Published September 17, 2012
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The chancellor who has led North Carolina's flagship public university for four years will step down next year in the wake of scandals involving academic fraud, improper travel spending by fundraisers and special treatment for athletes.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp will step down in June after the end of the current academic year and return to teaching in the chemistry department, where he had been a longtime professor and former chair, the nation's oldest public university said Monday.
"I will always do what is best for this university. This wasn't an easy decision personally. But when I thought about the university and how important it's been to me, to North Carolinians and to hundreds of thousands of alumni, my answer became clear," Thorp said in a news release.
Thorp met privately Friday for almost an hour with the board overseeing the 17-campus state university system, and several members of the Board of Governors said they thought Thorp was doing a great job. Thorp's successes included the campus attracting $767 million in research funds last year and raising the school into the Top 10 U.S. public universities for attracting federal research funding, board members said.
Thorp said Friday he worked to reform problems uncovered during his watch, which he said were the result of lax policies and oversight that had developed over years. The university said Thorp offered UNC System President Tom Ross his resignation on Sunday.
In the latest black eye for the university, the mother of former Tar Heels basketball star Tyler Hansbrough resigned her development job — along with top university fundraiser Matt Kupec — 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 saga began two years ago with the NCAA investigating football players under since-fired coach Butch Davis having contact with agents and receiving jewelry and other gifts. The NCAA in March imposed a one-year ban from postseason play, 15 forfeited scholarships and other penalties on the football team. But the probe also found academic fraud — including a tutor who worked on football players' term papers.
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.
The Board of Governors expects to hear next month from former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin, who is joined by an outside consulting firm in exploring whether other departments allowed students to cheat and when the problems began.
The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether fraud or other crimes were committed.
Thorp's announced departure means he can devote his attention over the next nine months to making sure that the problems identified are corrected and that the reforms introduced are adequate to prevent a repeat, Ross said.
Some members of the campus Board of Trustees tried to talk Thorp out of this decision, trustees chairman Wade Hargrove said.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio