Many believed Colvard's experience and credentials were the primary reasons he was chosen for chancellor. Jack Claiborne, a journalist and former associate vice chancellor of public relations for the university, felt Cone's gender was a factor in the decision, but he also felt the university would not have had the same ascent without Colvard's expertise.
Other observers have noted, however, that Cone's powerful presence may have been a factor in the chancellor decision. John Robbins, former associate professor of history and a close colleague of Morrill’s at the time, thought back to the controversy in 1974:
I have come from my association at relatively high levels of state government, and in talking to most of the people who have had a lot to do in the State Legislature and at the gubernatorial level, my judgment is that Bonnie Cone was shunted aside, not because she was a woman, but because she was damned powerful and very good and would not play second fiddle to the major administration in Chapel Hill. . . we made the fundamental mistake by going for an older man in Colvard. . . I think in many instances the faculty was far better in ’64, ’65 that it was in ’72, ’73. I think Bonnie Cone had a better faculty than Colvard has.
Morrill, too, believed Colvard was the safe choice. Leaders were very worried about meeting the standards of the other three chancellors in the university system; they wanted validity and a certain, smooth transition. Sanford mentioned that Colvard sometimes became frustrated with Cone’s powerful presence when he arrived. William Friday, the president of the University of North Carolina who played a major role in selecting the chancellor, thought Colvard “handled it beautifully.”
Still, in an interview from 2012, Friday expressed the wish that he had made Cone chancellor. He said that he was following tradition when appointing a man with a PhD and a tested reputation as a university chancellor. While he maintained Cone was not the best qualified, he said she should have been made the first chancellor out of respect and fairness to her.