Matt Leming is a senior computer science major from New Orleans.
"Do you need to fix that or something?” Carol Folt asked mid-sentence. My cell phone had been blipping on and off when it should have been recording.
I never expected to get an interview with the chancellor. So I was still surprised when, two weeks after a phone call with the new head of UNC News — a former spokesman at the Pentagon — I was sitting across from her on the first floor of South Building. Smiling, she held a list of handwritten notes. UNC spokesman Joel Curran sat close by. I noticed a scar on Folt’s knee.
We continued — she was speaking about the Board of Governors.
“I need to know what people really think about (them), but my job is to have the long view,” she said.
With UNC students and faculty feeling slighted and powerless before the BOG, there stands an itching question: Is the chancellor UNC’s representative or employee?
“I don’t think I’m there just as the representative of the voice of everybody, and truthfully, there is not one voice,” she said. “It would be a real mistake if the chancellor felt that if every time someone was agitated about something, they had to microfilm that agitation. That is a recipe for disastrous leadership.”
Tom Ross had been fired, and another such question was whether Folt feared the same.
She denied it quickly: “That isn’t what I think about.”
In spite of kvetches, all I had seen indicated that she had been effective in working with the BOG, and she made her own positions clear. “I wrote two letters to the public saying I disagree with them (on their decision to close the Poverty Center). But I think the most important part for us in having a relationship with the Board of Governors is that we have to have a relationship with (them).”
Much of what she said had, in fact, been echoed in her March 4 formal notice — her disagreement there with the closing of the Poverty Center was clear. But it was mixed in with attempts to paint the BOG in a more positive light.
Folt often attempts moderation, and while this is often the most effective strategy, it is not always what students want to hear from their leader.
“Are you a Democrat or a Republican or neither?” I asked.
“I’m an independent.”
“Do you consider yourself liberal or conservative?”
“What’s your opinion on the recently proposed bill that will require UNC faculty to teach four classes per semester?”
Again, there’s that dilemma of politics: Folt often has to lean toward moderation.
“I’m completely against that,” she said, to my surprise.
“If that really looks like it has legs, we’ll spend a lot of time really doing much more effective job in explaining (to the legislature) what faculty do.”
Is she worried she won’t be able to make everyone happy?
“Well, that’s OK. It wouldn’t really be a university if everyone agrees.”
The below Q&A with Chancellor Carol Folt was edited for length and clarity.