within the UNC System, including senior vice president for academic affairs. Before her work with the UNC System she spent 20 years as a faculty member and leader at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she taught French and served as associate vice provost for undergraduate studies, director of University College and associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts.

UNC-Asheville was the first campus van Noort visited when she came to North Carolina in 2016, she said in a statement on her election Wednesday.

“I remember vividly how it struck me as a very special place with incredible potential,” van Noort said. “Seven years later, after serving first as interim provost and now interim chancellor since the start of the new year, I can easily report that my first impression has been confirmed ten-fold.”

At a campus that has had five chancellors in the last eight years, stability and consistency were prized in the search process.

Roger Aiken, chair of the UNC-Asheville Board of Trustees, headed the search effort. He said the job van Noort has done as interim chancellor over the last year made her stand out in a large and competitive field.

A headshot of Roger Aiken
Roger Aiken, chair of the UNC-Asheville Board of Trustees. (Image: UNC-Asheville)

“The UNC Asheville Board of Trustees has been very impressed with what Dr. van Noort has been able to accomplish in a very short period of time in her interim role,” Aiken said in a statement Wednesday. “And we have every confidence that she will position the university for continued success and growth in the years to come. We are equally impressed with the strong senior leadership team in place, which will provide key support to fulfill her vision for the university’s future.”

Both Hans and UNC System President Randy Ramsey praised the direction of the campus of about 3,000 students under van Noort’s interim leadership.

“She has sharpened focus on enrollment and financial aid and shifted the institution to a proactive, student-friendly approach that has already resulted in a long-sought turnaround in the campuses enrollment trends,” Hans said. “This fall marked a 25% increase in UNC-A’s incoming first year students without sacrificing academic qualifications, and a retention rate for all students of over 90% — the highest in three years.”

Those changes come on the heels of a turbulent period in which UNC-Asheville had some of the worst enrollment and retention numbers in the 16-campus UNC System, a problem illuminated in a thorough analysis last year by The Asheville Watchdog.

First chancellor search under new process

UNC-Asheville was the first campus to recruit a new chancellor under a change to UNC System policy adopted in May. Its chancellor search began in late July.

Under the previous and somewhat controversial process, the UNC System president wielded more direct power in the selection.

Traditionally, a search committee made up of an individual school’s board of trustees conducted an independent chancellor search; in turn, it forwarded at least two finalists to the UNC system president. The president then chose a final candidate to submit for final approval by the UNC System Board of Governors.

Hans proposed a change that would have allowed the president to unilaterally add up to two hand-chosen candidates to any chancellor search process. Those candidates would go through the same interviews as other candidates, but would automatically move forward in a slate of finalists for the position, irrespective of the opinions of search committees or boards of trustees.

In effect, the president would have had the power to appoint finalists and to choose the final candidate from those finalists.

The proposed change was unpopular among campus boards of trustees and divided the UNC Board of Governors, to which Hans reports. A number of members said they worried it would essentially allow the system to disregard local search committees and boards of trustees. After a long debate, the board changed the proposal so that only one of the president’s hand-picked candidates would become an automatic finalist, not two.

Even with that amendment, critics said the policy concentrated too much power in the hands of the UNC System president. Proponents said it makes the UNC System more like a private business, in which CEOs choose the leadership teams they believe will be most successful. Though search processes are confidential, the UNC System said that during the time period Hans held that power, he did not use it.

Under the new and current policy, Hans still wields a great deal of power in the process. In consultation with the chair of a campus board of trustees, Hans chooses the members of the search advisory committees. They include representatives of the faculty, staff, students and community. The search committees must now also include members of the UNC System Board of Governors, who were previously prohibited from serving on them.

In turn, the advisory committee forwards candidates to the board of trustees. And it submits three finalists to the system president, who chooses one nominee to present to the system’s board of governors. That board holds a final vote on the hire.

“I believe the result proves its value,” Hans said in speaking to the board of governors of the change Wednesday. “Being involved in the search process from the very beginning instead of the end gave us all the opportunity to know the candidates well at the same time, both at the campus level and the system level, and feel confident in the nomination I’ve put before you.”

“It also afforded me the chance to meet promising education leaders who may find another role within our system, and to hear the hopes and aspirations that so many people hold for UNC-Asheville,” Hans said.

Ramsey, chair of the UNC System Board of Governors, praised the search’s final result Wednesday.

“Dr. van Noort has proven herself to be a leader full of passion, creativity, and vision for the future of UNC Asheville,” Ramsey said in a statement. “During her time as interim chancellor she worked closely with faculty, staff, and administrators, stabilizing UNCA’s enrollment and working to meet the institution’s strategic goals. I can’t think of anyone more suited to the job, and I wish Dr. van Noort all the best in the role.”