Chancellor Carol Folt said she and her team didn’t know the exact legal implications of House Bill 2 when it was passed.
“Some people think it means one thing legally, other people think it means others and that’s going to be the ground of lawsuits going forward, it’s what does it really mean,” Folt said in an end-of-year interview.
If someone being recruited by UNC called Folt with concerns about their safety and privacy due to House Bill 2, Folt said she would help that individual find the positives of being a part of the University.
“What I would have to tell them is what the law says — that we don’t have an enforceable law and that they would be informed of the law,” she said. “In this case, I wouldn’t be here trying to convince someone to do anything against their conscience.”
UNC School of Law professor Maxine Eichner said she agreed with Folt — House Bill 2 is not an enforceable law.
“If you think about what enforcement would entail — either requiring looking at birth certificates or alternatively invading people’s privacy — it’s clear,” Eichner said. “I guess the other part of that is there are no penalty provisions in it.”
Eichner said politically, the University is between a rock and a hard place, because federal and state policies differ.
“They potentially could say their bathroom policies are dictated by federal law — that’s Title IX that affects students and Title VII that affects employees. They haven’t done that," Eichner said.
Folt said she was proud of initiatives that have addressed the University’s history this year. One such project was the Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History, which set out to contextualize the history of the University, even with state laws limiting the movement of historical monuments and the Board of Trustees' 16-year freeze on renaming.
“Tell me a single university that has ever said they’re going to sit down and contextualize their history going back to the start of the nation,” Folt said. “I’m not worried yet about the limits, I’m more interested with what can we actually get going. When and if we get to limits, we’ll get there.”
“History really matters. Every word on a plaque matters to people. Every placement of the plaque matters to people, so I know we’re in it for the long term and it’s going to take patience and determination to continue.”
This year, Folt and other administrators have met with students in a joint committee to discuss race on campus, and on Friday the Chancellor’s Office announced that a space for students to experience black culture would be created in Upendo Lounge in the Student and Academic Services Building.
Senior Jeremy Mckellar, the outgoing Black Student Movement president, said he was part of the committee that allocated Upendo as the space for black students.
“I think it’s definitely steps in the right direction,” Mckellar said. “It’s a big thing to have the Chancellor really want to listen to us.”
Mckellar said having Upendo as a space for black students returns the lounge to its original purpose — as a place for the Black Student Movement to meet.
“Having a space like Upendo, having a space where we can come together, and embrace ourselves in black culture and be able to share our experiences as Carolina students, being able to explain that to administrators, being able to explain that to our peers as well, being able to get everyone on the same page as well is one of our greatest challenges.”
Women at UNC
“I’ve never had a woman boss, I kind of kid around about that. It’s fun for me — that’s actually really wonderful,” she said.
Folt said she's looking forward to getting to know UNC-system President Margaret Spellings.
"I think she's pretty interested in women's issues and women's groups," Folt said.
Silvia Tomášková, chairperson of the women’s and gender studies department, said although having women in high positions at UNC is important, people should not be satisfied with simply having women in power.
“I am a little weary of thinking that that’s all we’re asking for — that the symbolic value does the trick, because this is not a one-trick issue,” Tomášková said. “I think there are many men that are feminists, and therefore I would like to see more feminist leadership rather than just solely women leadership.”
“There historically have been women in power who were quite content in promoting patriarchy. I would hope that women leadership comes with a greater awareness of feminist concerns. I would hope that women leadership is not taken as ‘see, you’ve gotten what you wanted, now you should be happy.’”
Innovation as the norm
Folt said encouraging innovation through programs like the Eshelman Fund is key as the University moves forward.
Bob Blouin, dean of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and director of the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, said he hopes the fund — which provides resources for innovative research projects — inspires students, staff and faculty to be innovative in their everyday lives.
“I think it itemizes the values this Chancellor is articulating about a University that is committed to innovation,” he said. “I think it provides a mechanism in which innovation can be nurtured and fostered within individual schools. What we’d like to do as a campus is to increase our bandwidth around our notion of innovation.”
Blouin said Fred Eshelman’s funding of the program allows researchers to focus on projects that otherwise would have been deemed too “risky” to pursue.
“What he’s giving us is a unique opportunity to think beyond that and to allow us as a school and I think as a University to leapfrog ahead of others for the betterment of society,” Blouin said.
As the year closes, Folt is looking ahead to more innovation.
“I do believe next year is, ‘How do we take all these great ideas and have them moving for the next five to 10 years?’”
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