A Conversation With Former Chancellor Thorp

Continuing our commitment to the University’s promise of Lux Libertas—light and liberty—and the principles of open inquiry, free speech, equity and inclusion, we’re conducting video conversations with diverse members of the Carolina community. 

The first of these video conversations is with former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp who candidly shared his thoughts on a range of issues. Below is a video and transcript from part of that conversation.

Coalition for Carolina: What should concerned people do about governance of UNC Chapel Hill?

Former Chancellor Thorp: Well, it’s really hard to know what to do now because on the one hand, a lot of the things that are happening are outrageous. On the other hand, you’ve got to try to preserve all the excellence and important things that are already there. But in my opinion, it’s reached a pretty difficult point, a point at which strong action is required. So the first thing would be to try to say out loud that this political interference is occurring. And I think one of the things that has been painful with everything that’s happened at UNC has been, for example, in the Nicole Hannah Jones case, where it’s not in dispute that the board, the chair of the University Affairs Committee, asked the Provost to remove the case from the agenda. That never happened in any of the time that I was there. That is a major event, and then tried to pretend like it was no big deal and that isn’t correct, and then also tried to pretend that it wasn’t about politics. Well, neither of these things are true. So if you want to have a debate about how to do this, you got to at least start with an objective set of facts. And what mystifies me is why these members of the governing board, who many of whom I know, wouldn’t just come out and say, yeah, that’s what they did. It seems like their political friends would think that was a good thing. So I don’t understand the subterfuge just try to get all this stuff out in the open. It’s the same thing in Florida. They won’t come out and say, yeah, we’re doing all this because this is what the governor has told us we had to do. If we could at least get that out in the open, we could start dealing with it. But the subterfuge that these folks are being allowed to get away with, basically with plausible deniability is really exacerbating the situation. We need to have an open discussion about what it means to be a public University in a Republican state. 

Coalition for Carolina: What do you think of the, alleged, pressure on the chancellor during the provost search?

Former Chancellor Thorp: The Provost search that just happened, Chris Clemens, may well have been the best candidate. I don’t know who the other two were, but it’s clear from statements that were made that are unattributed to excellent journalists that the board members were only going to consider someone who they agreed with politically. Well, if that’s true, why not save everybody a bunch of time and just tell everybody that that’s what’s going on? I don’t think that would be good, but at least we’d be dealing with a set of facts that are out in the open rather than having people say these kinds of things without attribution to journalists. 

Coalition for Carolina: What advice do you have for UNC-CH faculty and staff during these challenging times?

Former Chancellor Thorp: Well, so we’re talking about the faculty and staff, so a lot of the faculty should be in a position where they can talk pretty openly about this. I think the worry is that if they do that, something even worse might be done to the University. But at this point, how much worse could there be? I guess you have to decide if you reach the point where there’s not much left to lose, and I guess that depends on your point of view. But I think that not allowing the plausible deniability model to [continue] [when] there are lots of people who have knowledge that could be used to stop [it]…. would be a good first step in trying to move on. 

Visit our YouTube channel for more of our conversation with former Chancellor Thorp.

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