Fundraising mess a chance for true change at UNC

By Todd Cohen

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has an unprecedented opportunity to heal itself.

Wounded by a fundraising scandal that in a single week claimed the jobs of its chancellor and its vice chancellor for university advancement, UNC also has a rare chance bring to heel an over-indulged athletics program that for generations has held hostage the university’s culture of academic excellence.

The huge task facing the school’s board of trustees is to show, finally and decisively, the leadership it has for far too long lacked the vision and backbone to exercise.

It needs to hire a chancellor who understands that teaching, research and service to the state are the school’s core mission, not the fanatical and sometimes destructive pursuit of winning at all costs on the basketball court and football field.

And it needs to craft a vision for an institution geared to delivering education programs and services that increasingly will be needed to survive and thrive in a digital, networked and fiercely competitive global marketplace.

Then, and only then, can UNC resume its long-delayed plans for a campaign, which at last estimate was expected to try to raise $3 billion.

The scandal was triggered by disclosures that Matt Kupec, a  former star quarterback at UNC who last week resigned as vice chancellor for university advancement, had taken at least 25 private trips at university expense with Tami Hansbrough, a fundraiser at the school and the mother of former star basketball player Tyler Hansbrough.

She and  Kupec, both divorced, have been in a relationship, according to published reports.

Kupec had pushed for UNC to hire Hansbrough, who also quit last week.

And Holden Thorp, who reportedly knew about her hiring, Kupec’s role in it, and their relationship, and who accompanied the couple on some of those trips, announced Monday he would step down at chancellor at the end of the academic year and return to his job as a professor.

The institutional meltdown also has put on hold, yet again, plans for the fundraising campaign.

That campaign was set to begin its quiet phase four years ago, but the collapse of the capital markets sidelined those plans.

Thorp and Kupec last spring asked the trustees to okay plans to begin the quiet phase this summer, but the board reportedly told them they were not ready and needed to spend the year planning the campaign.

As Charlotte-based fundraising consultant Karla Williams told me, a campaign of that size is not about raising money, it is about transforming an institution.

Working to identify the needs of faculty, students, alumni, donors and other constituents, and engaging them in the process of setting a vision for the future, has the end result of raising money to make that vision a reality.

Because it is the board and the chancellor who must lead the effort to set that vision and raise that money, the board’s first job is to find a new chancellor who understands the increasingly more vital and complex role a public university must play in the 21st century.

The new chancellor, in turn, will need to find a new vice chancellor for university advancement.

As Durham-based consultant Carol O’Brien told me, the chief fundraising officer at a 21st century university must straddle a range of diverse and sometimes competing communities.

That fundraising executive must be skilled at engaging donors, academics and other constituents and addressing their diverse and subtle needs, while also managing the complex and myriad moving parts and systems, and supporting  the staff and volunteers, that together constitute a big fundraising operation.

The board of trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill has a chance to advance the school’s mission of providing education programs and services needed to help our state become a better place to live and work.

To do that, it needs to lead the institution, rather than enabling and groveling to its athletics boosters in return for posh seats and the chance to schmooze with celebrities and big shots in the Dean Dome or at Kenan Stadium.

The board must set its own vision, find the chancellor it wants, and work with that chancellor and with donors to build the university the state needs and deserves.

One response

  1. Oh my stars. The depth of what happened had not reached me here in the country’s midsection. This is beyond alarming. As a very proud alum, I had always felt like we were different. I guess not so much. Call me very sad. And something tells me there is probably more to come.

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