Education

UNC's Thorp leaving for provost job at Washington University

Posted February 18, 2013 1:17 a.m. EST
Updated February 18, 2013 5:19 p.m. EST

— 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 .

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.

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."