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CHAPEL HILL — The retiring CEO of UNC Health Care will be the next interim leader of the UNC System.

The UNC Board of Governors on Thursday appointed Dr. William L. “Bill” Roper to be interim president of the 17-campus UNC System. Carolina Journal and the News & Observer of Raleigh reported Wednesday that Roper was the board’s top choice.

Roper, 70, will succeed outgoing president Margaret Spellings, who last week announced her departure midway through her five-year contract after some successes and some wrangling with the system’s governing board.

Roper will start Jan. 1, but Spellings’ contract runs through March 1 — her third anniversary as president. The News & Observer reported that Spellings will cease being president Dec. 31 but will stay on for the first two weeks in January to help Roper make the transition into his new role.

In a statement, board Chairman Harry Smith of Greenville called Roper “a terrific leader who has spent decades working on the issues that matter most to North Carolinians. He has run an extremely complex organization. His strong leadership and a sense of public purpose has allowed his organization to thrive amidst a challenging environment.”

Spellings in a statement called Roper “a friend and colleague” and said she’s “confident” that he’ll continue the UNC System’s recent work to make the state’s universities better and less expensive.

Roper came to UNC-Chapel Hill in 1997 as dean of the university’s well-regarded public health school. In 2004, he was named CEO of UNC Health Care, the statewide system that has more than 30,000 employees and 12 hospitals and hospital systems, including UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and the former Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden.

Roper also serves as vice chancellor for medical affairs at UNC-CH and dean of the UNC School of Medicine. He announced in May that he planned to resign as medical school dean and health system CEO in May 2019. He’ll leave those roles instead on Dec. 31.

Roper received his medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine and completed his residency in pediatrics at the University of Colorado Medical Center.

Before coming to Chapel Hill, Roper worked in both government and the private section. He was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration — the federal agency that oversees the Medicare and Medicaid programs — and held White House leadership positions under both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also was an executive with Prudential’s health insurance division.

In a statement, Roper said he was “honored and humbled” by his selection.

“I look forward to working closely with the chancellors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni to advance the mission and reputation of the UNC System in service to the people of North Carolina,” he said. “I am appreciative of the great work President Spellings has done for our university system and for her support of me. I look forward to working with her as I transition into this new role.”

Roper will be paid $775,000 per year, the same salary as Spellings. He’ll serve until the board finds a permanent president. The Board of Governors has not yet appointed a search committee or set a timeline for finding a new leader.

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Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.

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