Politics & Government

UNC trustees discuss the search for a new chancellor, as Folt wins praise from faculty

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.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees met behind closed doors Tuesday with interim UNC system President Dr. Bill Roper, with about a week left in the tenure of campus Chancellor Carol Folt.

The search is on for an interim leader to take the helm when Folt steps down. Last week, she announced her resignation and the removal of the remains of the controversial Silent Sam statue. Though she had planned to stay through graduation in May, the UNC system Board of Governors voted last week to shorten her timeline, ending her tenure as chancellor this month.

Trustees met in private in an emergency session and were then joined by Roper and the UNC system attorney, Tom Shanahan. The reason for the meeting, as stated in the agenda, was to discuss “confidential personnel matters.”

Afterward, the trustees’ chairman, Haywood Cochrane, said little about the status of the search. When asked by a reporter about the kinds of qualities that are necessary for the next leader, he said: “Deep love for the university, strong work ethic, integrity, unparalleled understanding of the need for balance on this campus and beyond.”

He said Folt had possessed those qualities.

The UNC-Chapel Hill chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement this week calling for the faculty to have input into the selection of an interim chancellor as well as the permanent chancellor.

“Vital governance structures are in a state of disrepair at Chapel Hill and throughout the UNC system. Inclusion of the faculty in the selection of UNC-Chapel Hill’s next chancellor would be an important first step in carrying out the repair work that needs to be done,” said the AAUP statement.

Meanwhile, Folt and UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Bob Blouin met with faculty leaders Tuesday to reassure them that the business of the university would continue despite the turmoil of the past couple of weeks.

Folt said the campus has not “come to grips with” the reality that what ultimately will happen with Silent Sam is not solely in the hands of campus leaders. “This is one of those cases where we don’t have the authority,” she said. “Even the way we regulate buildings is part of a system. ... Having something that the community doesn’t want, but the authority is not there to regulate that, it’s really difficult.”

She pointed out that higher education in North Carolina has a very layered structure, with chancellors and trustees at the 17 campuses, and above that level, the UNC system president and the UNC system’s Board of Governors. There is a limit to what campus leaders can do.

A committee made up of five UNC Board of Governors members is charged with working with Chapel Hill campus leaders to come up with a proposal for what happens with the Confederate monument. That group has not met yet, but is expected to formulate a proposal by March 15. A final decision is up to the system board.

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.

On Tuesday, the UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Executive Committee passed a resolution thanking Folt for leadership and her “optimism, hard work and boundless energy.” The resolution praised Folt for success in fundraising, the creation of a blueprint for the university’s future and a rise in research funding and affordability for students.

“Few of her predecessors faced more serious challenges than she did as chancellor or met them with more courage, thoughtfulness and grace,” the resolution said.

The group stood and applauded. Similarly, Folt received cheers at the UNC men’s basketball game on Monday night, when her image was broadcast on the arena’s big screen.

She said Tuesday she had not made a decision about where she will go or what she will do next.

“Right now I just really haven’t been focused on me,” Folt told the faculty members, adding, “I’ll take some time to think about it.” (An earlier version of this story had an incorrect quote from Folt.)

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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