Former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp has been named the new editor-in-chief of Science Magazine, a family of journals.
“This is one of the absolute prized jobs in American science,” Thorp said. “To lead a publication that is the most influential scientific journal in the world and also has a news operation that is a national treasure.”
Thorp said it was impossible to let the opportunity pass, understanding the honor that comes with being the head of a publication as nationally revered as Science.
Thorp has a Ph.D. in chemistry and held a number of positions at UNC before he became dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and ultimately chancellor from 2008 to 2013.
Thorp stepped down in 2013 following widespread criticism for the NCAA investigation into UNC’s football program.
His experience in science and academia helped make him a more competitive applicant for the position, Thorp said.
“I think the search committee was looking for someone who had held complicated positions before and was a seasoned manager,” Thorp said. “There’s a team of 150 people that need to be led by the editor-in-chief, and there are complicated issues related to the interaction of academia and research. And someone with a background in all of that, I think, was attractive to them.”
Joe Templeton, a chemistry professor at UNC, has known Thorp since he first started teaching at the University. He said that Thorp was a professor who was best known for his ability to have fun with his students.
“I believe that in freshman chemistry he was well known for his plastic pipe, hair spray potato combination," Templeton said. "As he would take his class somewhere down on Franklin Street … and fire a potato off into the distance by lighting the hairspray in the back of (a) plastic pipe cannon that he would illustrate chemical principles with.”
Kathleen McNeil, a longtime academic advisor at UNC, said she remembers the days when Thorp was chancellor. He was unique from other leaders, she said, in his ability to maintain a balance between being both an administrator and an academic leader.
“He was unusually academically-oriented for an administrator," McNeil said. "There is always a tension between... a more managerial approach and staying true to your academic roots when you're in an administrator position. I thought he was unusual in staying true to his academic roots. He would put the intellectual journey of the students first."
Thorp wants to ensure that Science stays true to its original purpose of informing the public on the latest findings from all areas of science.
“This journal is a society journal. It’s not a for-profit commercial journal, which, in a sense, it belongs to all of science,” Thorp said. “So making sure that everyone in the scientific community feels a part of and ownership of Science magazine is something that will require a lot of bandwidth.”
Thorp doesn’t intend on making any drastic changes to the publication any time soon.
“This publication is a national treasure," he said. "It’s been great since 1880, so no drastic changes (are planned). But of course, things evolve over time, and over time we’ll figure out what those are."
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