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Thorp, Board of Trustees begin crafting pitch for fundraising campaign

Attempting to compensate for years of state funding cuts, University leaders now believe they have at least one thing on their side — timing.

With a two-year tuition plan set in stone and the NCAA investigation now in the past, Chancellor Holden Thorp and the Board of Trustees are looking to utilize the next 18 months to plan what they hope will be the University’s largest fundraising campaign ever.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, Thorp presented the vision behind the University’s coming campaign, along with marching orders for the board to adopt a more active role on campus as they try to hone an effective pitch.

In the fall and early spring, administrators advocated for a two-year tuition plan with the intention of using the following 18-month quiet period to their advantage, Thorp said in an interview.

“We engineered this on purpose,” he said. “The fact that the football (investigation) ended 10 days earlier was a bonus.”

And administrators will carry out most of the preparation of the campaign before fall 2013, when tuition discussions will likely flare up again.

“Between now and then we need to have a very crisp story of how we’re going to sustain the public research university,” Thorp said.

To remedy the steady, decades-long decline of state support, the University will embark on an ambitious fundraising campaign that is expected to exceed the $2.38 billion raised between 1999 and 2007.

But first it needs to find a message, a task that will define the coming months.

“A lot of it is: What’s the messaging? What’s the theme? Why are we asking people for money?” said Alston Gardner, chairman of the board’s academic affairs committee.

This charge will require board members to be more active on campus, they said.

“I think it’s incumbent on us to get out of this theatrical, structured performance at the Carolina Inn every month,” Gardner told the trustees, suggesting that board members visit schools and departments with which they are unfamiliar.

The new role for the board will serve two purposes that complement each other, Gardner said — accomplishing Thorp’s vision, and preparing for the fundraising effort.

Thorp outlined four areas of emphasis: methods of teaching, access and completion, balancing cost and access, and research. He argued there is room for innovation in each.

For example, Thorp emphasized motivating professors to incorporate new modes of teaching, a task that starts from the ground up.

“It has to be driven by the dean, the senior associate dean or the department chair,” Gardner said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Ultimately, trustees have backed a broader look at campus strategy, taking advantage of the time they can spend out of the headlines.

“We really need to do our homework,” Gardner said.

But Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney said despite distractions, administrators always had their eyes on the academic mission, citing the latest iteration of the Academic Plan.

“Universities are wonderfully complex, living organisms,” he said.

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