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Drafts of Folt’s resignation letters shed light on her frustration with BOG

Chancellor Carol Folt

Chancellor Carol Folt attends the UNC football game against Virginina Tech on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018 in Kenan Memorial Stadium. Folt announced that she will be stepping down from her position as chancellor in an email sent to the University community on Monday, Jan. 14, 2018.

Updated at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday

Former Chancellor Carol Folt's views on the Confederate monument Silent Sam were much stronger than what was presented to the University community, according to emails obtained by The Daily Tar Heel. A resignation letter, most likely intended for the UNC-system Board of Governors, reveals a deep concern for public safety that the former chancellor said she'd carried with her since the 2017 events in Charlottesville, Va. 

On the morning of Jan. 14, Folt sent early drafts of her campus announcement to Vice Chancellor for University Communications Joel Curran and Mark Merritt, former general counsel for the University. One draft was sent at 9:39 a.m., just hours before her afternoon announcement. 

Discussions regarding Folt’s plans appear to have begun Jan. 10 and potentially earlier, the emails show. The Jan. 14 announcement was the plan from the beginning, with subject lines days before reading, “CLF January 14 statement.”

Emails on Jan. 10 were exchanged between the UNC communications team and executives from Edelman, a global communications firm that works with businesses and organizations. One Edelman executive attached 10 resignation letters from various officials including: 

  • Terry Sullivan — UVA
  • Gordon Gee — Ohio State
  • Ron DePinho — MD Anderson 
  • Bud Peterson — Georgia Tech
  • Wallace Loh — University of Maryland 
  • Harris Pastides — University of South Carolina 
  • Bruce Benson —University of Colorado 
  • Margaret Spellings — UNC system 
  • Drew Faust — Harvard 
  • Richard Broadhead — Duke University 

There was also great emphasis on a statement from 2012, when Penn State President Rodney Erickson decided to remove the statue of head coach Joe Paterno from outside of the football stadium shortly after news broke of the child sexual abuse crisis at the university. 

While Curran responded saying Folt wanted "less grim" language and “more positive tone,” some of her earlier drafts were reminiscent of the Paterno statement, including phrasing such as the statues being “lightening rods.”

Though it is unclear who wrote what appears to be the first draft of Folt’s public announcement on Jan. 10, the language was much stronger than the final draft, calling the demonstrations surrounding the monument “extremely volatile.”

“While the Board goes about their important task, I believe the protests will continue — and the threats to public safety will grow even greater — until the issue is fully resolved,” the initial draft said. “As I have previously stated, the overwhelming safety concerns should preclude the Monument from ever returning to campus.”

As of Jan. 11, Folt’s planned resignation date was not yet decided. Curran suggested leaving her departure open-ended. 

“Exit timing: COULD be end of the CALENDAR year...that’s still being worked out. ‘I’m still working out the timing of when I’ll step down, but we will work that our in the very near future,’” Curran said in an email sent at 12:07 p.m. on Jan. 11.

Edelman also helped write the statement from members of the Board of Trustees. In an email sent on Jan. 12, an Edelman executive provided two drafts of the statement. 

On Jan. 13 at 7:54 p.m., BOT member Julia Grumbles sent what appears to be a draft of the BOT's statement to Curran. At 11:39 a.m. on Jan. 14, Curran emailed Grumbles and said they edited her draft, and sent her the revised copy. 

In an earlier draft of Folt’s public announcement sent to Curran at 9:39 a.m. on Jan 14, Folt elaborates on how Silent Sam has caused great disruption on campus and what she thinks the community needs to do. 

"Our accomplishments show how talented and dedicated our community is," Folt said in the draft. "We have been able to maintain this recently even in the face of such disruptive controversy. But the world of higher education is changing fast. We must come together now to avoid loss of opportunity that could cost us dearly in the coming months and years." 

At around 1 p.m. on Jan. 14, a different announcement draft was sent from Amy Hertel, chief of staff to the chancellor. The attachment title was "Cover Letter," and it was not yet addressed to a recipient. 

A final and longer version was sent from Folt to Locklear at 4:32 p.m., approximately a half hour before her public announcement. 

The letter, which appears to be intended for the Board of Governors and other UNC officials, refers to the public announcement she had not yet made, suggesting that Folt intended to not inform the Board about her planned actions to resign and remove the monument's base. 

In this letter, Folt began by providing background on her decisions to resign and to remove what she labeled as a "lightening rod aspect" on campus. 

She said she consulted both her General Counsel and the North Carolina Attorney General in her decision to make sure she had the legal authority to issue removal. She also attached a letter from Merritt. 

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"Ever since Charlottesville I have been telling/writing you with my serious concerns regarding public safety risks to campus associated with the presence of Silent Sam," the letter said. "Just this week, our police told me again that the risk of physical violence and personal injury, civil disorder and property damages are high in the vicinity of the monument's base." 

She went on to say that the Board of Trustees also expressed great concern regarding campus safety. 

"Indeed it is my opinion that anything other than removing the base and tablets for now would be irresponsible, place the community at continued risk, and place me as Chancellor, the university and the system at risk of greater liability for not taking their responsibility for public safety seriously enough." 

Folt concluded by writing that she was excited for the future and what she can accomplish in her final months as chancellor, including "making this a great term for my sixth class of graduates." 

"The momentum we've generated from our present accomplishments and the promise of the future make the future for Carolina bright," the final paragraph said. "A new chancellor will be well-placed to lead the University into the future." 

Following her public announcements, the BOG responded with a statement saying it was unaware of the plans before the announcement.

"We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action. It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the Board’s goal to operate with class and dignity," the BOG's statement said. "We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner."

On Jan. 15, less than 24 hours after her public announcement, the BOG voted to make Folt's resignation effective Jan. 31. 

Folt responded that day with another email to campus. 

"While I’m disappointed by the Board of Governors’ timeline, I have truly loved my almost six years at Carolina," Folt said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "Working with our students, faculty and staff has inspired me every day. It is their passion and dedication, and the generosity of our alumni and community, that drive this great University. I believe that Carolina’s next chancellor will be extremely fortunate, and I will always be proud to be a Tar Heel." 

On March 20, less than two months after her departure from UNC, Folt was selected and approved as the University of Southern California's first female president following a seven-month search process. She is set to begin this summer.