Q&A with UNC chancellor Holden Thorp

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
5:30
PM ET
North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp, whose tenure has been marred by several athletics-related scandals over the past two years, announced Monday he will resign at the end of the 2012-13 academic year. You can read the full story here.

We caught up with Thorp for a quick Q&A on Monday afternoon:

Why did you make this decision now?

Thorp: It’s been a tumultuous two years, and it’s been a tough few months, the last two months. Last week, a lot of things happened that ended with a [Board of Governors] meeting which ended well, and the BOG was supportive and didn’t ask me to do anything. But Friday night was the first time in a while I’ve had a chance to catch my breath and think about things and spend time with my wife.

[+] EnlargeHolden Thorp
Gerry Broome/AP PhotoHolden Thorp, seen here listening to Notre Dame president Rev. John I. Jenkins speak on Sept. 12, will be stepping down as UNC's chancellor.
And as we thought about all of the different reviews we have going on ... and the polices 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. So I informed the president that that’s what I wanted to do, and he agreed with me that that was the right plan. He asked me if I would stay on ... after July 1 if they hadn’t found a successor yet, and I told him of course I would.

Is this something you had been thinking about for a while?

Thorp: 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. But this weekend was the first time I really thought about it and felt like it was the right time.

To be clear: this was your decision; no one asked you to step down?

Thorp: No one asked me to do this, absolutely not.

What will be your focus for your last nine or 10 months as chancellor?

Thorp: I want to get all of these reviews done, and get all of the policies and procedures that they imply in place. And I want to help the campus do all of the things that we would normally do during the school year: welcome faculty to the University, and welcome new students to the University and get them moving along on the things that they want and need to do. And go through the school year and do the things that universities do so well -- that we do.

Is there any question that you’ll stay at UNC -- that you’ll return to UNC’s chemistry department?

Thorp: There’s no question that that’s where I’m going. That’s been my plan from Day 1.

When you look back over these last two years and everything that has happened, do you have any regrets about the way you handled anything?

Thorp: 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.

The athletics department has a new athletic director, a new football coach. Is that department in a good place?

Thorp: I couldn’t feel better about it. I just think [athletic director] Bubba Cunningham is as strong an athletics director as you could have. He’s been unbelievably great to work with; the next chancellor will love working with him. He’s brought a new focus and a lot of new ideas to the department, and [first-year football coach] Larry Fedora is one prince of a guy. I know people who saw the game [at Louisville] this weekend and saw what happened in the second half understand what he’s capable of.

How do you want to be remembered, when people look back at your tenure 10 or 15 years from now?

Thorp: I think there’s no way around the fact that some people will remember that a lot of problems came up, and I dealt with them – and I dealt with them in a way that will make North Carolina a better university for many years to come. But I hope people will also see that we cracked the top 10 in research support for the first time in our history. Our applications skyrocketed during the time that I was chancellor. We recovered from … the budget cuts and faculty retention, where those have all been restored.

Do you still expect former N.C. Governor Jim Martin’s investigation [looking into any additional academic irregularities that may have occurred before 2007] to be wrapped up next month?

Thorp: I hope so, but as I’ve said many times before, I’ve given Jim all the latitude in what he wants to look at and the amount of time that he wants to take. So that’s up to him.

Is there anything you want to add?

Thorp: I just want to thank the students, faculty and staff, and alumni of the university who care about Carolina so much, and have done so much to make us great, and will do so much to make us great in the future.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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