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UNC's Ross and a Blue Cross conflict

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As a UNC system search committee zeroed in on Tom Ross as its top choice to run the state's public universities,  one influential member was faced with a conflict.

J. Bradley Wilson is the president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina. He was also a member of the UNC search committee by virtue of his emeritus membership on the UNC system's Board of Governors, which he chaired several years ago.

Ross is also on the Blue Cross board, named to it earlier this year. As such, he would play a role in making employment and compensation decisions that could affect Wilson.

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So when Ross's name popped up during the search committee's deliberations, Wilson said he stepped out of the room. He declined to participate in Ross's interviews to avoid a conflict of interest.

Now, Ross must offer to resign from the Blue Cross board. The organization's bylaws require that members offer to step down if they change jobs; however, the board doesn't necessarily have to accept that resignation, so Ross may indeed remain on that board, Wilson said last week. The matter has yet to be addressed.

The insurance board is heavy with members familiar with the university system. A second member of the UNC presidential search committee, Walter Davenport, sits on the Blue Cross board as well, but did not sit out the Ross interviews, according to a UNC system spokeswoman. He is not a Blue Cross employee, as Wilson is, and thus didn't have the same conflict.

Harold Martin, the current chancellor at N.C. A&T University, is also on the Blue Cross board. Prior to taking the reins at N.C. A&T, he served as a UNC system vice president.

Other board members include Jeffrey Houpt, the former head of the UNC Health Care system, and Lloyd Hackley, a former chancellor at Fayetteville State University.

Blue Cross hasn't disclosed what it's paying Ross for board work. Other board members were paid $33,047 to $51,314 last year, Blue Cross reported in a filing with the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Ross was hired last week to head the 220,000-student system. He starts work Jan. 1 and will earn $525,000 annually.

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About the blogger

Eric Ferreri covers higher education and general news.