Molly Broad, UNC’s first female system president, dies at 81

Published 11:25 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2023

CHAPEL HILL (AP) — Molly Corbett Broad, the first female president of the University of North Carolina system and who later became a top advocate for U.S. higher education, has died at age 81.

Broad died early Monday, according to a statement from her family. The statement was provided to UNC system officials from a former close associate of Broad’s.

Tuesday’s statement did not say where she died or the circumstances. She died “peacefully” and had been surrounded by family over the holidays, the statement said.

Broad, a Pennsylvania native, served as system president from 1997 through 2005 after holding administration jobs at Syracuse University and the Arizona and California state university systems.

The third UNC system president and the first to come from out of state, Broad led the 17-school system through a period of tremendous growth. She helped get a record $3.1 billion higher education bond package on the ballot and approved by voters in 2000. The state’s first need-based scholarship program also was created during her tenure, UNC officials said.

“She will be remembered as one of the giants of American higher education. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to work alongside her, and grateful for all she did on behalf of North Carolina,” said Peter Hans, the current system president and Board of Governors member during Broad’s tenure. She was a “trailblazer and a visionary,” Hans added.

Broad said in 2001 that when she arrived at the post the system was “not the exemplar of best practices.”

“This is a great university that in my judgment was at risk on multiple fronts. So I have been in a hurry,” she told The News & Observer of Raleigh. Broad said that not being from North Carolina was a “huge disadvantage” entering the president’s post.

“There is a connectedness among those whose families are from here. Even though I studied hard, it’s just not the same as being a North Carolina native,” she told the newspaper, but “I also think I see things in this state that native North Carolinians just don’t see.”

After stepping down as president, Broad was a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, the system’s flagship campus, before becoming in 2008 president of the American Council on Education, the primary group representing colleges and universities in Washington. She also made history as the first woman to lead ACE, serving until 2017.

J.B. Milliken, chancellor of the University of Texas system, a former top lieutenant for Broad in UNC system administration and ex-ACE board member, called Broad a close friend.

Broad was a “thoughtful and effective leader whose values and service were a model for all who knew her,” Milliken said in a statement.

As ACE president, Broad advocated for increasing access to and innovation within postsecondary education, current president Ted Mitchell said: “She leaves a legacy of excellence, leadership and service.”

Broad’s husband, Bob, died in 2020. They had two sons.

Details for memorial services will be provided later, the family’s statement said.