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Chancellor-Elect Carol Folt praised by UNC leaders

Carol Folt, the interim president of Dartmouth College, celebrates the announcement of her position as UNC's new chancellor-elect at the Board of Governor's Meeting on Friday afternoon.
Carol Folt, the interim president of Dartmouth College, celebrates the announcement of her position as UNC's new chancellor-elect at the Board of Governor's Meeting on Friday afternoon.

UNC-system President Thomas Ross said the first time Carol Folt walked into his office and sat down to answer his first question, he knew he would choose her to be UNC’s next chancellor.

“I asked her what she had enjoyed most in her role as interim president at Dartmouth,” Ross said. “And without a hesitation, and with a clear passion, and commitment — and love — her response was, ‘The students.‘”

At a special meeting of the UNC-system Board of Governors Friday, Folt was unanimously approved to be UNC-CH’s first ever female leader. She will assume the position on July 1.

“It is deeply humbling to be the 11th chancellor of the first public university in America, with its history of excellence, its living profile of accomplishment and its immense promise,” she told the board after the vote.

Chancellor Holden Thorp said in an interview that Folt is everything anyone could have hoped for in a new chancellor — an academic, an experienced administrator and someone who comes from a peer institution. But he said attracting a candidate of Folt’s caliber also depends on the reputation the previous chancellor sets for the University.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see someone with all of that come to Carolina, and when you’re doing one of these jobs, you may not talk about it, but the thing that you hope the most is you’re doing a job that’s good enough that somebody as good as she is will want to come and succeed you,” Thorp said.

Those involved in the chancellor search said a series of scandals that has shook the campus in recent years seemed to have no effect on the level of talent the search was able to attract. Thorp said Folt is a testament to that.

“That shows that all the problems we have aren’t as bad as we think they are, and all the good things are even better than we realize,” he said.

But Folt will still play a role in continuing to resolve those issues in the coming years — one of which will be examining the relationship between academics and athletics on campus. Ross said he considered this in the search process.

“I wanted someone who always makes academics a priority, but who appreciates that athletics is also a vital part of campus life that helps build a sense of community and that helps generate a sense of pride and loyalty to the institution,” Ross said.

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said in an interview that though Dartmouth is a non-scholarship Division I school and UNC has more fans and a national reputation, Folt’s experience will allow her to focus on the important issues.

“I think she’s great, she’s obviously coming from one of the best academic institutions in the country where about 30 percent of the student body participates in intercollegiate athletics, so I think the broad-based program that we have is very consistent with what she’s coming from,” Cunningham said.

Among those Folt thanked in her speech to the Board of Governors was Wade Hargrove, chairman of the UNC Board of Trustees and the 21-member search committee that selected Folt as one of three candidates to recommend to the Board of Trustees and Ross.

“From the very moment I walked in the door for my very first meeting, you met me and extended me a very gracious and warm, Carolina welcome, and I have only had that from every single person I have met so far,” Folt said.

Folt has a heavy background in environmental science, and has primarily focused her academic research on the effects of dietary mercury and arsenic on human health and aquatic life, Atlantic salmon restoration and climate change.

“I need to tell you that I still am fun to have dinner with even though I study things like arsenic and rice,” Folt said.

Folt said the laboratory was where her passion for education began, and where she recognized that it had the power to change lives.

“When I landed my first internship in a laboratory at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I was so excited, and it was there that I found out I could create knowledge, not just learn it,” Folt said.

Will Leimenstoll, former student body president and a member of the search committee, said Folt’s energy and enthusiasm to learn as much as possible about UNC was apparent the moment he met her.

“If I could be student body president again for a year just to be able to work with her, I would,” Leimenstoll said.

Folt will be faced with a very different institution as chancellor at UNC, including a student body almost five times the size of Dartmouth’s. UNC is also the state’s largest and first public university, whereas Dartmouth is a private institution in the Ivy League. But Folt said although the two might seem very different on the surface, they share similar core values.

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“From the strength of our amazing traditions, to the commitment and the loyalty of our alumni and our communities, and to our very deep root in the educational history of our nation, I think we both have been striving for excellence,” Folt said.

Folt said that she was honored to be chosen to lead the nation’s oldest public university and to embrace UNC’s values.

“Carolina is not only known as one of the world’s great universities,” Folt said. “I’ve also learned how it’s known as a place where students matter, it’s known where staff matter, and it’s known as a place where community counts.”

Barbara Hyde, a member of the Board of Trustees, said bringing in Folt as the next chancellor is exciting on many different levels.

“One is to have our first female chancellor, it’s enormously exciting. More important than that is the kind of experience and leadership she’s going to bring to our campus,” Hyde said.

“I expect that the students are going to be celebrating, and the faculty are going to be doing handsprings down Franklin Street.”

Sallie Shuping-Russell, another trustee, said the choice was very difficult to make between several qualified candidates, especially the three that were chosen by the search committee.

“All of the candidates were really strong and could have led this University,” Shuping-Russell said

In an interview, Hargrove said he agreed, and that he intends to have a conversation with those who did not get the position.

“They were good people and that’s the sad part about this job; if the alternatives were not attractive and impressive, I’d have felt a lot better frankly myself,” Hargrove said.

“I don’t look forward to making those phone calls.”

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