Education

UNC students surprised, faculty heartbroken by Thorp's resignation

Posted September 17, 2012 1:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2012 5:07 a.m. EDT

— Students and faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were stunned Monday by the sudden decision of Chancellor Holden Thorp to resign, and they had mixed reactions to the move.

Thorp, has served as chancellor of the UNC system's flagship campus for four years, plans to remain at the helm of the campus until next June, when he will return to teaching chemistry.

His tenure as chancellor has been marked by scandal, starting with an NCAA investigation of the football program two years ago. The university also has found evidence of altered grades and classes with little or no instruction in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, and two top fundraisers resigned last week amid questions of their travel expenses.

"It just makes sense to me because of all the scandals he was involved in," student Mohsin Shah said of Thorp's resignation. "It was probably a well-thought-out process."

Other students said they thought Thorp was taking the fall for problems that he didn't cause and has worked hard to clean up.

"A few people have just ruined it for the whole bunch. Obviously, he's getting way too much pressure and way too much blame for all of this," freshman Savanna Fitzgerald said. "I think it is ridiculous. I think it is shocking, not on his part but the fact that he has been pushed to this, and I think a lot of it has been the negative media."

"I think, in light of the recent pressure that our university has been under, that he has handled himself extremely well and has done his best to show people that we are a university of academic integrity and not to compromise that integrity in light of a few leaders' particular actions," sophomore Jhenielle Reynolds said.

Jan Boxill, a philosophy professor and chairwoman of UNC's Faculty Council, said she and many of her colleagues were in tears Monday morning when they learned of Thorp's decision.

"I think he's just been beaten down," Boxill said.

Dozens of faculty members emailed Boxill to see if there was anything they could do to persuade Thorp to continue as chancellor. She said he's been a strong supporter for UNC-Chapel Hill.

"We've had serious budget cuts, and he has brought us through – his leadership has brought us through – those horrible times without us feeling it," Boxill said.

Chapel Hill Mayor and UNC alumnus Mark Kleinschmidt said he is sorry to see Thorp go.

"Holden just had a connection to the town and he just understood the tide would come in and raise us both," Kleinschmidt said. "He's not a chancellor who has been recruited from some far off land and just dropped off here to manage our university."

Longtime UNC President Bill Friday lauded Thorp's service to the university.

"Public service in our state, when well done, is a noble and distinguished service. Chancellor Thorp rendered this kind of service to us all and he gave us his very best. All of us owe him and his family our deepest gratitude," Friday said in a statement.

Student Body President Will Leimenstoll, who works closely with Thorp on campus issues affecting students, said he was disappointed by the resignation.

"He's been an incredible advocate for students throughout his tenure here. ... I have huge respect for him," Leimenstoll said. "He's very honest, and he'll give it to you straight. But it comes from a place of he's trying to help you do the best you can do."

Despite having to balance the needs of students, faculty, alumni and others, Thorp was always accessible, Leimenstoll said.

"I've never seen him act like he's exhausted, not have time to speak to students who needed his help," he said.

Still, some students said a new leader would help the school move past he scandals.

"With a new person, we could get back to our reputation, which would be great," junior Alexander Jackson said.

"He's definitely had a lot to deal with," student Anthony Rotunda said. "Obviously, he's making decisions for himself and for the betterment of the university. I have faith that this university is a lot bigger than one man. With him stepping down, we're going to be able to come back and do just as well as we have done."