Monday, September 17, 2012

Holden Thorp: stuck in thermodynamics - N.C. State University Technician Online

The news of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp’s resignation came on the heels of the scandal involving Tami Hansbrough â€" thickening the plot of the perpetually unfolding athletic scandal. Perhaps this is a story more about a chemistry professor who’s in way over his head than a chancellor linked to corruption.

As the face of UNC-CH, it makes sense for Thorp to resign. However, he could have saved the university some embarrassment with stronger leadership.

Before former head football coach Butch Davis was fired in July 2011, it seemed that Thorp and the university stood firmly behind Davis. Then after fumbling around, the university finally took firm action and fired Davis, as if someone had pulled it by the ear and forced the decision suddenly (perhaps someone did). Even Davis said that he was shocked by his dismissal.

Since that media field day, more and more news about questionable practices and activities inside UNC-CH have surfaced. All the while, Thorp didn’t issue any strong statements or stake a strong leadership position, other than the obligatory university plug that the institution remained committed to academic integrity.

Even Tar Heel fans didn’t seem too pleased with Thorp’s leadership. Shortly after Butch Davis’ firing, anonymous Tar Heel sports fans (and by extension, fans of the university) created a website with a straight-forward message: FireHoldenThorp.com. In the “Our Mission” section of the webpage, the site states:

“We originally built this site because we felt strongly about the leadership and the future of our university. Time and time again Holden Thorp proved that while he may be a great professor and a brilliant educational mind, he was not a leader. His lack of public relations experience and management skills was very apparent over the course of his term as chancellor.”

More than 1,000 people “like” the Facebook page â€" students and fans.

Thorp undoubtedly has a brilliant mind, but has not been the strong leader a university like UNC-CH needs, especially in a time when the institution’s reputation is on the line. After all, it is the state’s flagship university, according to a former interim football coach.

Thorp will stay at UNC-CH as a chemistry professor. To his detriment as chancellor, he probably adhered too strictly to the First Law of Thermodynamics, the law of the conservation of energy, which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed â€" but it doesn’t apply to leadership. 

Thorp will pass the buck he inherited along to someone else, instead of breaking out of the “conservation of energy” mind-set and creating change. But perhaps he will be able to explain this naturally occurring phenomenon, or his shortcomings as a chancellor, better as a professor than as an administrator. Who knows if he learned about thermodynamics at N.C. State as a chemistry instructor in 1991, or as dean of the UNC-CH College of Arts and Sciences in 2007, but this simple law of energetics will have new meaning for soon-to-be professor Thorp this summer.

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