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CHAPEL HILL — The UNC System took the first step in its search for a new president Friday, five months after Margaret Spellings stepped down from the job.

It’ll be done behind closed doors, and the public won’t know who’s in the running, even when it’s down to the finalists.

UNC system spokesman Jason Tyson said the process has historically been confidential and will remain that way mainly because they want to protect candidates from being exposed to current employers.

The UNC System's Board of Governors voted Friday to establish a search process to appoint the new president, who will oversee 17 campuses across the state that serve nearly 250,000 college and gifted high school students.

Spellings’ departure was unexpected and came three years into her 5-year contract. She faced some challenges and political controversies during her tenure, including protests over the Silent Sam Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill and the short-lived state law regulating transgender bathroom use known as HB 2.

Spellings was at odds with a faction of the board, and in the end both parties agreed it was time for a change, The News & Observer reported. She was paid $775,000 yearly, plus a deferred $77,500 annually.

Dr. Bill Roper, former UNC Health Care CEO and dean of the UNC-CH medical school, has been the interim president since January and will continue until a new president is elected. Roper hasn’t said whether he is vying for the position.

Although the process will be private, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger will be kept in the loop about the progress.

Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith will put together a search committee of seven people. The only two named so far are Randy Ramsey, vice chair, and Wendy Murphy, chair of the committee on personnel and tenure.

That search committee will choose at least three candidates and can elicit the help of an executive search consultant and other staff.

The board previously hired Boston-based firm Isaacson Miller to assist in the previous presidential search that found Spellings was the best fit. The cost of that search was nearly $300,000.

The search committee will present the prospective candidates to the board’s presidential assessment and advisory committee, which will give the full board a list of at least three finalists. The board will then vote to appoint the new president of the system.

There was no discussion of potential candidates, a time line, costs or a consulting firm for the search at the meeting Friday. Tyson said the UNC system office has designated funds for these expenses.

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