UNC made some bad calls

A questionable hire and questionable trips properly lead to a UNC-CH official’s resignation.

September 13, 2012 

Matt Kupec was a golden boy when he played football, quarterback no less, for UNC-Chapel Hill in the late 1970s. And he was having a stellar career post-football as a vice chancellor for his alma mater, serving as chief fund-raiser.

So how could he lose his judgment so spectacularly? According to interviews with Chancellor Holden Thorp, Kupec and Tami Hansbrough, who is the mother of former UNC basketball star Tyler Hansbrough, took trips at the university’s expense that included talking with donors but also appear to have included destinations where another of Tami Hansbrough’s sons, Ben, was playing basketball for Notre Dame.

Tami Hansbrough was employed in 2008 as a fund-raiser by a foundation that serves UNC-CH’s dental school, as her son Tyler, who might have gone pro, was starting his senior season in Chapel Hill. Later on, in 2010, Kupec wanted to hire her as a fundraiser working for him, but was properly discouraged from that by Thorp, who had heard the two were involved.

Another job

Lo and behold, Tami Hansbrough did land a job in 2010 working under another vice chancellor, Winston Crisp, who offered her a brand new job, funded with money Kupec got from his budget. (Hansbrough makes $95,000 a year.) Amazingly, Thorp went along.

But after the chancellor recently told Kupec that an investigation of his travels with Hansbrough on the university’s tab warranted investigation, Kupec resigned. On Wednesday, Hansbrough also resigned.

In confronting Kupec about his travel arrangements, Thorp did the right thing. But there are so many instances of bad judgment here that one almost needs ... as they might say at a football game ... a program.

First, Kupec never should have been involved in either trying to hire Tami Hansbrough himself or helping her land another job, if he did. How could he think this behavior would be acceptable?

Did he really think that the university ought to pay for him and his companion to take trips that were at least partially personal? His salary of nearly $350,000 should have covered it.

Just oblivious

Going back to 2008, did other university officials think it was perfectly OK to move to hire the mother of a star basketball player at a time when the player was starting his senior season after presumably considering turning pro? Even if Tyler Hansbrough’s decision was made before the hiring or was entirely unaffected by it, the appearance of it might well be interpreted by cynics as UNC-CH taking care of someone in a player’s family. Bad judgment is putting it mildly.

Including the judgment of Thorp. The chancellor says he told Kupec that Hansbrough couldn’t work directly for him. Fine. But then, Thorp said he thought it was OK if Tami Hansbrough went to work for another vice chancellor in a new position that Kupec helped engineer. (Thorp says there was a proper job search.)

And another thing: One factor that brought all this to The N&O’s attention was an audit of the foundation helping the dental school, an audit that led to the resignation of the head of that foundation, who had been Tami Hansbrough’s boss.

The N&O has been trying to obtain a copy of the dental foundation audit and related expense records, but has been told by foundation officials that those things are not public records.

If they’re connected to a public university’s dental school and its fundraising, then they are public records and university and foundation officials only deepen suspicions when they try to claim otherwise. Thorp should support the release of the records immediately.

With a scandal in the football program that resulted in a coach’s dismissal and fraud investigations involving the African studies curriculum, Thorp should now understand the necessity of public disclosure and candor.

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