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The former chancellor of the University of Tennessee-s Health Science Center will return to the institution as its top administrator next month until the search for a permanent chancellor is completed and a chancellor is employed and on the job, UT President Joseph E. Johnson has announced.

William R. Rice, who stepped down as chancellor in late 2002, will succeed Dr. Jim Gibb Johnson, interim chancellor for the past year. The transition is effective December 15.

“Jim Gibb told me several months ago that when he had agreed to serve as interim chancellor on Nov. 1, 2002, the plan was for him to serve for approximately eight months while the search was underway,” Joe Johnson said. “He is a person of impeccable integrity who has performed very well during a difficult period for UT and the health care industry, but I respect his desire to spend more time with his family and his other university interests.”

Rice said Jim Gibb Johnson, who was associate vice president for health affairs and vice chancellor and who has been on the UT faculty since 1966, would remain on the administrative staff for a period of time in a role yet to be determined.

Joe Johnson said UT was extremely fortunate that Rice had agreed to return to lead the Health Science Center for an indefinite period of time.

“Bill is known throughout Memphis and the Mid-South as a most effective health care administrator who focuses on results,” Joe Johnson said. “His long-standing relationships with community leaders, hospital administrators and health care providers will help us make a smooth transition when the new chancellor is named.”

Rice, who headed the Health Science Center for a decade, has served the past year as the first full-time executive director of the University Medical Center Alliance. Prior to becoming chancellor in 1993, he served for 10 years as executive vice chancellor of the UT Medical Center in Knoxville. He earlier served for four years as executive vice chancellor of the Health Science Center.

“I am pleased to be able to help the university and President Johnson as we continue to search for a new chancellor,” Rice said.

Jim Gibb Johnson said he had not anticipated serving this long when he accepted the interim post.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working in this role,” he said. “It has been a most rewarding experience and cap on my career at the university. It has given me a real opportunity to see truly excellent programs in every college at the UT Health Science Center.

“Having worked previously as Bill Rice-s vice chancellor, I am happy that he has agreed to take over the reins of our outstanding Health Science Center while the chancellor search continues.”

Meanwhile, Joe Johnson said the search for a permanent chancellor continues with three candidates being interviewed in the next few weeks.

“We may find a perfect match for the Health Science Center and hire a chancellor with the expectation that the individual can start sometime in the next few months after completing his or her current duties in a logical fashion,” he said.

“In the event the search must continue, the appointment of Bill Rice positions us to have strong leadership in place.”