|Davidson Appoints Thomas W. Ross, Sr., As College’s Next President
March 29, 2007
The press has been supportive of Tom Ross's decision to accept the Davidson presidency. Below are recent editorials.
The Winston-Salem Journal
Davidson College alum returns as its new president
The Charlotte Observer
Davidson's Good Choice
Davidson College Board of Trustees has elected Thomas W. Ross, Sr., as the college’s seventeenth president.
Ross, a 1972 Davidson graduate, serves as executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, and previously enjoyed a seventeen-year career as a highly regarded North Carolina Superior Court Judge. He will succeed Davidson’s president for the past ten years, Robert F. Vagt, on August 1.
At the announcement of his selection Thursday morning in Duke Family Performance Hall, Ross indicated he was “humbled by the possibilities and challenges before all of us.” He said, “For my part, I pledge to work with and follow the direction of the Board of Trustees as we together strive to make Davidson an even stronger, more accessible, and more diverse community.”
Board of Trustees Chair John F. McCartney said, “The board is delighted that Tom has accepted the position. His insight, intelligence, experience, and compassion will serve us well. Tom’s outstanding record of public service reflects the values of leadership and service that Davidson seeks to instill in all its graduates.”
Trustee Paul Leonard, chair of the nineteen-person Presidential Search Committee, also spoke at the gathering, and said Ross emerged as the clear choice from an intensive seven-month selection process that began with 185 capable candidates. Leonard said that the search committee was attracted to Ross as much by his humility as by his remarkable achievements.
Ross brings to his new position both a deep-seated understanding of the Davidson culture and traditions and a record of respected leadership in a number of different arenas throughout the state and nation. Ross is the son of a Davidson alumnus, parent of two alumni, and he has served for the past four years as a trustee of the college. His late father was Charles B. Ross, Jr., ’37, his two children are Thomas W. “Tommy” Ross, Jr., ’99 of Washington, D.C., and Mary Kathryn Ross ’01 of Charlotte. His wife of 35 years, Susan Donaldson Ross, attended Wake Forest University and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in education.
Tom and Susan Ross grew up as members of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, and served it as elders. With their recent move to Chapel Hill, they transferred their membership to University Presbyterian Church there.
After attending Davidson Ross received a law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law, with honors, and served as an Assistant Professor of Public Law and Government for a year at UNC’s Institute of Government in Chapel Hill. In 1976 he joined the Greensboro law firm of Smith, Patterson, Follin, Curtis, James and Harkavy, where he practiced law until 1982. Ross was then appointed as chief of staff for U.S. Congressman Robin Britt in Washington, D.C. In January 1984 Gov. Jim Hunt appointed him as a judge on the state superior court, where he served until 2000.
Ross tried felony cases across the state, and saw first-hand that the system suffered shortcomings from disparities in sentencing and burgeoning prison populations. He was appointed in 1990 to serve as the first chair of a new Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, which successfully crafted sentencing guidelines that were adopted by the state legislature in 1993. The new laws abolished parole and imposed harsher sentences for violent crimes and repeat offenders, while broadening the use of community-based alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Ross remained with the commission until 1999, helping monitor and recommend adjustments to the system in North Carolina and giving presentations to concerned groups in more than thirty other states.
Ross said the work on the commission was enlightening beyond its value in sentencing reform. “The commission was a fascinating study in how change is made,” he said. “I learned that managing change is one of the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding jobs you can have. You might know things have to change, but figuring out how to make it happen successfully is terribly difficult, and intriguingly wonderful.”
His efforts with the sentencing commission and service on the bench received national praise. The National Center for State Courts in 2000 presented Ross with the William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, which goes to just one state court judge nationwide each year. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist presented the award personally to Ross in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ross has also received numerous other awards for his leadership and accomplishments. In 1995 he was presented with one of nine national awards from the Foundation for the Improvement of Justice, and in 1994 was named as one of ten national public officials of the year by Governing.
In 1999 North Carolina Chief Justice Burley Mitchell asked Ross to serve as Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. During two years operating the North Carolina court system, he implemented strategies to better manage the system and its budget and advocated for additional resources for the courts.
Throughout his work with the Sentencing Commission and the Administrative Office of the Courts, he continued to serve as a judge on the Superior Court.
Ross jokingly told a reporter early in his judicial career that only two jobs could attract him to leave the bench—commissioner of Major League Baseball or executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. He never got the bullpen call from baseball, but was asked in 2000 to succeed the Reynolds Foundation’s retiring director of twenty-two years, Thomas W. Lambeth.
Ross has led the foundation since 2001 in its mission “to improve the quality of life of the people of North Carolina.” The foundation awards about $20 million annually to non-profit groups concerned with community economic development, democracy and civic engagement, the environment, pre-college education, and social justice.
Ross said, “The foundation has such a rich history of making a difference in the state. Some have said it’s the best job in the state, and even better than being governor because you can have as big an impact on public policy without having to run for office. I’ve treasured my time at the foundation, and I never dreamed I would leave. But the call of Davidson and the chance to serve the college as its president proved too strong.”
Ross credits Davidson Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies George Labban with awakening him intellectually during his sophomore year. Ross traveled in 1969 with six other students on Labban’s first-ever “Classics Abroad” seminar, a study tour of Mediterranean sites important in antiquity. Labban was a demanding and compassionate professor who helped Ross come to “love the joy of learning.”
“It was an incredibly powerful experience for me to participate as Dr. Labban lectured about legends like the Oracle there on site in places like Delphi,” Ross said. “He became my mentor and my friend. When I returned to Davidson my junior year, I was a changed person and a true student.”
Ross has maintained close contact with Labban, who still lives in Davidson. In fact, when Ross and his wife, Susan, were married a month after his 1972 graduation, they arranged their European honeymoon to include two days of sight-seeing in Spain with Labban and his family. Among Ross’s gifts to the college is a Chambers Building classroom in Labban’s honor.
As president of Davidson, Ross will oversee an $82-million annual budget and $420 million endowment, and approximately 690 full-time employees dedicated to educating 1,700 undergraduate students from across the country and around the world.
Among his challenges will be raising $70 million to permanently endow the Board of Trustees’ recent commitment to replace all educational loans to students with grants as part of financial aid packages, so that no student will graduate with debt. That policy is intended to provide better access to a Davidson education for a national demographic of students that is growing more ethnically diverse and more financially needy.
His initial priority, however, is to become a student himself. “As much as I already know and love about Davidson from my last three decades of association, I still have much more to learn,” he said. “The first thing I need to do is learn more about Davidson by talking with students, faculty, and staff. This type of small, residential, liberal arts college provides an incredibly valuable educational opportunity in our society. To preserve and protect it, we must constantly assess how well it is serving our students and entire college community.”
Posted By: Paige Herman