01 Feb 1998

C.D. Spangler, Jr.: A Leadership Role in Business and Academe

by Nancy O. Perry; photo by Ann Hawthorne


Recently retired after eleven years as president of the University of North Carolina, C.D. ("Dick") Spangler, Jr. (MBA '56), views his accomplishments as those of "an average person who simply tried to be a part of North Carolina's future." Admirers, however, see an extraordinary individual who has made a significant contribution to the growth and development of public education in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast.

"Dick does things quietly," observes Richard H. Jenrette (MBA '57), a longtime friend. Among those "quiet" achievements during Spangler's University of North Carolina (UNC) tenure were his appointment of fifteen new chancellors and other university leaders; a systemwide enrollment increase of more than 27,000 students, to a total of 150,000 at the university's sixteen campuses; the near doubling of the university's annual operating budget at a time when other state systems were retrenching; and his encouragement of faculty to compete more actively for outside grants and contracts, with growth in those areas rising annually from $175 million in 1986 to more than $500 million in 1997.

But Spangler's principal UNC legacy will likely be his staunch advocacy of affordable education for all. As he once said of North Carolina's citizens, "In a sense, we are a large family. We will try to direct the proper proportion of our strengths and assets to each member of the family."

A Charlotte native, Spangler rose to prominence in his family's construction and real-estate firm and in banking, where, among other achievements, he led a merger of the Bank of North Carolina with the North Carolina National Bank Corporation in the early 1980s. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - the first in his family to attend college - and later the father of two daughters educated in North Carolina public schools, Spangler has long been interested and involved in the state's educational system. He first took an active role in education as a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Board of Education from 1972 to 1976, while that system was in the midst of court-ordered desegregation. (Of that time he is often quoted as saying, "Our concern should be the quality of the school at the end of the bus ride, rather than the length of the ride itself.") In 1982, North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt named Spangler chairman of the state's Board of Education, where he served until his appointment as the fourteenth president of the University of North Carolina, the nation's oldest public university.

A 1988 HBS Alumni Achievement Award winner, Spangler observes of his transition from business to education that running a university is different from managing a corporate enterprise. "Many of my friends in business would feel that universities should be managed more like businesses. That is not possible nor is it desirable," he asserts. "Unlike business, where decisions are often made at the top, a university president can only lead by persuasion, which takes time and a lot of patience."

In a tribute occasioned by Spangler's UNC retirement, a recent North Carolina television program made clear the important role that Spangler's wife, Meredith Riggs Spangler, and daughters, Abigail Riggs Spangler and Anna Spangler Nelson (MBA '88), have played in his outstanding career. It also documented the widespread esteem in which Spangler is held and described his tireless work on the state's behalf, efforts that have made him, in the words of an admiring colleague, "the ultimate North Carolina booster."


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