N.C. Community College Board chooses new president as GOP looks to change process

By: - April 21, 2023 2:09 pm

Jeff Cox, president of Wilkes Community College, was chosen Friday as the next president of the N.C. Community College System. (Photo: N.C. Community College System)

The State Board of Community Colleges chose a new president for the 58-campus community college system Friday, making the decision ahead of a looming bill that would require the General Assembly to approve the system’s top leader.

Jeff Cox, president of Wilkes Community College, will be the system’s new president. Cox, who also serves as president of the North Carolina Association of Community College Presidents, will be the eighth president of the system in as many years.

Jeff Cox (Photo:Wilkes Community College)

The community college system has had several presidents in the last few years.

  • Peter Hans became president in 2018, but left in 2021 to become president of the UNC System.
  • Thomas Stith replaced Hans, but resigned suddenly and without a stated reason last July. Stith was on the job just 18 months, experiencing tension with the board over that time.
  • The current interim president, William Carver, has served in the role since Stith left. He also served in the role after Hans departed.

The State Board of Community Colleges currently chooses the system’s president. The governor appoints half of the board’s members and the N.C. General Assembly appoints eight. Two ex-officio members are appointed by the state treasurer and lieutenant governor.

That set-up has led to more diverse and bipartisan board than the UNC Board of Governors, which is appointed solely by the Republican majority of the General Assembly. With Democrat Roy Cooper now in office as governor and the leadership of the N.C. House, Senate and offices of the lieutenant governor and treasurer held by Republicans, Cox needed buy-in from both sides of the political aisle.

That may soon change, as legislative Republicans move to strip further appointment powers from the governor’s office.

Senate Bill 692, filed earlier this month, would change community college governance, giving the General Assembly’s GOP majority confirmation of the system president and granting the president the power to fire individual campus presidents and diminishing the power of local campus leaders and the governor.

Democratic lawmakers call the bill a further power grab from a Republican majority that has been stripping powers from the governor’s office since Cooper unseated Pat McCrory in the 2016 gubernatorial race – and even feuded with McCrory over power during his single term in office.

Republicans say they’re trying to make the system more stable and responsive to the constituents who gave them a legislative majority.

State board members praised Cox at Friday’s meeting.

“Dr. Jeff Cox has proven to be among the best education leaders in the country during his time at Wilkes Community College and as a North Carolina K-12 superintendent,” said Burr Sullivan, Chair of the State Board of Community Colleges. “And we’re excited to announce Dr. Cox as the new president of the North Carolina Community College System.”

“We know our community colleges need strong statewide leadership and dynamic future-forward approaches to business and workforce development and Dr. Cox is that leader,” Sullivan said.

The North Carolina Community College System is the third largest in the nation, serving nearly 600,000 students across all 100 counties. Cox told board members at Friday’s meeting he understands – and looks forward to – to the challenge of becoming its leader.

“I’m excited and ready to lead this great System through a time of dynamic change and tremendous opportunity,” Cox said. “North Carolina community colleges are the catalyst for workforce development and growth for our state, and now is the time for innovation, collaboration, and partnerships.

“The North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Cooper have done an exemplary job in setting the conditions to make North Carolina #1 in the country for business,” Cox said. “I look forward to building strong connections with our state leaders and other key stakeholders to make sure we have the best prepared workforce in the country to meet the needs of our businesses and industries so we can fully realize our shared vision for the future of North Carolina.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.