Judith Welch Wegner, professor at the UNC School of Law, said she had students who called Winston B. Crisp their hero.
"My hero is Winston Crisp," the students told Wegner. "That's why I'm going to law school."
Read more: A timeline of Winston Crisp's career at UNC
After 26 years at UNC, Chancellor Carol Folt and Executive Vice Provost Robert Blouin announced Thursday that Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Winston B. Crisp would be retiring later this month.
In a message from the University, Chancellor Folt and Executive Vice Provost Blouin said Crisp always put students first as he worked to improve student success.
“We’ve both walked around campus with him and felt the love our students, in fact everyone, has for him,” the statement said. “They greet him, shake his hand and thank him for his support – no one ever forgets the first time they received that warm, heartfelt Vice Crispy smile or hug.”
Former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said with Crisp’s absence, there will be a major void in the administration.
“The University is losing someone who has a deep professional expertise in student affairs but also someone who has a set of personal characteristics that are going to leave a very big void,” Thorp said. “You know a lot of people who work at universities and in college administrations have to be a little bit reserved, and Winston is a lot more out there. When somebody like him leaves an administration, it really leaves a big gap.”
While the announcement was abrupt, Thorp said the decision has nothing to do with Crisp’s health, and he’s happy he made the decision to “take a break.”
“I texted with him before I talked to you. This was his decision, it’s not anything with his health or anything like that, and so I’m happy for him that he’s made this decision and decided to take a break,” Thorp said. “And lord knows if anybody deserves it, it’s him.”
Crisp is a 1989 graduate of Johnson C. Smith University and attended UNC’s School of Law that same year. Following graduation, Wegner asked Crisp to become the law school’s first assistant dean for student affairs and the first associate dean for student services.
She said she saw great judgment and wisdom in him, even as a young law student. She said Crisp was among the best people in crisis management she's ever known. She said one can see this in how he recently handled Hurricane Florence and in his visit to Virginia Tech to help the campus recover from the 2007 shooting.
"His heart and his values are so sound and deep and caring. He would do anything to help students all the time," Wegner said. "He always had students in the law school who wanted to grow up and be like him."
In honor of his leadership, the Student Bar Association launched the Winston B. Crisp award in 2005 to recognize students with strong leadership.
In 2010, Crisp was named vice chancellor of Student Affairs. Last year, Student Affairs held more than 1,200 workshops and events, employed approximately 1,500 students and supported nearly 780 student organizations, according to the UNC press release.
Wegner and her husband used to invite students to their house on Thanksgiving. When Crisp became vice chancellor, he created a program with Carolina Club so UNC students had a place for Thanksgiving dinner.
In a statement provided by UNC Media Relations, Crisp said he is honored to have been able to work with “some of the most wonderful individuals a person could know.”
“After much reflection, I have decided that it is time for me to retire and move on to other challenges in my life,” Crisp said in the statement. “I will always cherish this place but look forward to seeing what my next phase of life has to bring.”
As Chancellor, Thorp worked closely alongside Crisp, often in constant communication about University happenings. He said Crisp was the most natural student affairs leader he’d ever worked with. Whether times were serious or on the lighter side, Thorp said Crisp’s warm spirit allowed him to connect with others.
“That can mean having a light-hearted moment with him when things are going well, but it also can mean being someone who knows how to connect with people in the difficult times,” Thorp said. “And you know, he is just so unbelievably insightful about everything that’s going on.”
Chancellor Carol Folt expressed similar sentiments in a tweet Thursday evening.
“Hard to imagine Carolina without priceless gem @ViceCrispy by my side,” Folt said in the tweet. “You have touched the hearts of so many on campus, but I will keep you to your promise not to be a stranger. Thank you for everything.”
Crisp’s retirement comes at a controversial time in UNC’s history, about a month before the looming Nov. 15 deadline, when Chancellor Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees have to present a plan for Silent Sam’s future to the UNC-system Board of Governors.
In texts obtained by WRAL last month, Crisp responded to a text from Christi Hurt, chief of staff for Student Affairs on the night of the monument’s toppling.
“You think they’re gonna take that thing down?” Hurt texted.
“One can hope,” Crisp responded.
Hurt will serve as interim vice chancellor until someone new is appointed. The University will announce plans to launch a national search in the next coming months to fill the role, according to the statement.
Thorp said Crisp agrees the best thing for the University is to come up with a plan for the monument that doesn’t impact students negatively. He said in this sense, his voice will be missed in these upcoming discussions.
“Winston is a great advocate for doing things at the University that are best for the students,” Thorp said.
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