From Charlotte businessman Michael Clement, in response to UNC Chapel Hill still needs a leader like Holden Thorp (Sept. 21 For the Record):
I am an 1981 undergraduate of the University of Chapel Hill. I have never served as a trustee (my checks or my companys checks arent big enough). I have never served on the Board of Governors, the body that is more politically appointed and actually has authority over the hiring of a chancellor.
I am deeply disappointed in the perspectives of the five businessmen who have served as chairs of the Board of Trustees. As a career public relations and human resources professional (a rare combination), I have participated in many decisions that ended careers or helped them move forward during very turbulent waters. Holden Thorp is not a friend nor have I met him. Everything thing I have read about him suggests a person of integrity, humility, earnestness and a brilliant mind. His record as an academic is impeccable. I cannot debate the merits of his fundraising capabilities raised by the former trustee chairs. I, too, was excited to see a younger, more vibrant leader named to the helm of my university.
The trustees appear to have allowed fundraising success and relationships to have clouded their own judgments. Mr. Thorp has not led well and did not receive or listen to great advice for some time. The time it took for Mr. Thorp to wade through athletic interests before making a decision to fire a coach and an AD was inexcusable. It damaged the university. A more able leader would have quickly made a decision.
More importantly, the lack of judgment shown in the issues involving fundraisers Matt Kupec and Tami Hansbrough is something a first-line supervisor in corporate America is trained to avoid. Corporate America makes its own mistakes, but this is a simple matter that never should have passed anyones smell test.
I cant speculate on what went wrong with this chancellors hiring. Those closest to it should. Certainly those in charge of the next hire should. Inexperience? The myopia of an academic life with no diversity in business? A nice guy unwilling to make the tough decisions? A conflict avoidance? I dont know, but the answers are usually pretty clear, and fortunately in this case they do not center on the personal integrity of Mr. Thorp.
UNC Chapel Hill and all of its leaders must work with deliberate speed to repair the damage of the past few years. There is a problem of culture at Chapel Hill today that must be evaluated and changed. Culture is the first mandate for any leader. Mr. Thorp did not have control of his culture. And he had adequate time to demonstrate he could.
I believe in accountability and I certainly think the best leaders do learn by their mistakes. Steve Jobs had to lose his job first before he rose to greater heights. Losing a job is a tough penalty, but I have no doubt that Holden Thorp will be a stronger leader over time.
As for the university, it will be better served by moving through this period quickly and definitively and by quickly assessing not just process and procedures or the resume of a new chancellor, but getting to the root cause of the cultural issues facing the university and returning to the great academic focus and record that has served our state and nation well for over 200 years.
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