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Originally published Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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WSU president declines job overtures

Ten months after becoming president of Washington State University, Elson Floyd has turned down an approach from his East Coast alma mater...

Seattle Times higher education reporter

Ten months after becoming president of Washington State University, Elson Floyd has turned down an approach from his East Coast alma mater.

Floyd has privately told WSU regents in recent weeks that representatives from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, invited him to be a candidate for chancellor — but that he'd declined.

In many ways, the post would seem a logical fit for Floyd: He grew up in North Carolina; completed his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at UNC Chapel Hill; and served there in a top administrative post — executive vice chancellor — from 1995 to 1998.

Floyd acknowledged it wasn't an easy decision.

"It was sort of tough. It was a unique opportunity to go back to UNC," he said. "But I'm fulfilling my commitment here — and doing so gleefully."

Floyd said he hadn't intended for the matter to become public but rather had sought to reassure WSU regents that he was staying.

"I made a significant commitment here and have an obligation to fulfill. I didn't want them [WSU regents] to think I was leaving the university, and I wanted to be real clear about that."

Roger Perry, who chairs the North Carolina board of trustees, declined to comment on the search process, which the university is trying to keep secret at this stage. North Carolina Chancellor James Moeser has announced he will step down June 30.

North Carolina was the first public university in the country to open its doors — in 1795. It has 28,000 students and is ranked the nation's fifth-best public university by U.S. News & World Report.

WSU has 24,000 students at four campuses and is ranked 58th among public universities by U.S. News.

It is not unusual for university presidents — especially those viewed as younger and successful — to get headhunted in what has become a highly competitive environment. In fact, several colleges — including North Carolina and Vanderbilt University — also approached University of Washington President Mark Emmert. But Emmert, like Floyd, has told them he's staying put.

Both Floyd and Emmert were recently contacted about — and declined to pursue — an upcoming chancellor vacancy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. David Giroux, a spokesman for the University of Wisconsin system, said only the names of the finalists would be made public.

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The idea of Floyd returning to North Carolina "was a concern we had when we hired him," said WSU Regent Rafael Stone, adding that Floyd had reassured them in late 2006 that he would stay at WSU even if offered the top job at his alma mater.

Stone said WSU's regents are impressed with Floyd's performance so far. He has laid out construction plans for new dorms; set about creating a communication college and a school of global animal health; and streamlined the university's top administration, Stone said.

"We think, like everyone in the WSU community, that he is doing a phenomenal job," Stone said. "Everything we thought was important, he has done — although we underestimated his energy, and how fast and able he was at making decisions."

Stone said regents are reviewing Floyd's annual compensation, which this year is $650,000. The timing of the two approaches couldn't harm Floyd's chances for getting a raise, Stone acknowledged.

"We have to remain competitive," Stone said.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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