Holden Thorp recently announced his decision to resign as chancellor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill by saying that he would always do what was best for the university.
The reason that he reached this point, though, is exactly because he hasn’t.
What was always in the best interests of the university was full public disclosure and full accountability.
That was true at the outset of this scandal, when football players were revealed to have received improper benefits and an assistant coach was shown to have a cozy financial relationship with a sports agent. It was true when the scandal exploded into what now appears to be systemic academic fraud.
Instead, for more than two years, the university’s response has consisted of hiding behind federal student privacy laws and delaying efforts to understand what really occurred.
The lawyers advising Thorp apparently forgot that those laws are intended to protect students, not ball coaches and administrators.
The response also has involved a lot of coaches, administrators and others being paid to walk away, retire, slide into new jobs or otherwise disappear.
Even Thorp’s announcement that former Gov. Jim Martin would head an investigation of the academic fraud created more questions:
With ample evidence that student-athletes were being steered to bogus classes, cannot the university’s chancellor determine everyone involved, demand their resignations and announce his own findings?
Or, if the roots are too deep, can’t you acknowledge that and say how these practices were allowed to get to this point?
Is a formal investigation needed to know what the head of the academic advising program and some in the athletics department surely already know?
Two years ago, I wrote that Thorp needed to take decisive action to avoid jeopardizing his own job and reputation.
He didn’t and has paid a price.
In the remaining months that Thorp will be in the job, he says that academic standards for athletics will rise and that changes made at the school will make national news.
Given what Thorp has been through, I suspect that he is sincere in his desire to bring about those changes.
But Thorp is a lame duck. He answers to a crowd that includes the trustee who asked, when this began, whether the bad publicity might affect football recruiting.
It’s hard to imagine UNC-Chapel Hill unilaterally disarming in the race to have the best athletics programs.
What is easier to imagine is Thorp and some other university heads recognizing that most schools have no shot at winning the football race, in particular, without severely compromising their larger academic reputation and mission.
Acting on that recognition requires either changing the competitive landscape of college athletics or that schools which take serious their academic missions charting their own course.