University and college presidents today learn quickly that their jobs include much more than academics.
The biggest fence to climb is money. If they are not good fundraisers, they’re in trouble. Former University of Virginia President John Casteen wrote before he retired how much of his time was devoted to grubbing for money.
The biggest pothole, especially for universities with championship caliber sports, is athletics. UNC-Chapel Hill’s Chancellor Holden Thorp has fallen into such a hole.
There were great expectation for Dr. Thorp, a North Carolinian, an excellent teacher, chemist, and dean and educated first at UNC-Chapel Hill in pursuit of his doctorate. Whatever encounters he faced in his previous work did not prepare him for the demands and intrigues of university athletics.
When the football program’s scandal first broke in 2010, it appeared to be limited to an unethical assistant coach and several high profile, unthinking players. More bumps and potholes followed throughout the year. The chancellor fired Coach Butch Davis in summer, 2011.
During all this time, the University promised a thorough investigation. The Board of Governors kept its distance, trusting that Chancellor Thorp could manage the football program’s violations. The attitude by University officials and the public was that the mess was an athletic thing.
That changed as the press, mostly the News & Observer, kept digging. The media found a more serious danger when the scandal reached into academia, namely the African and Afro-American Studies Department and its chair, Dr. Julius Nyang’oro. Only a year earlier, Chancellor Thorp had declared full confidence in Dr. Nyang’oro.
The press reported five years of classes that were suspect. There was evidence that some of the classes never met. They often were filled almost exclusively with athletes. The grades earned helped the students’ GPA, thus eligibility to play.
True, they were a very small number of classes and only one professor named, Dr. Nyang’oro. But the damage was done to the school’s integrity and academic reputation as one of the best public universities in the country.
Dr. Thorp’s repeated assurances that the University’s investigation was thorough and complete has shaken the public’s and Board of Governor’s trust.
The latest academic revelations prompted the Board on June 14th to conduct its own review of the University’s investigation. As Board Member Fred Eshelman complained, “A lot of us have been surprised. We haven’t fully understood what’s going on.”
Apparently, neither has Chancellor Thorp.