In the end, it was death by a thousand cuts for H. Holden Thorp, who announced on Monday that he would resign at the end of the academic year as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
While no single scandal appeared insurmountable for Mr. Thorp, the accumulation of a string of controversies over the last two years proved too much to bear. The latest controversy boiled over last week. The campus's chief fund raiser resigned amid allegations that he and another development employee, with whom he is romantically involved, took personal trips at university expense.
During Mr. Thorp's tenure, Chapel Hill has also been plagued with athletics problems, including charges of improper payments to football players and grade changing for athletes and other students.
"I will always do what is best for this university," Mr. Thorp said in a news release. "This wasn't an easy decision for me personally. But when I thought about the university and how important it's been to me, to North Carolinians and to hundreds of thousands of alumni, the answer became clear."
In a phone call to the chair of the faculty on Monday morning, Mr. Thorp sounded fatigued by the barrage of controversies and public scrutiny. "They wore me down," he said.
"We are stunned, saddened, depressed, angry," said Jan M. Boxill, chair of the faculty and director of Chapel Hill's Parr Center for Ethics.
Mr. Thorp, 48, was named chancellor of the system's flagship campus in 2008. The fresh-faced former dean of Chapel Hill's College of Arts and Sciences was viewed by some higher-education leaders and search consultants as an unlikely choice, but Mr. Thorp was popular with the faculty and seemed to maintain the confidence of his campus and system board even in the darkest hours of his chancellorship.
"It's important for people to understand this was Chancellor Thorp's decision," Thomas W. Ross, president of the University of North Carolina system, said in an interview on Monday. "No one forced him out or attempted to force him out in any way. The chancellor has faced tough times, and it has been a difficult time for him personally. I think people still had confidence in him."
Wade H. Hargrove, chair of the Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, said in a news release that he had tried to talk Mr. Thorp out of resigning.
Mr. Thorp, who did not respond to an interview request, plans to return to a faculty position in the chemistry department, where he was a longtime professor and former chair.
Mr. Thorp, who earned a base salary of $420,000 in 2011, will be given one year of research leave at his most recent administrative salary, university officials said. As a tenured faculty member in the chemistry department, his initial annual salary will be the greater of either 60 percent of his administrative salary or pay commensurate with the salaries of faculty in comparable positions.
As is the case with North Carolina's other chancellors, Mr. Thorp does not have a fixed-term contract.
With his resignation, Mr. Thorp adds his name to a growing list of leaders of public research universities who have resigned or lost their jobs amid controversy over the last two years. The Universities of Illinois, Oregon, and Wisconsin at Madison have all seen turnover.
Mr. Thorp's announcement came six days after The News & Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh, published an article that details the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Matt Kupec, who was Chapel Hill's vice chancellor for university advancement and a former star quarterback at the campus. An internal campus review of Mr. Kupec's travel with Tami Hansbrough, a fund raiser and divorced mother of a former Tarheel basketball player, revealed the two had used campus funds for personal travel.
In an interview with The News & Observer, Mr. Thorp acknowledged that he had known of Mr. Kupec's relationship with Ms. Hansbrough and had intervened when the development chief considered appointing her to a position in his own office. Mr. Thorp, however, approved of her appointment to a newly created fund-raising position in the department of student affairs.
Ms. Hansbrough's previous position was as a fund raiser for a foundation that supports Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry. She resigned as a major-gifts officer last Wednesday.
Chapel Hill professors are still learning the facts of the case, but the faculty chair said she did not see evidence that Mr. Thorp had done anything wrong.
"There's a lot of husband and wives that work on this campus, including myself and my husband," Ms. Boxill said. "I don't know if the poor judgment was on his part. I wouldn't think so. There doesn't seem to be a conflict of interest. That's our main concern."
Mr. Thorp's troubles began in 2010 with an NCAA investigation of the football program. His decision a year later to fire Butch Davis, who maintained popularity among students and alumni as the Tarheels head football coach, was widely criticized. Even those who ultimately agreed with Mr. Davis's dismissal questioned the timing of the firing, which came near the start of football season and seemed at odds with Mr. Thorp's previous statements of support for the coach.
This past March, the NCAA placed Chapel Hill on probation for three years, finding that members of its football team committed academic fraud and accepted improper benefits.
Last September, the chair of the department of African and Afro-American studies resigned amid questions about academic impropriety involving athletes and other students enrolled in its programs. An administrator in the program has also retired.
Mr. Ross, the system president, stressed that the principal figures involved in both the academic and fund-raising controversies represented a small part of the institution.
"There are four people we've identified that did something wrong," he said. "All four of them are gone. We have 3,000-plus faculty and over 8,000 employees at that university."
The controversies, while troubling, have not soured Mr. Ross on the notion that academic integrity and big-time sports can coexist.
"I'm not a person who thinks we should throw out the baby with the bathwater," he said.
Ultimately, Mr. Thorp's resignation is a reflection of just how difficult being a prominent college leader has become in an era of intense public scrutiny, Mr. Ross said.
"He's been there going on five years now, and I think it wears on you and becomes difficult," he said. "These are hard jobs and they are hard every day."
Joseph L. Templeton, a chemistry professor and special assistant to the chancellor, said he felt "overwhelming sadness" when he learned of Mr. Thorp's decision.
"I like to work for people who are smarter than I am and have impeccable integrity," he said. "And I love coming to work for Holden Thorp."
Correction (9/19/2012, 8:23 p.m.): The original version of this article said that Holden Thorp was named president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008. He was named chancellor, not president, that year. The article has been revised to fix that error.