From an editorial Tuesday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:
No matter whats happened at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the last couple of years, and a lot has, the job of chancellor remains one of the most prestigious and historic positions in American higher education. Chartered in 1789, the university claims to be the oldest such public institution in the country and includes in its alumni some of the countrys most esteemed scientists and historians along with figures such as Thomas Wolfe, Andy Griffith and Charles Kuralt.
Finding someone to hold the position of chancellor wont be easy. But even with some unwanted attention in the wake of an athletics scandal that resulted in sanctions against the football team, and an academic fraud scandal that remains under investigation, the line of applicants will be deep.
That isnt boasting or cheerleading. It is fact. Chapel Hill will weather this ongoing storm, though the successor to current Chancellor Holden Thorp will need to be prepared to deal with the aftermath.
Its tempting to list the qualifications for chancellor as theyve been listed in jest at this and other institutions: a generous portion of Solomon, the political savvy of Bill Clinton, the academic credentials of Einstein, the charisma of Kennedy.
And even then, some on the campus would question why an internal candidate wasnt chosen, if thats the way it works out, or whether the new leader has sufficient experience to supervise a major athletics program. Mercy.
In terms of personal characteristics, a belief in publicly supported higher education and a commitment that it provide an opportunity for all, even students whose families are poor, is imperative.
The chancellor must understand that the university belongs to the public, not to athletics boosters, not to the wealthiest alumni, and that it has a sacred duty of public service, whether that be educating schoolteachers or taking care of people in its spectacular research hospitals.
Wade Hargrove, an alumnus, a Raleigh lawyer and the trustee chair who will head this search, notes that public universities are challenged by economics, by debates over mission and curricula (can the liberal arts base remain vital?) and the needs of a multitude of constituencies.
No person has come to the job with more loyalty to the university than Holden Thorp, who will return to the faculty following painful episodes that he might have handled better if hed been more experienced as an administrator. Surely trustees now will aim for someone who has been a university president or perhaps has presided over a large private enterprise but has connections to academia.
Another lesson of the last two years is that a chancellor must hold a strong hand over the lucrative (but also expensive) athletics enterprise and not surrender it to boosters or to other administrators who may allow themselves to be manipulated by those boosters. The consequences of a loose rein there are being felt acutely in Chapel Hill right now.
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