New UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt looks ahead

jstancill@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

— UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt says she doesn’t have a magic answer for how to fix problems in the world of big-time college sports. But in nearly three months on the job, she’s had plenty of conversations about the relationship between academics and athletics.

Most recently, she discussed it at a meeting of university leaders of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and on the six-hour road trip to Blacksburg, Va., with her Triangle compatriots, Duke President Richard Brodhead and N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson. The topic will also be explored at an upcoming gathering of 62 leaders of top research campuses in the Association of American Universities.

In a meeting Tuesday with reporters and editors at The News & Observer, Folt said there are good ideas to build on in a recent report to UNC-CH from a panel led by Hunter Rawlings, head of the AAU. That group made 28 recommendations for reforms in college athletics and suggested that UNC-CH convene a larger conversation on ideas including freshman ineligibility for athletes and transparency in spending on athletes.

Folt didn’t zero in on specific reforms that she wants to see, but she pointed out that some reforms had already been implemented after the academic fraud and football scandal that dominated headlines for three years. An effort led by UNC-CH’s provost, Jim Dean, will further look at the academic life of athletes.

“I think we’re going to make significant progress because you know, we really do expect that athletic part of the house to be at the strength of the academic part and in fact that those two things together should be held to the highest possible standard,” Folt said.

She added: “That’s what people here want, too. That’s what people want, so that’s a big goal for me ... to make sure that that feels real and is real.”

Fresh eyes

Folt said she has the advantage of fresh eyes on athletics and hopes to help the campus move forward. “I also can’t go back and try to rewrite a history that I wasn’t a part of,” she said.

Formerly the interim president at Dartmouth College, Folt will be officially installed as chancellor on Oct. 12. She succeeds Holden Thorp, who resigned in the midst of the university’s problems with athletics.

She said she was filled with pride this week at a panel in Washington at the National Academy of Sciences that was run by UNC-CH and NCSU chemistry researcher Joe DeSimone. Folt said she was also awed by UNC-CH students during the first week of school, when they held discussions of the summer reading selection, “Home” by Toni Morrison.

“The students in that class were so thoughtful, so prepared,” she said. “I just have to say the look in their eyes – they felt like they had come to a place where they were going to have to work really hard, but they were going to have conversations every day about something that really mattered.”

Other issues

Folt’s comments touched on a number of issues.

• On getting to the bottom of past fraud in African studies: “It looks like a couple of people did some things that were really wrong, things that no one is proud of. I certainly would never want to see happen again. I think we are waiting to hear what the SBI says. There are things that a university cannot do. We do not have the power of the subpoena. We are not investigators.”

• On sexual assault at the university: “There’s a problem with sexual assault on every campus in America. Campuses are a dangerous place if you look at it in that way, for sexual assault, for women. ... I care deeply about this and have for years. It was something that was important to me at Dartmouth. It will be certainly important to me at UNC. Quite frankly, I think those might be two schools that are trying to address it as well as any schools in the nation right now. ... I think there’s a lot happening, and we will certainly keep working on it.”

• On higher education in the 21st century: “Education has changed faster in the last 10 years than it has ever changed in history. It’s really important that we talk about our education. Are we teaching them well? Are we giving them the right skill sets? People want to talk about that, too. ... We’re going to spend a lot of time strategizing for the future. We have to, because to not do that is to fall so far behind so fast. That would be a real loss for us.”

• On the meaning of “the Carolina Way”: “I’ve asked a lot of people and I get a different answer from everybody. ... Like any label, it’s not as valuable as the sentiment that people are trying to express. So when people are talking about it to me, primarily I’m hearing it from this faith in ourselves that we hold ourselves to these high standards. We want to see that be true. Are we really excellent? Can we maintain that? .. .On the other side, you could see, if we fall short of our ideals, that is when you betray what is believed by many people to be the Carolina Way. So let’s not betray our faith in ourself and let’s use that as a calling or a mantra for how we can improve.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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