In a private meeting with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Governors last week, Chancellor Holden Thorp announced his intention to relinquish his chancellorship of the oldest public university in the United States. In the four years he has led the school, it has been subject of a number of controversies including academic fraud scandals, financial improprieties committed by fundraisers, and questions about how it treats its athletes.
Thorp became Chancellor after many years teaching and heading up the school’s Chemistry department, and he anticipates returning to this position after he steps down from his post next year. Although the members of the Board of Governors expressed their support for how he has led the school during his tenure, Thorp said in an interview next week that he felt this was a good time to leave the position. He stressed that the choice was his and that no pressure to resign was applied by the board members or any other university leaders.
Although marred by controversy, Thorp’s leadership was also credited with quite a few notable successes, including his ability to draw research funding to the school. His ability to attract more than $750 million in research funding last year placed UNC-Chapel Hill among the ranks of the top public research universities in the country. But those steps were marred by a seemingly-neverending series of problems:
In the latest black eye for the university in a two-year series of scandals, the mother of former Tar Heels basketball star Tyler Hansbrough and top university fundraiser Matt Kupec resigned their development jobs last week under suspicion of improper travel spending. An internal audit Thorp launched is checking whether the pair used money from donors to travel to cities where Tami Hansbrough’s younger son Ben was playing basketball for Notre Dame.
The school also found themselves in hot water over the publication of the transcript of former UNC football player Julius Peppers. The transcript was made public on the school website, and privacy issues regarding its publication were joined by questions about the lack of academic rigor in degree programs pursued by UNC’s student-athletes. Peppers’ schedule was filled with courses from the school’s African and Afro-American Studies Department, including four independent study courses.
UNC-Chapel Hill is currently dealing with the fallout from a one-year athletic ban imposed by the NCAA, including the loss of 15 athletic scholarships for its football program.
Further digging revealed that between 2007 and 2011, more than 50 courses in the university’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies — about 9 percent of all courses in that time — featured instructors who didn’t teach, grades that were changed, and faculty signatures faked on grade rolls. Many of the students taking no-show or lightly monitored independent studies courses offered by the department were football players.