UNC's Thorp leaving for provost job at Washington University

Posted February 18, 2013

— Holden Thorp, who is stepping down as chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in June, is taking a job as provost at Washington University in St. Louis, Thorp told UNC students, faculty and staff in an email Monday.

He will also hold an endowed professorship in Washington's department of medicine at the School of Medicine and in the department of chemistry in the university' Arts & Sciences program.

"This exciting new opportunity represents the best of both worlds," Thorp wrote. "My new positions will enable me to return to my passions of teaching and research while, at the same time, as the chief academic officer, will allow me to continue many of the administrative duties that I've enjoyed as chancellor."

His new positions take effect July 1, but Thorp was in St. Louis Monday meeting with faculty and staff and touring the university.

In a statement, Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton called Thorp "one of America's most highly respected leaders in education."

"He is a great scientist with an excellent track record of achievement and a reputation for his commitment to student success, academic excellence and professional integrity," Wrighton said.

Wade Hargrove, chairman of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, called Thorp a "brilliant scholar" and said his departure is a "great loss to Carolina."

"He's a recognized leader in higher education in this country, and it's not surprising at all that some of the nation's leading universities would be knocking on his door," Hargrove said.

Multiple universities have approached Thorp in recent months, Hargrove said, and it was a search committee that approached him about the Washington job.

"There's hope he might come back one day. His heart's in Carolina. There's no question about that," Hargrove said.

UNC's Thorp taking provost job in St. Louis UNC's Thorp taking provost job in St. Louis

In all, Thorp, 48, spent nearly three decades at UNC, starting as an undergraduate student who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry with honors in 1986. He earned a doctorate in chemistry in 1989 at the California Institute of Technology and did postgraduate work at Yale University.

After teaching a year at North Carolina State University, he returned to UNC to teach chemistry in 1993. He became chairman of the chemistry department in 2005 and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

Through his research, Thorp developed technology for electronic DNA chips and founded several companies. He raised funds for a science complex that helped boost faculty research productivity and served as director of UNC's Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

In 2008, Thorp became UNC's 10th chancellor, working to guide the school in becoming one of the nation's elite research universities.

The university made its first Top 10 appearance in federal funding for research and development and grew undergraduate admissions applications by 43 percent.

The past two years, however, have been marred by athletic, academic and administrative scandals.

Thorp put in place academic reforms to ensure greater accountability for academic performance and has said that he wants to spend his final months on the job to be sure that similar problems don't recur.

"It's been painful, but we've become a better university as a result," Thorp wrote in his email.

His decision in September to step down as chancellor but remain on the UNC faculty as a chemistry professor prompted an outpouring of support. Students rallied for him to remain on the job, and the Board of Trustees asked him to reconsider.

But Thorp said his decision was in the best interest of the university. UNC is still in the process of finding his replacement.

"I will always love Carolina," Thorp wrote Monday. "This university and this community have been my home for more than 25 years and have meant more to me personally and professionally than I can measure or describe."


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  • superman Feb 20, 2013

    No doubt he is smart but I think he is one of those that is book smart but doesnt know how to get out of the rain. Lots of brain power but extremely lacking in common sense and good judgment. I dont understand that at his age he would leave and go halfway across the country. The Board must not have been as pleased with him as they want us to believe. UNC is certainly better off without him in any capacity.

  • heisenberg Feb 18, 2013

    Good riddance

  • rio4walk Feb 18, 2013

    Sad he is a quitter. No doubt an honorable man but he is showing less character to "return to his love of teaching" and walking away.

  • Ken D. Feb 18, 2013

    Folks will want to classify what has occurred at UNC as either an athletic scandal or a purely academic one, depending on their own agendas. Despite the hand wringing and public posturing, university leaders understand all too well the outside pressures that demand that they accept some conditions that are inconsistent with their mission and their standards.

    UNC was not vigilant is spotting and correcting abuses in its African Studies Department, which were brought to light because of its connection to athletics. Why would it have been, if that Department's existence is not significant with respect to UNC's academic mission?

    Sadly, universities - especially public ones - need to have ways to provide a path to a degree for students who aren't prepared for a rigorous academic curriculum. That includes star athletes, dim-witted children of alumni and donors, underrepresented minorities, etc.

    That's why prestigious schools like Washington don't view Thorp's tenure as scandalous.

  • tran Feb 18, 2013

    ""tran - "This is what is known as a golden parachute."

    No it is not."

    It's just called getting a new job."

    I disagree. They could have thrown him under the bus as many have clamored for. Instead, he was allowed ample time to conduct a proper search for a position commensurate with his experience and ability while drawing his full salary.

  • JohnnyVoodoo Feb 18, 2013

    This is probably just a simple case of, "I better get out while the getting is good." Maybe there were others doing things behind his back....and maybe they weren't. But the buck stopped at his table.

  • ifcdirector Feb 18, 2013

    Why is it mediocrity or even sub-par performance is awarded in academia and politics in this country with more money and power? Where does the apologia come from?

  • superman Feb 18, 2013

    If he is so highly respected and all those problems on his watch--they must have pretty low standards.

  • superman Feb 18, 2013

    Should have left a long long time ago and been fired. He is so weak he cant even manage the univerity travel. Someone should always sign off on a persons travel. He gave them a blank check and didnt blink an eye. I wouldnt trust him with last weeks newspaper.

  • Raleigh Rocks 1 Feb 18, 2013

    caniac315, I think ya got it about right. when you said..I think he's a good man, who did his best, which obviously wasn't very good...

    Only in Big Education can a person not be very good and get paid 420,000.00 a year.