Thorpie, youre doing a heck of a job.
That seemed to be the off-key message from the UNC Board of Governors and system President Tom Ross to UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp on Friday after Thorp spent an hour answering questions about yet another in an endless parade of embarrassments that have happened on his watch.
The university systems pat on Thorps back makes about as much sense as President George W. Bushs did after FEMA director Michael Browns performance in Hurricane Katrina.
A hurricane of bad news has blown through Chapel Hill for more than two years and the rains just keep coming. The drip-drip-drip of scandals suggest that Thorp has a poor understanding of shortcomings on his campus and insufficient appreciation of their import once they come to his attention. Ross and the board of governors need to think much harder about whether Thorp is the individual best suited to return the systems flagship school to greatness.
We find Thorp likable and his intellect unimpeachable, and know he has led UNC to some impressive achievements in his four years as chancellor. But athletic, academic and administrative failures have trashed the schools once-impeccable reputation with him at the wheel, and his bungling response made each worse.
The most recent episode: The resignations of the schools leading fundraiser and a major gifts officer after the (Raleigh) News & Observer began nosing around. Matt Kupec, the vice chancellor for university advancement, repeatedly took personal trips with Tami Hansbrough, the mother of former UNC basketball star Tyler Hansbrough, on the universitys tab, an internal investigation found.
Thorp acted swiftly in seeking their resignations. But it was Thorp himself who approved a special arrangement that allowed Hansbrough to be hired as a fundraiser even though he knew of her personal relationship with Kupec and expressed concern about nepotism. The university, at Kupecs urging and with Thorps blessing, created a new fundraising job that reported to vice chancellor for student affairs Winston Crisp.
Thorp apparently had the right instinct about nepotism, but then appeared to approve a work-around anyway. That came back to bite him, and the university. Given the red flags when Hansbrough was hired, its inexplicable that Thorp then monitored the situation so ineffectively that the couple was able to travel together for two years before any questions were asked.
All this, of course, follows two years of academic and athletic improprieties that led to NCAA sanctions and an ongoing SBI investigation. Thorp praised former football coach Butch Davis, who was at the heart of many of the problems, for nearly a year before finally firing him just weeks before a new football season began in 2011. He expressed full confidence in Julius Nyangoro, the chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department, shortly before it became clear that academic fraud involving athletes was rife in the department.
Throughout those and other episodes, Thorp failed to demonstrate that he was informed, that he appreciated the gravity of the mistakes or that he was giving the taxpayers who fund his school and his salary the complete story.
Thorp, at age 43, was one of the youngest university leaders in the nation when he was tapped for the job in 2008. Unlike his two immediate predecessors and some other UNC system chancellors, he had never led a university, and had been dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for just a year.
Now, Ross and the Board of Governors should determine whether chancellor is the role in which he can best help the university.
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