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UNC debuts new Chancellor-elect Carol Folt

When Carol Folt talks about her career in higher education, she quotes former New York Yankees baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra.

“I like to kid around about Yogi Berra, but he says, you know, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it,’” she said in an interview Saturday about applying to become UNC’s next chancellor.

“This was that moment for me — and I decided, OK, that sounds amazing.”

Folt, a 61-year-old Akron, Ohio, native and current interim president of Dartmouth College, was unanimously approved Friday by the UNC-system Board of Governors to become UNC’s 11th — and first female — chancellor. She will replace Holden Thorp on July 1 with an annual salary of $520,000, which is $100,000 more than Thorp’s current salary.

Folt began a 30-year stint at Dartmouth in 1983 as a research instructor in biological sciences, eventually working her way to dean of faculty, provost and then interim president when President Jim Yong Kim left to serve as president of the World Bank.

Folt, who has two children in their 20s, was raised in an immigrant family. With her second-generation Albanian mother and her Norwegian father, she grew up with a mindset that hard work and advanced education was essential, she said.

“I look at them now and I think what they gave me was just this sort of starry-eyed belief that the future was yours, but you had to work hard and study hard to get it.”

Her new role as chancellor at UNC will bring a new challenge, as she transitions from an Ivy League school to a public university five times the size of Dartmouth.

Thorp said the transition to a public university will be one of Folt’s most difficult adjustments.

“I think that coming from a private university, there will be some new things to be involved in,” Thorp said in an interview Sunday. “Being part of a system, and also being a part of a state government.”

But he said she will be able to take what she’s learned at her current institution and apply it to a new one, just like he will do as provost at Washington University in St. Louis, starting July 1.

Thorp’s chancellorship was cut short when a series of scandals led him to resign, and Folt said she is aware of the issues she will face.

“You don’t take jobs like this thinking this wonderful honeymoon is how it is; partly you’re there to help the institution deal with it,” Folt said.

UNC is the subject of two federal investigations revolving around its handling of sexual assault, as well as a State Bureau of Investigation probe into the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

Thorp said he thinks Folt has the experience to jump in.

“I think when you have somebody who has been a provost and a president, you know, they’ve seen lots of different kinds of things related to compliance,” Thorp said.

Folt said at Dartmouth she worked to implement guidelines of the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter that circulated to colleges nationwide calling for changes to sexual assault procedures. She said she is looking forward to bringing that work to UNC.

Folt has also had to deal with her fair share of challenges at Dartmouth, including a $100-millon budget gap. She said some criticized how she handled the shortfall in certain cases, but not her openness to different opinions.

But none of this controversy — either at Dartmouth or UNC — deterred her from going for the top job, and she said she doesn’t believe UNC’s reputation is tarnished, even with all its recent troubles.

“What I was looking for is, how were people addressing it? And here I have to say you get very high marks,” she said.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Wade Hargrove, who led the 21-member search committee that chose Folt as a finalist, said many applicants felt similarly to Folt.

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“When I and others asked the question, ‘Why would you be interested in this University at this time?’ I mean we’ve faced a lot of adversity, over and over — it’s very reassuring, they’ve said, ‘This is the best public university in the country … the problems you’ve experienced, the frustrations, are those which all of us are enduring in one form or another at various universities,’” Hargrove said Friday.

Bonita Langle, a senior environmental studies and Asian and Middle Eastern studies major at Dartmouth, said she is sad Folt will be leaving.

“Carol Folt is very passionate about her students. She wasn’t able to interact with students as much as interim president, and she really missed that,” Langle said.

In this transition, Folt said she will learn from Thorp, who told her he will talk to her as much as she wants, or as little.

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