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UNC chemistry professor elected next chancellor

Posted May 8, 2008
Updated May 9, 2008

— The University of North Carolina Board of Governors on Thursday elected H. Holden Thorp the 10th chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Thorp, 43, a chemistry professor and the dean of the school's College of Arts and Sciences, will take charge July 1, replacing Chancellor James Moeser, who's retiring after eight years in the position.

"This is the best job in America in higher education," said Thorp, one of more than 100 applicants from across the country.

At a salary of $420,000 a year, he will also become one of the youngest university leaders in the country. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education's most recent survey of college and university presidents, just 6.4 percent reported their age as 49 or younger.

University of North Carolina system President Erskine Bowles said Thursday there wasn't a doubt in his mind that Thorp is the best person for the position.

"He is the right leader for today and the right leader for tomorrow," Bowles said. "He personifies what Carolina is all about – he is a remarkable teacher, a brilliant scientist, a successful inventor and entrepreneur and a respected administrator."

Thorp is a1986 undergraduate of UNC, earning his bachelor of science degree, with highest honors, in chemistry. He earned a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology and did postdoctoral work at Yale University.

He also served as an assistant professor for two years at North Carolina State University before moving to UNC. He became a full professor in 1999 and was named Arts & Sciences dean last year.

Of his many goals for the school, Thorp said his top is that the university "do an even better job at being a place where people with great ideas can take risks," saying it is getting harder to take risks, particularly with cuts in federal funding for biomedical research.

"And of course, most of the great breakthroughs that we have come from things that people do that are a crazy idea that they probably shouldn't have tried," he said. "And we need to be a place where that happens."

A native of Fayetteville, Thorp graduated from Terry Sanford High School. As a teen, he often acted in plays at Fayetteville's Cape Fear Regional Theater, and at 16, was the northeast Rubik's Cube champion. As an adult, he is an accomplished musician who plays jazz bass and keyboard.

In his career at UNC, he has held several positions, including director of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and chairman of the chemistry department. He holds 19 issued or pending U.S. patents and has published more than 130 scholarly papers.

Thorp is "as true blue as a Tar Heel as they come," Bowles said.

And Thorp, himself, described how his father would sing "Hark the Sound," the Tar Heel alma mater, at bed time. It was usually preceded, he said, by a chorus or two of "Aye! Zigga Zoomba," a Tar Heel fight song.

"He loves the university so much," his mother, Bo Thorp, said. "How wonderful to have a job where you really want to be. Not everybody has that.”


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  • seankelly15 May 9, 2008

    wiseowl - "thorp's only been dean for a couple of months...he has no other executive experience..." A 'couple' means two - he has been the Dean for over a year.

  • foetine May 9, 2008

    plenty of Texas Rangers that Bush signed were listed in the Mitchell report on steroids

  • FloydTurbo May 9, 2008

    "...didn't nudge his baseball players into becoming Juice freaks."

    WOW .... thats a new one! I knew W (1) started hurricanes and (2) masterminded 9/11 and (3) hired Monica to seduce Bill .... but I never heard about his tie-in to baseball drugs. Not sure how that relates to UNC's new Chancellor but I'm always interested in new conspiracy theories. .... Yee Haaaaaa!

  • foetine May 9, 2008

    Obama Syndrome? As if W had done so much before he used Daddy's name to run for president. At least Obama didn't nudge his baseball players into becoming Juice freaks.

  • twixandbetwwen May 9, 2008

    I am glad to see that the new chancelor learned what the real world is like, by having been an assistant professor at NCSU.

  • TheWB May 9, 2008

    "thorp's only been dean for a couple of months...he has no other executive experience. is this really the best we could do?"

    Yea, I guess the Obama syndrome is spreading to academia.

  • jgriffith3792 May 9, 2008

    "Finally, someone to replace Smaegol....."
    UNC Doc

    LOL!!!! That's funny!

    Sounds like a good choice here. I too am a right-winger AND a fan of Erskine Bowles. Think we are in good shape with UNC and the UNC system for years to come. Good job by the search committee!!!!!

  • inventor61 May 8, 2008

    Hopefully, the new man can reverse the very misguided plans to close Horace Williams Airport.

  • Duke1977 May 8, 2008

    I know I'm a Duke grad but don't you dare say anything bad about Dr William Friday. He's done more for NC in the past month than I'll probably do in a lifetime. He may be North Carolina's (the state, not just the university) greatest citizen ever. Dr Thorp looks like an excellent choice. Congratulations!

  • Incognito May 8, 2008