Holden Thorp’s Legacy

Reflections on the chancellor’s four year tenure

by: Chase McDonough

When Holden Thorp announced his resignation, most startling part was the fact that his resignation came as such a surprise. Even to me, one of the few students on the campus actively demanding his resignation, it did indeed come as a surprise. On the Right, commentators were quick to remind us that his tenure had been marked by scandal throughout; could a Chancellor, who had presided over the football scandal and the African and Afro-American Studies scandal, reasonably be left in power? On the Left, students tried convincing us that this move was the inevitable power of Art Pope overwhelming the board of trustees with his political influence. But these explanations, conspiracy theories notwithstanding, seem to miss the point entirely: we simply weren’t expecting it. Chancellor Thorp may merely have been the wrong man at the wrong time, a Chancellor caught in an impossible position. Perhaps even his oust was the result of some hidden conservative politics. What remains perplexing, if either of theories are true, is that the move came so suddenly.

We had known for quite some time now that Chancellor Thorp was placed in an inauspicious role, yet save the football fans angered at the correct, though late, firing of Butch Davis, no one talked of Holden Thorp’s termination. Likewise, if somehow it was the force of Art Pope forcing Holden Thorp out of his position, why have we not seen Art Pope’s presence in the politics of The University for the past decade? Even his seemingly reasonable plans such as the funding for a Western Civilizations minor were completely rejected. How suddenly does this man have the power to fire the Chancellor at will? In short, to all of us at Carolina something about Holden Thorp’s resignation makes sense. Either due to circumstance or conspiracy Holden Thorp’s resignation seems perfectly consonant with the major events of his tenure: shrouded in mystery, something we don’t really want to understand.

Though only time will tell, I firmly believe that we will not look back on Holden Thorp’s resignation as a mystery. And I say this not in the hope that we will suddenly become reconciled to the realization that after all the scandals it was just time to go. Nor certainly do I say this in the belief that Art Pope is the author of Chancellor Thorp’s demise and his hidden dealings will one day be made public. Rather, I hope only that we look back on the scandal facing us directly, and wonder where was our outrage? We were surprised by Holden Thorp’s resignation, but at some level I think we all know we ought not to be. Holden Thorp’s resignation stuck us by surprise because we were apathetic. We looked the other way just as surely as Holden Thorp sought to conceal the gravity and culprits of the African and Afro-American Studies scandal.

The African and Afro-American Studies scandal saw over 600 students received A’s due to illicit activity. To make matters worse Dr. Nyang’oro the head of the department, created these classes, and knowingly signed the illicit A’s. Finally, the official study from Dean Hartlyn and Dean Andrews revealed that forgery from some unknown culprit played a major part in the scandal. Nonetheless, Holden Thorp with Dean Hartlyn and Dean Andrews announced that someone no one was to blame in the incident. Furthermore, there was no further investigation into the forgery. Quite simply, Holden Thorp, in an attempt to avoid a growing national scandal, oversaw an investigation whose main purpose seems to dissemble the crimes rather than to reveal the culprits.

If Holden Thorp had led an honest investigation and taken responsibility for the serious misconduct of the former African and Afro-American Studies Department, I believe he would have remained our Chancellor. In my mind, I cannot see his resignation as anything other than an acknowledgment that he is in too deep. It is not merely the number of scandals, but the amount of information that has yet to surface. As matters stand now, he has instead engaged in a series of cover ups that are so transparent that their revelation to the public is almost inevitable. As a member of this community I only hope the scandal does not run as deep as I fear.

In absence of the scandals, Holden Thorp’s tenure may be remembered for many things. Following his own model of personal success, he began the process of monetizing the University following the model laid out in his book “Engines of Innovation — The Entrepreneurial University in the 21st Century.” In the process, he clearly began the war on liberal arts. He made it unmistakably clear that this once “liberal arts” institution is now first and foremost a research institution where “research” refers only to those studies that can be concretely transformed into either money or engines of social change (or, more accurately, “liberal” social change).  At the same time Chancellor Thorp was loved by the faculty across the board. He was an academic through and through, and during this age where chancellor is often merely a code name for Head Athletic Director his presence was certainly comforting. Unfortunately, as things stand, these are merely things I wish we could debate concerning Chancellor Thorp’s legacy.

Chancellor Thorp’s true legacy has been defined by hiding from responsibility. From setting up study upon study to hiring consultants Holden Thorp has sought to move responsibility on to third parties while keeping the damning facts secret for as long as possible. Yet, the truth has and will continue to come out, and as with President Nixon, this will be yet another sad testimony to how the cover up can be worse than the crime itself.

Looking forward, let this legacy of Holden Thorp not become a lasting legacy for this University. It is understandable difficult for us Tar Heels to admit to national disgrace. It would have been inhuman for each of us not to hope and pray that the severity of these past scandals be less than the initial appearance.  Yet we have been blind. We have knowingly, and to the detriment of our University, overlooked our faults and allowed our leaders to dissemble the truth. It is not simply that fate is against us, nor a conservative plot that has resulted in our Chancellor’s resignation. We must come to grips with the fact that our University’s current state is a result of a culture of corruption exasperated by years of dealing with problems by simply covering them up. As we as a community look to the future, we must begin to rebuild the integrity of our University. It is a process that will certainly involve pains but if we truly love Carolina we must wish for more than a University to blindly adore: we must make it good.

Holden Thorp’s resignation stuck us by surprise because we were apathetic. We looked the other way just as surely as Holden Thorp sought to conceal the gravity and culprits of the African and Afro-American Studies scandal. Chancellor Thorp may not have learned from his mistakes, but hopefully we will.

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