To the regular customers of Sutton’s Drug Store at noon it must have looked like a senior professor and his protege discussing the incoming crop of coeds …. but to the trained eye it was a precedent-setting conference of epic significance. …. HOLY FRANK PORTER GRAHAM !!! For the first time in UNC history a sitting Chancellor sat down with, and laughed with, an ultra-right wing curmudgeon. …. Chancellor Holden “Doogie” Thorp invited me to lunch. I accepted. It was “a good thing”.
He issued the invite and first suggested we meet in his office with lunch brought in. I have avoided South Building for over 40 years and felt that was a record worth keeping in tact. My one other entry into that infamous bureaucratic citadel was to avoid a rain shower my freshman year. I admit I was curious to see if all those ties that Meez had stapled to his desk blotter were still there. Was Susan Ehringhaus’ S&M parlour still in the basement? Sutton’s was an ideal compromise location.
Before you even ask, yes, I had CokeDaddy tape a Smith&Wesson behind the toilet tank in Sutton’s Men’s Room. In the immortal words of Sonny Corleone “I don’t want him walking out with just his ____ in his hand.” The S&W was not needed and may still be taped there for all I know.
I arrived around 11:30, parking on Rosemary Street and entering “quaint & beautiful Franklin Street” via Amber Alley (studiously avoiding slipping in the standing pools of grease and derelict droppings). I headed to the nearest ATM and you’ll never guess what happened within 60 seconds of my arrival ….. I was accosted by one of Franklin Street’s celebrated “street people” who admired my shoes. He pulled that old Bourbon Street scam. I gave him $1 and he said it would go towards his law school tuition. I asked him if he knew Gene Nichol. He did not. I asked if he had been invited to play racquetball out at Johnny’s place. Again, he said no. I headed for Sutton’s.
Holden Thorp arrived promptly at noon. I was expecting the Holden of “pre take-the oath” days who was sans tie. He was wearing a tie. He said it “was kinda a South Building rule”. I reminded him that YOU ARE THE FREAKIN’ CHANCELLOR and you make the freakin’ rules. He is just in his first three weeks and not totally comfortable with having his hand on UNC’s nuclear trigger just yet.
I’m going to tell you some of what we discussed. I am not going to tell you everything we discussed. In doing so I am breaking two iron-clad rules of being an Internet Columnist. #1 – I actually do know some rather interesting people. I don’t have to make this stuff up. …. And #2 – I respect their friendship and do not need to exploit their trust just to get a few 1,000,000 extra views on my website. I am fortunate to lead an interesting life. I do not have to pretend just to impress you folks. Please don’t report me to the Internet Police.
Chancellor Doogie and I had no pre-set agenda or list of verboten questions. This was NOT an Obama press conference. I made it clear he could ask me anything. Like most everyone, he was curious about the “BobLee – Mel” thing. ….. and curious whether UNC really could simply buy Wake’s FB program?
Placing our lunch orders we simultaneously reached into our shirt pockets and pulled out paks of “Nabs”. It is a part of Holden Lore that he referred to “a pak of Nabs” when Erskine offered him the catbird’s seat in South Building. We had both selected the Lance’s Golden Cheese variety. We toasted over Nabs to “Wisdom and its artful application.”
We pretty much covered in thumbnail fashion all the hot button issues that a Chancellor and a Curmudgeon might discuss over a coupla slaw dogs at a lunch counter.
After only two weeks in office he has already learned the three most important issues to everyone he meets ….. “they” (1) WANT basketball tickets, (2) WANT a primo campus parking place, and (3) WANT a friend’s son snuck thru admissions. I assured him I was not desirous of any of the three. He loosened up immediately.
In no particular order we discussed ….. the plight of American public education …. The media and the blogosphere …. Eve Carson …. UNC’s General College …. The coedification of UNC …. The Morehead Scholar Program …. The Mary Easley Mess …. Boys & Liberal Arts Schools …. Erskine Bowles …. Cirque de Nifong …. That professor in the restroom at Atlanta airport …. Tyler Hansbrough …. Dickie Baddour …. UNC as a “football school” …. Jesse Helms …. The N&O …. Chuck Stone …. “research universities” …. And lots of other juicy stuff.
There are some enduring “myths” about UNC that simply are not true. Keeping those myths alive suits certain agendas on both The Right and The Left. Meanwhile Reality muddles along on its solitary journey.
Holden Thorp is a very intelligent young man. He does not “know it all” and has some obvious naïveté in certain areas. Prehaps I can help him in those areas …. or at least exploit his naivete for my own selfish interests. He strikes me as “a quick study”. I better move quickly.
Make no mistake …. He IS an academic and likely more at home with fellow academics than hanging with the fellows and sharing ribald lies of sexual prowess or “that time we got sooo drunk that …..”. I’m not sure a University Chancellor needs scars from a bar fight to be effective…. or vague memories of a “road trip to Myrtle Beach after Jubilee”.
ls Holden Thorp a better “fit” with mainstream UNC alumni than was his predecessor? Holden is from Fayetteville. He can name five cast members from Andy of Mayberry. He eats Nabs. I suspect he has poured peanuts in a Coca Cola. We discussed wearing weejuns without socks. I’m not sure he does, but I’m confident he knows people, other than me, who do. His dad was a Southern lawyer who wore seersucker suits.
Pick any three of the above and YES …. Holden Thorp is a much better “fit” as UNC Chancellor than was Whatzhisname from Wherever.
Holden and I will keep in touch. Are we friends? I’d sure like to think so. Now that I’ve set him straight, will he be driving the ultra left-wing pointy-headed faculty squirrels out of Chapel Hill like a modern-day St Patrick cleaning the snakes out of Ireland? As I said above …. I’m not going to tell you EVERYTHING we discussed.