CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary K. Grant will go from being a Trailblazer to a Bulldog in public higher education.
On Friday, she was unanimously confirmed by the Board of Governors as chancellor-elect for the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
"It's been just a great yet very emotional couple of days," Grant told The Eagle Friday afternoon over a telephone call, while riding a bus with UNC staff from the board meeting in Chapel Hill to Asheville.
Grant, 53, has been the steward of MCLA in North Adams since 2002.
She was in North Carolina with her husband, Jim Canavan, for Friday's announcement, will return to the Berkshires on Sunday, and plans to meet with members of the MCLA community Tuesday.
UNC President Tom Ross announced Friday that Doug Orr, president emeritus of Warren Wilson College, will serve as interim chancellor of UNC Asheville beginning Sept. 1, serving until Grant's official arrival.
Grant said she plans to stay with MCLA until the fall, and will assume her new duties as chancellor as of Jan. 5, 2015. She succeeds Asheville native Anne Ponder, 64, who announced in January that she would retire July 31, after nine years in the post (http://unca.edu/retrospective).
"There's time for transition, and the support from my campus has been phenomenal," Grant said. "I can't thank enough my community at MCLA and the Berkshires for everything that's happened over the past 12 years.
Grant came to the college just after the turn of the century, succeeding President Thomas David Aceto, who helmed the campus from 1991 to 2002. Grant is the 11th president of MCLA and the first alumna to serve in that capacity.
Boosting enrollment and diversity on campus; launching the college's first comprehensive capital campaign; securing the largest gift in the history of the college; broadening and strengthening ties between the college, K-12 education system and private sector are among MCLA's accomplishments during Grant's administration.
Recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation's top 10 public liberal arts colleges, MCLA is on the President's Honor Roll for Service by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Over the past 12 years, the college has also addressed some challenges, such as making the controversial decision to arm campus police officers, budgeting for rising costs during an economic recession and advocating in a competitive climate for the advancement and benefits of a public liberal arts education.
But most people will agree that Grant has a knack for navigating any storm or windfall with grace, diplomacy and integrity.
"She's a gift wherever she lands," said Jason "Jake" McCandless, superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools and a partner of the Berkshire Compact for Education, one of the many successful and progressive educational initiatives Grant has led.
UNC officials said that out of an initial applicant pool of 119 candidates, Grant's skills, experience and qualities easily rose to the top.
In commenting about the selection process, N. King Prather, chairman of the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees and co-chair of the 20-member search committee, said that 12 candidates were selected and 11 were included in an initial round of interviews, after one candidate accepted another position.
From there, five candidates were invited to campus and the search committee recommended three finalists.
UNC Asheville (http://unca.edu) is the designated public liberal arts institution for the 17-campus UNC system. Located on 302 acres, it's home to about 3,700 undergraduate students and 730 faculty and staff members. It offers more than 30 undergraduate majors and a master of liberal arts and sciences degree.
Its chancellor is expected to embody a sense of pride in the campus and lead the university in all manners, from fostering a long-term vision for development and managing a sustainable budget to creating a vibrant culture both on campus and in the Asheville community.
"We found all of these qualities and more in Mary K. Grant," said UNC President Ross before officially placing Grant's name in nomination for the role of chancellor Friday during the Board of Governors' regular August meeting. It was unanimously approved.
"I am up for the challenge," said Grant, who wore a scarf of signature UNC blue as she took to the podium to accept the offer. She quickly acknowledged both the UNC and MCLA communities for their work in the liberal arts field of higher education.
Like UNC Asheville, MCLA's also a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, a national consortium working to advance the role of liberal arts in public education.
Grant said it was important for her to be at an institution that's aligned with her values, and acknowledged outgoing Chancellor Anne Ponder for giving her a firm foundation to land on. "We don't fill shoes, we stand on shoulders ... and your shoulders are strong," Grant said.
Tyler Fairbank, chairman of MCLA's board of trustees that Grant offers the same shoulders for her successor to stand on in leading the North Adams institution.
"One of the great things about a great leader like Mary is that you build something that is enduring, you build something that is lasting. That's exactly the case here," Fairbank said. "MCLA is a really attractive opportunity for somebody who's willing ... to stand on the shoulders of Mary Grant and bring us to the next level."
Fairbank said the 11-member MCLA board of trustees has not yet had a chance to meet and digest the news together, "but I will say we're very comfortable where we are as an institution. We've got a really outstanding team up there in terms of executive ranks and a dynamic faculty, staff and students."
He said he feels confident the college has plenty of time to formulate a national search and a "very thoughtful, deliberate process of where we're going" as an institution.
"What I want the campus community to do in the next week is to look at how far we've come in the past 12 years, and really relish and celebrate that," said Fairbank. "And then, let's get to the business of rolling up our sleeves and getting to planning what's happening in the long term."
To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink