Politics & Government

Former UNC trustees blast Board of Governors and voice support for Folt

Chancellor Folt’s resignation accepted and hurried

The UNC Board of Governors accepted UNC Chancellor Carol Folt's resignation in a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 15, and set a new Jan. 31 departure date ahead of Folt's intention to stay through graduation in May.
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The UNC Board of Governors accepted UNC Chancellor Carol Folt's resignation in a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 15, and set a new Jan. 31 departure date ahead of Folt's intention to stay through graduation in May.

A letter signed by 20 former UNC-Chapel Hill trustees takes the UNC Board of Governors to task for its action to push Chancellor Carol Folt out of her job early.

Folt, who this week ordered the removal of the base of the toppled Silent Sam Confederate monument and simultaneously announced her resignation, had planned to finish out the spring semester. On Tuesday, the Board of Governors moved up her resignation date to Jan. 31.

The former trustees wrote that the board’s actions “have left us unable to stay silent any longer.”

The letter supports Folt’s authority to move the statue pedestal and said the university today “faces challenges created by the very people charged with governing it.”

The letter is signed by prominent UNC alumni and donors who have served on the trustee board in the past. They support Folt, who they maintain “has stood strong for the University.”

They say politics has become an impediment to responsible management of the university. “However, during her tenure, increasing pressure from Raleigh and the Board of Governors has put politics ahead of the best interests of education, research and patient care,” the letter said. “Silent Sam came to embody it all.”

The letter writers also drew parallels between the board’s treatment of Folt and the outgoing UNC President Margaret Spellings — the two most high profile female leaders in public higher education in the state. Spellings left her post this week, though she is technically on the payroll until March, which would have been her third anniversary as leader of the 17-campus system.

Pushing Folt out early, the letter writers say, is “the same protocol” the board used for Spellings. “The Board could not be satisfied to let them leave on their own terms.”

Others have also drawn the connection between the departures of Spellings and Folt. Earlier this week, former chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, Sue Estroff, sent an email to faculty colleagues about what happened this week.

“Two strong, accomplished and passionate women have decided that they cannot lead with the BOG’s dictatorial and politically charged intrusion into the life of UNC and UNC-Chapel Hill,” Estroff wrote. “Anyone of conscience can abide being ‘managed’ in such a way just so long. Taking down the remains of Silent Sam was Carol Folt’s parting gift to us. We need to not only thank her, but think long and hard about why she had to resign in order to do what is in our best interest.”

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced Monday that she is resigning after spring graduation, and she ordered that the pedestal that once held the Confederate monument Silent Sam be removed from campus. Shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday, it was.

Earlier this week, Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith said Folt’s early departure is a good outcome for her, too. “We want her to move on with grace and dignity and we want to treat her accordingly with that manner,” he said.

Smith also said he wanted the campus to get back to important business. “Our focus right now is what can we do to get UNC-Chapel Hill focused on all the great things they do, and start talking about world-class research and academics versus some of this stuff.”

The board chairman also said the board would have liked the opportunity to discuss with Folt her planned removal of the remnants of the statue.

The former trustees backed Folt’s decision to remove the remnants of the statue, saying it had become “a lightning rod for violence and intolerance on this campus.”

“It is our hope that we will not have to continue fighting the Civil War by trying to resurrect it elsewhere on campus,” their letter said.

The group called on those governing UNC to put aside divisiveness. “Now, it is our collective responsibility to govern for the common good, rather than based on individual political preferences,” they wrote.

The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus known as 'Silent Sam' was a point of friction and protest long before becoming part of the national conversation. Here's a look at the monument's history.

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Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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