UNC chancellor impressed by N.C. Research Campus

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó Innovation and science offer the best hope for an economic recovery, the new chancellor for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told a crowd at the N.C. Research Campus.
“We’re going to have to innovate our way out” of the current crisis, Dr. Holden Thorp said Monday.
A scientist and entrepreneur with 19 patents, Thorp called the Research Campus an “extraordinary community where scientists can live and work.”
He spoke at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis and praised its mission to determine a genetic basis for human nutrition and whether nutrition plays a role in the development of disease.
“You couldn’t invent a more timely topic,” Thorp said.
California billionaire David Murdock is developing the $1.5 billion biotechnology complex that includes branches of eight universities.
Guests commented on Thorp’s schoolboy looksóhe’s only 44óand his understanding of the potential windfall when industry, government and academia collaborate.
“He gets it,” said Clyde Higgs, top business recruiter for campus developer Castle & Cooke North Carolina. “He definitely gets it.”
This was Thorp’s first visit to the Research Campus since construction started in earnest two and a half years ago. He said he didn’t have to see the UNC Nutrition Research Institute to know it would be successful.
“The way you read if something is going well is when your very best people vote with their feet,” he said.
Institute director and UNC-Chapel Hill professor Dr. Steven Zeisel, who Thorp called “one of the world’s most visionary scientists,” has moved to Kannapolis and recruited “extraordinary” faculty, Thorp said.
Thorp spoke at a gathering of Tarheel administrators, faculty and patrons, as well as several influential state leaders who have pledged their support to the fledgling institute.
While Thorp praised the state legislature for taking a “series of bold steps” to fund the Research Campus, including a $19.5 million allocation this year, the budget crisis soon will have an impact in Kannapolis, he predicted.
Already this year, Thorp’s campus in Chapel Hill has made a one-time cut of 5 percent in response to the budget shortfall. Next, the university will alter its permanent budget to reflect a decrease in state allocations, he said.
President Erskine Bowles asked all 16 campuses in the UNC System to cut their budgets this year.
So far, the crisis hasn’t slowed hiring at the Research Campus. Universities continue to recruit and hire faculty and staff for their institutes and programs.
But Dr. Steve Leath, UNC vice president for research, said he’s worried.
The seven public universities at the Research Campus need the N.C. General Assembly to pay for programs, faculty and rent in Kannapolis. According to a five-year “ramp up” schedule, the campus should receive $10 million more in recurring funds next year, Leath said.
“We’re very concerned,” he said after Thorp’s speech. “The state budget is going to be very tight.”
Young and enthusiastic, Thorp has reinvigorated the entire university, said Dr. Barbara Rimer, dean of the UNC School of Public Health, who introduced him.
Rimer called Thorp, an accomplished musician who plays jazz bass and keyboard, a “renaissance man” and chronicled his “meteoric rise through the professional ranks.”
As chancellor, people think he can fix everything, Thorp said. He showed a sense of humor, telling a story about move-in day at UNC-Chapel Hill.
He stopped by one of the dorms and introduced himself to a new student as the university’s chancellor.
“Good,” the student’s mother said. “You can show us how to hook up the Internet.”