ST. LOUIS (AP) — After five scandal-plagued years as University of North Carolina chancellor, Holden Thorp was downright ecstatic to start over on a campus where the term "student-athlete" doesn't evince snickers and groans.
The new provost at the private Washington University spends little time worrying about academically suspect jocks — as a Division III school, WashU doesn't even award athletic scholarships. It's a far cry from Chapel Hill, where an academic fraud investigation found dozens of athletes taking no-show classes, along with assorted other abuses, and led to Thorp's resignation from the top job at his alma mater — the sole college he applied to as a high school senior in Fayetteville, N.C.
"I wanted to get back closer to the academic side of things," said Thorp, who arrived in St. Louis three months ago. "Washington University, more than a public university, is on the whole more unapologetically devoted to academic achievement as its primary focus." For him, "that is liberating feeling."
His move down the academic chain surprised many, but Thorp is not alone among college CEOs seeking such refuge, especially those who have weathered the turbulent world of big-time sports. Current and past college presidents, as well as education industry observers, say many campus heads are unprepared for the white-hot glare that campus athletics emit when things go wrong, from player arrests to NCAA investigations and coach firings — or in Thorp's case, all three.
"There were a lot of misconceptions about college sports," Thorp said, alluding to the notion that at UNC, the quest for athletics success would never compromise the school's academic standards. "In some ways, I was as much a part of this as anybody, protecting people from some of the tough truths about college sports."