UNC Chancellor to become WU’s new provost
The successor to Washington University’s highest academic officer is leaving his current job as Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill amidst years of NCAA controversy.
He said he is glad to be moving out of the spotlight.
Mark Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University announced Monday that Holden Thorp, 48, chancellor of UNC-CH, will be assuming the role of provost effective July 1. He will take over for Ed Macias, who has held the office for 25 years.
Thorp is coming to the University on the heels of a number of scandals hitting UNC-CH over the past few years. A government investigation last fall found that the former chair and assistant chair of the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies had manipulated student grades and given credit for fake classes since 1997.
While Thorp was not incriminated in the investigation, he announced in September that he would step down as chancellor to go back to teaching chemistry.
“This morning at the airport after the fourth person came up to me, my son said, ‘Dad, is it always like this when you come to the airport?’” Thorp said. “Coming to do a job where most people don’t even know what it is—in some ways that’s going to be a lot of fun for me and my family.”
As of his September resignation, UNC-CH’s athletic department had yet to be cleared in a scandal that involved a high number of student-athletes.
“Big-time sports at a place like Carolina are incredibly important, they bring the campus together,” Thorp said. “At a place like Wash. U.…you don’t have some of the challenges that come from the fact that everyone on your team is a celebrity.”
“I’m proud of all the things we did to try and resolve [the scandal],” he added. “But coming to a place that has a different profile when it comes to athletics—that’s something that I’m excited about.”
Thorp said he was drawn to the University by its opportunities for departmental overlaps—allowing for strong programs such as public health— and community engagement, through events such as the Clinton Global Initiative University. He said he is looking forward to working for a private institution alongside Wrighton.
The son of two UNC-CH graduates, Thorp attended UNC-CH as an undergraduate, where he earned his B.S. in chemistry in 1986. He earned a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1989 and completed postdoctoral work at Yale University for a year. After two years teaching at North Carolina State University, he returned to his alma mater as an associate professor.
He became chancellor of UNC-CH in 2008.
“I feel like I’ve had a great chance to do things there that I wanted to do, but I also feel like coming to a different kind of place with this kind of opportunity is the right thing for me right now,” he said.
Faculty members were notified of the appointment Sunday evening. Thorp came to St. Louis on Saturday to spend the weekend meeting his future colleagues and speak with a number of media outlets about the appointment.
Thorp was appointed after a nationwide search for Ed Macias’ replacement that began in September.
“I’m looking forward to having a great partner, a person with experience,” Wrighton said. “In Dr. Thorp, we have one of the nation’s most successful and experienced higher education leaders.”
Thorp and Wrighton share chemistry backgrounds that involved doctoral programs at Caltech. Wrighton said that shared interests that allow close interaction are valuable because the provost is responsible for standing in the chancellor’s place should something arise while he is abroad or otherwise inaccessible.
“The things we have in common will help us as we need to remain in very close communication,” Wrighton said.
At the same time, Wrighton said that Thorp will be able to provide the University administration with a valuable fresh set of eyes.
“We’re not the only great place in America or the world, and we can learn a lot by drawing talented people from other places,” Wrighton said. “We have a great academic leader but someone who has the administrative experience also.”
UNC-CH freshman Sean McMahon said Thorp is a popular figure on campus who many people are upset to be losing as chancellor.
“A lot of students were really upset that he was stepping down and we tried to have a rally to make him stay,” McMahon said. “I don’t really know too much about him because it’s only my first year…[but] he’s meant a lot to our entire student body and we all respect him.”