UNC officials praise KU pick

Retired University of North Carolina Chancellor James Moeser always will be indebted to Bernadette Gray-Little.

After all, she gave him back at least nine months of his life.

In 2006, when Moeser was seeking to fill the vacant provost position at UNC-Chapel Hill, he was fully prepared to open a national search that would take at least nine months to a year to complete.

That is, until he met with the university’s group of executive vice chancellors. Moeser meant for the meeting to be about finding an interim provost to fill the position while he searched for a replacement.

The group had a different idea. Voices from all around the table said he should save himself the trouble. Forget about hiring an interim, the group members said. The vice chancellors said with unanimity that Moeser should give the provost’s job to Gray-Little, who at that time was the university’s Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“In an amazing two-week period, she was named provost, without a search,” said Moeser, who previously was a longtime dean of KU’s School of Fine Arts. “It was absolute acclamation on this campus. I can’t tell you how amazing that was.”

To hear friends and colleagues tell it, amazing seems to follow Gray-Little frequently.

She was named Kansas University’s 17th chancellor on Friday.

“What you are getting is the complete package,” said Steve Allred, who worked with Gray-Little in the UNC Provost’s office and is now provost at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “You get expertise, you get grace, you get remarkable skill, and you get a depth of experience that is second to none.”

Colleagues said Gray-Little will be an effective champion of the university’s mission, a strong advocate for advancing KU’s research efforts, and an empathetic leader.

“She is one of the most important administrators that we’ve ever had on this campus,” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp.

Among the major efforts Gray-Little worked on:

l Major fundraising for the multimillion-dollar FedEx Global Education Center at UNC.

l Leadership in helping grow UNC’s research funding from $200 million in 2000 to more than $600 million today.

“Obviously the provost office under her leadership was the key to making that happen because that is the office that really makes the key investments in faculty hires,” Moeser said.

l A revamping of the entire advising system for UNC students, and doubling of the size of the university’s honors program.

l Strong lobbying and fundraising to increase faculty salaries.

“Now UNC is in the absolute top tier of public universities for faculty salaries,” Moeser said.

Allred predicts KU faculty will warm to Gray-Little in part because she still remembers the grind of being a professor. Gray-Little was at UNC for 33 years before becoming a dean. She’s been at UNC for 38 years total.

“No matter where faculty members are at in their careers, she can relate to it because she has been there,” Allred said. “I think the faculty really will find her to be one of their own.”

UNC Chancellor Thorp said he believes Gray-Little’s leadership style will sit well with the community.

“She’s not going to panic under pressure, for sure,” Thorp said with a laugh. “If you’ve seen her in person, you know that. She’s going to get a lot of input and make the right decisions, and when she does, you are going to know that she did all her work and she is doing the right thing for the university.”