Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton made the decision to hire Thorp after consulting with the search firm and an advisory committee.
Thorp’s leadership was challenged throughout a series of scandals during the past two years, which began with an NCAA investigation into the football program and led to multiple examinations of UNC’s academics.
But Wrighton said in an interview that Thorp’s trials will make him even more of an asset.
“I do know there of course have been some challenges at the University of North Carolina, but I believe he worked with a high degree of integrity and effectiveness,” Wrighton said. “And I believe that the experiences he’s had have been ones that may prove valuable as we may face complex challenges in the future.”
“We do not have Division I intercollegiate athletics, but we’re a very complicated institution, just as UNC is.”
Aside from their interactions at meetings of the Association of American Universities, Wrighton said that he and Thorp have much in common, as they are both chemists and received their Ph.D.s at the California Institute of Technology.
“I’m much older, but I’ve known of him for a long time, and in the last several years, we’ve interacted not knowing we would have this opportunity to work together,” Wrighton said.
Thorp will also hold an endowed professorship in the departments of chemistry and medicine at Washington University, and said though his administrative duties will come first, he hopes to be able to do more research and teaching as his time there progresses.
Wrighton said as provost and chief academic officer, Thorp will be responsible for working with the deans of the university’s seven schools, will assist in defining academic programs and will be the person Wrighton — who has been chancellor at Washington University for 18 years — turns to for leadership.
“He will be able to serve when I’m not on campus, and in every aspect he will be the principal leader of our academic affairs,” Wrighton said.
But Thorp said there are things he will miss about the University he has been a part of for more than 25 years.
“I think it’s hard in one way because I have so many friends and connections and love all the people at UNC so much, but it’s also exciting to think of doing all these things at a new place,” Thorp said.
Thorp said that his wife, Patti Thorp, insisted that they could not go somewhere whose athletic teams played against the Tar Heels and that they will still be cheering for UNC on TV, in addition to the Division III Washington University Bears.
Another change for Thorp will be working at a private university, which will propose some different challenges, he said. But he said Washington University does a great job with financial aid and handling student debt.
Thorp added he will work on expanding graduate education at the school, and bolstering the chemistry program. He will also bring his experience with innovation and entrepreneurship, which Wrighton said is on the school’s agenda.
Thorp said he’s looking forward to making his mark at Washington University.
“It’s a great honor to be in an institution that is as strong as Washington University, but they are like any other place, there are things we can work on,” he said.
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