Holden Thorp resigns as chancellor

  • Robbi Pickeral [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | September 18, 2012

North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp, whose tenure has been marred by several athletics-related scandals over the past two years, will resign at the end of the 2012-13 academic year, the school announced Monday.

"It's been stressful, so I'd be kidding you if I told you I hadn't thought from time to time about whether it would be better for the University and better for me, for me to be over in the chemistry building doing what I used to do and love to do," Thorp, a longtime professor, researcher and a former chair in UNC's chemistry department before he became chancellor in 2008, told ESPN.com. "But this weekend was the first time I really thought about it and felt like it was the right time."

The announcement came three days after Thorp answered questions Friday from the UNC Board of Governors during a closed-door meeting about the school's top fundraiser, Matt Kupec, and Tami Hansbrough, a gifts officer and mother of former basketball star Tyler Hansbrough.

Kupec and Tami Hansbrough resigned last week after Thorp discovered that the couple had charged questionable travel expenses to the school.

It was just the latest scandal Thorp has presided over since he was named chancellor, but he told ESPN.com he was not asked to resign; he made the choice to step aside after discussing the options with his wife over the weekend.

"As we thought about all of the different reviews we have going on ... and the policies that need to come out of those, I just decided that I wanted to focus on getting those things in place, and give the institution time to select a new chancellor, and have an orderly transition," he said.

Last March, the NCAA imposed a one-year postseason ban and scholarship reductions on UNC's football program as penalty for improper benefits and academic misconduct involving a tutor.

That was on top of the school's self-imposed penalties, which included 16 vacated wins, probation, the firing of football coach Butch Davis and the resignation of athletic director Dick Baddour. The timing of Davis' firing -- just days before practice for the 2011 season was set to begin -- drew a negative outcry from some fans.

Then, as an offshoot of the NCAA investigation, a UNC internal probe released in May found that 54 African American Studies classes were either "aberrant" or "irregularly" taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011. That included unauthorized grade changes, forged faculty signatures on grade rolls and limited or no class time.

Although more than 50 percent of the students in those suspect classes were athletes, the NCAA told UNC officials late last month that the university apparently did not break NCAA rules. UNC says no student received a grade without submitting written work.

Among other actions, Thorp commissioned an independent investigation, led by former North Carolina governor James Martin, to look into any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred before 2007. That probe is ongoing.

According to the release, Thorp notified UNC president Tom Ross on Sunday of his intent to resign, effective June 30, 2013. He is willing to stay beyond that date, if needed.

Wade Hargrove, chair of UNC's Board of Trustees, said in a prepared statement that the board tried to talk Thorp out of his decision.

"I respect his unwavering commitment to always do what he thinks best serves the University,'' Hargrove said in the statement. "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."

UNC basketball coach Roy Williams said in a prepared statement that it was a sad day, on a personal level, because he considers Thorp a "great friend."

"We have a shared love for the University of North Carolina," he said. "This has been a very difficult time for all who love Carolina, but I can't imagine what it has done to him and his family. He will always have my friendship and loyalty and I will never forget that he is a great Tar Heel."

After his final day in the chancellor's office, Thorp said he will return to UNC's chemistry department, where he holds a Kenan Professorship. He said he's proud of many of the accomplishments of his tenure -- including increased admissions applications, better faculty retention and high research support.

Asked if he had any regrets about how he handled any of the well-publicized issues that arose over the last two years, Thorp said: "Obviously, if you look back on something, it's easy to say that you wish you would have made some decisions sooner, or you had gotten some information sooner and done something with it sooner. I think once you know how things turn out, it's easy to say that. But I feel good about what I did with all the different pieces of information that came up. And I think we have reforms in place, and this is going to be a better, stronger University because of it."

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