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March 2009

A good month for UNC

March has been a high performance month for us here at Carolina. The nation has become accustomed to seeing our men's basketball team near the top of the NCAA heap during March Madness. This year we got an added publicity boost -- and a bit of extra pressure -- when President Barack Obama picked the Tar Heels to win it all, for the second year in a row. You may recall that the president worked out with the squad back in April when he was still campaigning for office, so he's seen how good we are first-hand.

"I'm counting on you," President Obama told us on national TV. Here's hoping that Mr. Obama knows his Baracketology.

No matter what happens on the court -- and this column will go to press before the results of the Sweet 16 are known -- the Tar Heel basketball team is already a winner on two fronts. Earlier this month, Inside Higher Ed selected Carolina as the winner of its 4th Annual Academic Performance Tournament.

In this "tournament," the staff of Inside Higher Ed took the men's tournament bracket and advanced those teams with the better performance in the classroom. To decide the winners, they used the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, a nationally comparable score that gives points to teams whose athletes stay in good standing academically and stay enrolled from semester to semester. The NCAA's Graduation Success Rate was used to break any ties. This year, Carolina cut down the academic nets.

Adding to this honor, the Tar Heel basketball team also performs well financially. For the second year in a row, Forbes magazine has named Carolina the most valuable team in college basketball, worth $25.9 million. In this gloomy economic climate, it's good to know we have such a valuable commodity on our court. It really helps, because our trademark licensing program distributed $3,684,057 to students who aren't athletes: 75 percent for need-based scholarships and 25 percent for merit-based scholarships.

While it's easy to get caught up in March Madness at this time of year, we have to remember that all of our students aren't high-performance athletes. At least one is a high-performance singer. Anoop Desai has put UNC and Chapel Hill in the national spotlight as one of the nine finalists in the American Idol competition.

Not only did Anoop earn his bachelor's degree in political science and American studies from UNC in 2008, he is continuing his studies at Carolina for a master's degree in folklore. He also grew up Chapel Hill, attending East Chapel Hill High School and founding its male a cappella singing group, Chiefs of Staff.

At UNC, Anoop's campus singing group, the Clef Hangers, have been kind enough to let me join them on special occasions, and I can tell you that their style of a cappella singing is much harder than it looks. The fact that Anoop stumbled during Michael Jackson week but came roaring back with his soulful rendition of Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind" has endeared him to viewers across the nation -- and even to the feared Simon Cowell.

Now, of course, all our students haven't been splashed across national television this month the same way Anoop Desai and Tyler Hansbrough have. But they all excel in some way or they wouldn't be at Carolina, and each spring we invite more. Earlier this March we awarded 70 young leaders from high schools across the nation and around the world the prestigious Morehead-Cain scholarship, awarded to students who show the ability to create an impact informed by a world-class Carolina education.

On what other campus can you find such great student-athletes, stellar scholars and the potential Idol of a nation? Let's charge out of March with much Carolina pride, cheering on our Tar Heels on the basketball court and on the American Idol stage, as well as our stars in the classroom and in the research lab.


Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers can contact him at

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