The chancellor is the administrative and executive head of each institution within the UNC System. The president is the leader of the UNC System. This structure came about in 1971, when the North Carolina General Assembly established a single sixteen-university system, with a chancellor and a board of trustees for each institution, and a board of governors for the system. The first step toward this idea came in 1931, when the General Assembly decided to consolidate administrative operations of three public campuses —the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina College for Women (now UNC-Greensboro), and North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering (now North Carolina State University). Frank Porter Graham, then UNC's president, became president of the newly dubbed Consolidated University. The leader of each institution at first had the title of dean of administration, changed to chancellor in 1945.

Since 1932 there have been eleven chancellors of UNC—Chapel Hill:

Robert Burton House (dean of administration, 1934—45; chancellor, 1945—57)

William B. Aycock: 1957—64

Paul F. Sharp: 1964—66

J. Carlyle Sitterson: 1966—72

Nelson Ferebee Taylor: 1972—80

Christopher C. Fordham III: 1980—88

Paul Hardin: 1988—95

Michael Hooker: 1995—99

William O. McCoy (acting and interim): 1999—2000

James Moeser: 2000—2008

H. Holden Thorp: 2008—13

Carol L. Folt: 2013—19

Kevin Guskiewicz: 2019—