When Chancellor Carol Folt took the podium Saturday to officially accept the position she has held for three months, she had tears in her eyes.
“I am overwhelmed by Carolina warmth and a Tar Heel welcome,” she said at her installation ceremony Saturday, which was held on University Day.
Folt was officially welcomed into her chancellorship this weekend, with events ranging from a concert at Memorial Hall to an informal get-together with hundreds of students at “Folt Fest” Sunday.
“I’m convinced this is the best university in the world,” Folt said at the festival.
UNC Board of Governors Chairman Peter Hans said the board approved Folt for the chancellorship with the hope of a new beginning for UNC.
“This is a demanding role, and North Carolinians are counting on her,” he said. “Lead us forward.”
Folt’s predecessor, Holden Thorp, spent much of his tenure grappling with athletic and academic scandal and years of unprecedented budget cuts, topped off by federal investigations into UNC’s handling of sexual assault that were opened toward the end of his chancellorship.
Most of the University’s challenges remain, but Folt said in her installation speech that she is optimistic for UNC’s future.
“I’ve been asked, ‘Why do you want to lead a large public research university now, or here?‘” she said.
“I am deeply inspired by Carolina’s history and its higher purpose.”
And as this Saturday, University Day, marked the date that UNC was founded in 1793, Folt’s speech stressed this higher purpose and the value of public education to the state and country.
“I believe in the capacity of a great public university,” she said. “Our future depends on keeping them strong.”
Folt said the University must be accessible and diverse, as well as focus its research on solving real world problems, such as human rights, water and famine.
“Let’s de-silo this campus,” she said. “Let us leverage our cross-cutting connections and our culture of collaboration within and beyond campus.”
Other speakers at the installation ceremony also emphasized the importance of the University to the state, but also the need for UNC to have tangible benefits.
Gov. Pat McCrory said UNC would be key to the state’s economic recovery, and that Folt has already connected the University to commerce.
Earlier this year, McCrory said UNC should invest less in liberal arts and more in job-creating programs.
He said in his speech Saturday that the University should continue to ensure that its curriculum aligns with the needs of the marketplace.
“Our goal is to get us all to think better, gain more knowledge and get our graduates a job so they can immediately start contributing to our economy,” he said.
Folt’s speech emphasized that liberal arts programs are central to UNC’s mission of problem solving.
“As other nations are seeking to improve their own educational systems, adding the liberal arts is viewed by many – in China, India and elsewhere – as the most effective way to increase the creativity and innovation in their business and technology,” she said.
Folt has said that she is going on a listening tour of the University and hearing from stakeholders before changing policies. She has taken tours of more than 10 schools on campus to hear about their programs and challenges.
“Folt Fest,” a welcome celebration hosted by a variety of groups, including UNC’s Executive Branch of Student Government, gave Folt the opportunity to hear from the 28,000 students she serves.
Student Body President Christy Lambden said his relationship with Folt was strong.
“I’ve already been inspired by her passion and her approach of gathering input and feedback,” he said.
Sophomore Marcia Davis said she hopes Folt will host similar events in the future.
“Most people know the chancellor’s name and see her at convocation, but are still like, ‘Who is that?’” she said.
Freshman Dory Deweese, who attended Folt Fest, said she would like Folt to be empathetic to student needs, such as the pushback on the shortened drop-add policy to be implemented on campus next year and gender-neutral housing.
“She’s doing a good job by having conversations with students,” she said.
Freshman Katherine Manweiler also said she would like to see Folt respond to student activism on campus.
“Make decisions with us in mind,” she said.
Folt said empowering UNC’s students was key to continuing the University’s excellence.
“How fortunate am I to be in this special place, working and learning with some of the world’s brightest and most passionate people, on far-reaching questions with people who have a drive to create, to teach, to learn and to heal,” she said.
“It is the privilege of my life to be here.”
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