Education

UNC faculty beg Thorp to remain as chancellor

Posted September 18, 2012 11:21 a.m. EDT
Updated September 18, 2012 6:36 p.m. EDT

— Faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill rallied Tuesday afternoon in support of Chancellor Holden Thorp, who announced Monday that he would step down at the end of the school year.

Thorp, 48, has led the UNC system's flagship campus for four years, but his tenure has been marked by athletic, academic and administrative scandals.

Still, faculty leaders call him a strong advocate for UNC and hope to persuade him to change his mind and remain as chancellor.

Faculty members passed a resolution calling on UNC President Tom Ross not to accept Thorp's resignation and for Thorp to reconsider his decision.

Thorp received a standing ovation from several hundred faculty members and staffers before speaking at the Tuesday afternoon meeting.

"The support that all of you have shown to me and (my wife) Patti and each other has been extraordinary, and it has been one of the most moving experiences of my life to see you here today," he said.

UNC-Chapel Hill's Faculty Executive Committee met in a hastily called meeting Monday afternoon to draft a statement of support for Thorp.

"We believe that Chancellor Thorp has far exceeded expectations and stands as an example of exactly the kind of leadership that we – and all of public higher education – need at this time," the statement said. "We believe that, despite the difficulties of the present moment, Holden Thorp remains the best person to lead our university through these challenging times."

The statement notes Thorp's efforts to protect UNC-Chapel Hill's academic integrity during the scandals, his accessibility, his vision and his work to shepherd the campus through several years of budget cuts.

Sheilda Rodgers, a clinical associate professor in the UNC School of Nursing and a member of the Faculty Executive Committee, said faculty members wanted to show Thorp the same type of commitment he has given to them in recent years.

"We felt it was really important to come out early and show our support for him as an executive group of the faculty, to let him know that we support him. We want him to stay," Rodgers said.

"We are hoping that the groundswell of support that we are seeing over these couple of days will convince him that he is needed at the university and that he is the right man for the job," said Greg Copenhaver, an associate professor of biology and a member of the Faculty Executive Committee.

Thorp said Monday that he decided over the weekend to offer his resignation after discussing the situation with his wife. He said the toll of the continued negative publicity from the scandals has affected his family and those close to him.

"It's been a tough couple of years here," he said. "We've been through some problems that I think we've done a good job of managing and have gotten on a road to making us a better university."

Faculty members said they want Thorp to see the changes through and continue to lead UNC-Chapel Hill.

"If we were to go out and search for a chancellor and people were to ask us, 'What do you want in that chancellor?' you go down that list, and it's exactly the qualities that Holden embodies," Copenhaver said.

"I think it is just unfortunate and coincidental that so much has happened right now, but I don't know that they are things that are under his control," Rodgers said.

Thorp wouldn't say whether the support would sway his decision.

"Right now, my plan is to sit out there with you, and it looks really good out there right now," he told the crowd.

Before becoming chancellor, he was dean of UNC-Chapel Hill's College of Arts and Sciences, director of Morehead Planetarium on campus and a chemistry professor. He will return to his work as chemistry professor and researcher after leaving the chancellor's office, officials said.

Under his severance package, which is common in academia, he will maintain his $420,000 chancellor's salary for a year, and it will then be lowered to 60 percent of that as he returns to the classroom and laboratory.