Members of SACC said Folt was more measured and calculated in her public persona than she was in her private talks with students.
“In private, she was definitely more in solidarity with students and really wanted to hear the student voice,” said Madison Knowles, another committee member.
Chancellor Folt tasked SACC in September with surveying UNC students, hoping to understand the mindset on campus regarding opinions on the statue’s placement. Around 500 responses were received, and members say that Folt was receptive of their findings and incorporated them into her decision making. The survey reported that 50% of respondents polled would prefer the statue be relocated, with other respondents voting in favor of repurposing or replacing it.
“She wanted to get a perspective of what students wanted before making any certain prospective actions,” said Nisarg Shah, a first-year Morehead-Cain scholar on the committee. “She didn’t think we should be limited in our thinking because of what the BOT and BOG wanted to do.”
The fall semester culminated in a failed plan brought forth by the Board of Trustees and Folt, which advocated for the creation a secured building on South Campus to display the statue.
“I wouldn’t say she supported the plan,” Knowles said. “She just seemed happy that something was put together because for so long we were moving around without any clue of what we were going to do in the world.”
Members of the committee said once they were made aware of the plan, which was eventually shot down by the board, they alerted Folt to some of the concerns felt by the student body. SACC found it problematic that the proposed site of the statue rubbed shoulders with the center for Black greek life on campus; they argued that putting Silent Sam in Odum Village would send the wrong message.
“She saw a lot of flaws with it and thought the implementation would be rough,” Tullis said. “She was just stressed more than anything.”
Tullis recalled that Folt was downtrodden about the plan and supportive of student concerns. She said she remembers that Folt personally called the board at one point to ask them not to pass the plan.
With Chapel Hill and its politics in her past, Folt will become USC’s first female president in July, where she’ll inherit another contentious and political situation: the recently exposed college admissions scheme. For the time being, interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz is at the University’s helm in her place, and members of SACC have noticed a difference in the two leaders’ style.
Knowles said Guskiewicz is more prone to exploring the source of the problem than Folt, who was solution-oriented and often had the end-goal in mind. Where Guskiewicz now listens, Folt put the committee to action. Chancellor Folt found herself criticized by many voices on both sides of the monument issue during her last semester in office as she tried to negotiate a solution to a problem. Knowles chalked up leadership decisions to a difference in each’s academic background.
“There’s not so much a difference in attitude about where [the statue] should be, just more of a difference in approach,” she said. “They’re different scientists. They have different ways of approaching things.”
In an email to The Daily Tar Heel, Interim Chancellor Guskiewicz said input from SACC is critical to University success.
“The Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor is one of many ways for student voices to be heard as we consider the issues facing the University,” he said.