Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 told UNC System President Thomas Ross’75 (JD) on Sunday that he plans to resign at the end of the academic year. According to a UNC news release, Thorp said he would be leaving because it is best for the future of the University.
Thorp told Ross he is willing to stay beyond June 30, if needed, to avoid any gap in leadership until a successor can be in place. Thorp, who holds a Kenan Professorship, will return to the faculty of the chemistry department, where he was a longtime professor, researcher and a former chair.
Over the past two years, the University’s athletics program has gone from being consistently listed among the model programs in the country — in competitiveness, academics and integrity — to being a regular on the list of schools caught breaking NCAA rules.
The football program scandal led Thorp to fire head coach Butch Davis just before the start of the 2011 season, not because Davis personally bent the rules but because, Thorp said, a leadership change was critical to UNC’s reform efforts. Now the chancellor is opening a door to new leadership at the top.
Trustees Chair Wade Hargrove ’62 said the trustees tried to talk him out of stepping down. “Holden has the full support of the Board of Trustees, and we have tried to talk him out of this decision. I respect his unwavering commitment to always do what he thinks best serves the University. Holden Thorp has done an exemplary job as chancellor, especially in improving a wide range of processes and academic and fiscal management procedures. It is inspirational to see the passion that Holden has for the University and the positive impact a research university can have on society.”
The investigation of the football program turned up another scandal in which academic fraud was found in the department of African and Afro-American studies. More than 50 courses, with football players making up a significant percentage of enrollment, were found to have met little if at all. The AFAM matter is or has been the subject of four separate investigations.
In the midst of all this, what UNC officials said was a mock transcript designed to help students and advisers use a computer program to help plot a student’s course of study turned out to be that of Julius Peppers ’02, who was a star athlete, an AFAM major and one of a handful of students who played both football and basketball. Peppers’ transcript is that of a low academic performer who apparently logged no grades for his fall senior semester, his last on the football team. The transcript offers fodder for those who suspect special protection for star athletes on the academic side.
Most recently, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Matt Kupec ’80 resigned after he was questioned about travel expenses charged to the University for trips taken with another fundraising officer with whom he was in a relationship — travel that might not have been for University business. His companion, major gifts officer Tami Hansbrough, also resigned her position. Thorp had told Kupec he could not hire Hansbrough because of a policy against nepotism. But Thorp allowed Winston Crisp ’92 (JD), vice chancellor for student affairs, to hire Hansbrough as a development officer in his department.
“I will always do what is best for this University,” Thorp said. “This wasn’t an easy decision personally. But when I thought about the University and how important it’s been to me, to North Carolinians and to hundreds of thousands of alumni, my answer became clear.
“Over the last two years, we have identified a number of areas that need improvement. We have a good start on reforms that are important for the future of this University. I have pledged that we will be a better university, and I am 100 percent confident in that. We still have work to do, and I intend to be fully engaged in that until the day I walk out of this office.”
“Chancellor Thorp’s love of and devotion to UNC-Chapel Hill are beyond question,” Ross said. “I have accepted his announcement with considerable sadness, but fully understand he is acting in what he believes to be the best interests of UNC-Chapel Hill and the entire University. Whether you’re measuring the quality of its students, the productivity of its faculty, or the benefits of its world-class research, Carolina has made great strides during his tenure.”
By announcing his intentions now, Ross said that Thorp can devote his full attention and focus over the next nine months to making sure that the problems identified on the campus have been fully corrected and that the many new policies, procedures and safeguards that have been implemented to prevent similar issues in the future are adequate and represent best practices.
“It will also allow for an orderly transition in leadership, an important consideration given that the campus is without a chief development officer and the provost has announced his intention to retire, as well,” Ross said. “I will, of course, be working closely with UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair Wade Hargrove to quickly launch a search for a successor.”
Thorp took office as the University’s 10th chancellor on July 1, 2008. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with honors. Through his faculty research, he developed technology for electronic DNA chips and founded spin-off companies. He also raised money for a science complex that has helped boost faculty research productivity, served as director of the University’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences before being named chancellor.
A North Carolina native, Thorp grew up in a Fayetteville family with ties to UNC dating to the 1800s.