UNC-CH trustees ask Holden Thorp to stay

It’s unclear whether the board’s resolution will change the chancellor’s mind about leaving. He said Tuesday he is ready to return to being a professor. And the board already is making plans to search for a new leader.

jstancill@newsobserver.comSeptember 19, 2012 

  • Interim fundraiser UNC-Chapel Hill’s new interim chief fundraiser is Julia Sprunt Grumbles of Chapel Hill, an alumna who is a former corporate vice president of Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta. Grumbles was recommended as interim vice chancellor for advancement by Chancellor Holden Thorp, and her appointment was approved by the trustees Wednesday. She will oversee the university’s development staff. Grumbles has been involved in UNC-CH’s fundraising for years. She was a member of a steering committee and co-chaired a women’s leadership council for the Carolina First campaign – the last big fund drive, which raised $2.38 billion. She has served on several university boards, taught in the university’s entrepreneurship program and was a member of a group that Thorp called his Innovation Circle. Grumbles replaces Matt Kupec, the former top fundraiser who resigned last week. Staff writer Jane Stancill

— In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees asked Holden Thorp to remain in the chancellor’s job, saying, “we think it is in the best interest of the university.”

Trustees passed a resolution saying that “Carolina is better today because of him” and “emphatically requests that Chancellor Thorp reconsider his decision” to resign in June.

The resolution came during a conference call meeting in what has been a tumultuous week at the university. The board also approved the hiring of an interim chief fundraiser to replace Matt Kupec, the former vice chancellor for advancement who resigned last week because of improper travel. It was that controversy that may have been the last straw for Thorp.

With its action Wednesday, the board became the latest group on campus to implore Thorp to stay on as chancellor. Others include the executive branch of student government, three faculty groups and the Employee Forum, which represents thousands of staff at the university.

But it’s unclear whether the trustee action will make Thorp change his mind. Trustee Chairman Wade Hargrove seemed to indicate the chances are slim, when he said the board will begin to discuss the search for a new chancellor at its regularly scheduled meetings next week.

Thorp was on the trustee conference call Wednesday, but he left the phone meeting before the resolution came up. His staff said he was traveling. He could not be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, when more than 200 faculty gathered for a similar resolution, Thorp told them he appreciated their support, but that he is ready to return to the life of a chemistry professor.

The chancellor on Monday announced his intention to step down in June, leaving behind the turmoil that has engulfed him in the past two years as several athletic-related scandals unfolded.

Travel scandal

The latest was last week, when Kupec resigned because of what Thorp called “personally driven” travel with Tami Hansbrough, a fellow fundraiser who is the mother of former UNC basketball star Tyler Hansbrough. The two fundraisers were dating, and their travel sometimes included destinations where Ben Hansbrough, Tyler’s brother, was playing for Notre Dame.

The couple traveled to at least 20 cities over two years, according to records reviewed by The News & Observer. Thorp flew on university planes with Kupec and Hansbrough on several occasions to New York; Thorp said this week those trips were for university business.

Kupec, who helped raise $4 billion during his Carolina career, resigned when confronted about the travel by Thorp, who ordered an internal audit.

On Wednesday, the university’s auditor and attorney were present at the trustee meeting, where the board met in closed session for a little more than an hour to discuss personnel matters.

A sincere expression

Hargrove declined to talk about what happened in closed session.

The resolution for Thorp, he said, was a sincere expression of the sentiment of the board. “It’s our hope that he’ll reconsider,” Hargrove said. “There’s much work to be done.”

Thorp had launched a wide-ranging strategic planning process with the board about how education should be delivered, what should be taught and how it should be paid for at the 21st-century university.

“All of that was initiated at the urging of the chancellor,” Hargrove said. “His leadership in terms of advancing the core academic mission of the university has been overshadowed by the unfortunate incidents that happened on his watch but were not of his making.”

Hargrove said bringing in a new chancellor will undoubtedly slow down the university’s progress on creating a long-term vision. As for the search, Hargrove said, “I haven’t even begun to think about that yet.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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