CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Overseers of North Carolina's public universities are voicing support for the head of the system's flagship Chapel Hill campus amid investigations into academic fraud, improper travel spending by fundraisers and special treatment for athletes.
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors met privately Friday with Chancellor Holden Thorp for about 50 minutes. He said afterward that the board didn't reprimand him for problems at UNC-Chapel Hill, noting that he's shown he's willing to act forcefully to clean up the problems.
"They were concerned about the situation, but they were very appreciative of the work that I've done," Thorp said.
Vice Chancellor for Advancement Matt Kupec and Tami Hansbrough, a major gifts officer at UNC-Chapel Hill and the mother of former Tar Heels basketball star Tyler Hansbrough, resigned from their jobs this week under suspicion of improper travel spending.
UNC President Tom Ross praised Thorp for acting "quickly (and) decisively in a circumstance that was clearly inappropriate" and said the Board of Governors expressed support for the chancellor.
"The chancellor is performing well by many measurements," Board of Governors Chairman Peter Hans said. "I think every chancellor is to be evaluated as we go along. He clearly has some issues on campus he needs to successfully deal with."
Thorp has ordered an internal audit of the travels by Kupec and Tami Hansbrough after finding evidence that some of the 28 fundraising trips they took together since 2010 might have been "personally driven."
"Unfortunately, these are the kinds of things that universities look into from time to time," Thorp said. "We've had a lot of policies that have been around a long time that need to be tighter, and we tighten and tighten and tighten ... but we are still finding things that come from policies that aren't as tight as they should have been."
Board members also talked with Thorp about the review of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies that former Gov. Jim Martin is handling. An internal review found irregularities in 54 courses over four years in the department, including altered grades and classes with little or no instruction.
Thorp said Martin has been on campus a few times and that an outside firm is compiling registrar data for the investigation. He said he told Martin to take as long as he needs to look into the matter.
Hans said problems will always crop up at large institutions such as UNC, and Ross noted that the Chapel Hill campus continues to be ranked highly by a number of measures, including research grants and private fundraising.
"There are a lot of good things that go on at the university," Ross said.
Chancellors in the UNC system have reviews every two years, and an outside consultant is brought in every four years to evaluate their performance. Thorp went through the more thorough evaluation about a year ago.
"(Board members) are frustrated, but you know, one of the things they said is, 'Look, the university, the positives so far outweigh the negatives,'" Thorp said.