Nothing could be finer
It was a simple question.
The two-word answer it elicited was even simpler, yet profound enough to reveal everything UNC President Tom Ross needed to know about Carol Folt.
“What was most important to you about your experience as president of Dartmouth College?” he asked.
Without hesitation, she said, “The students.”
At that moment, Ross said, he knew Folt was going to be the right answer for Carolina. And it was why he and the UNC Board of Governors chose her last Friday (April 12) as the University’s 11th chancellor.
Folt, interim president of Dartmouth College and the Dartmouth Professor of Biological Sciences, will replace Chancellor Holden Thorp on July 1. Thorp announced last September his plans to step down at the end of June. He will become provost at Washington University in St. Louis.
Caring about students – and understanding the transformative power education can have in their lives – is something Folt, an internationally recognized environmental scientist, said she has always believed in.
She believes that because education transformed her – and it propelled her on a 30-year trajectory that would take her to Chapel Hill as the first woman to lead the first public university in the country.
Leaving Dartmouth, where Folt has spent her entire academic career, is also like leaving home to pursue her own far-reaching dream.
She had led a strategic planning process that helped Dartmouth weather a period of serious financial challenge and was successful in augmenting support for entrepreneurship and innovation, but she felt she had done everything she could there.
Folt also had felt a strong pull in recent years to “get back to the public sphere” where she had received her own education.
“I didn’t know when that moment would be, or what would be the right opportunity, but that was another dream for me,” she said.
Many spoke to her from their hearts about the University founders’ vision to create “a public for the people” and how that original vision has held true for generation after generation. They also shared stories about how their education at Carolina changed their lives.
Folt said she got her first inkling about where her future would lie during her first internship at a laboratory at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees before going on to the University of California at Davis for her doctorate.
“I learned that I could create knowledge, not just learn it,” she said.
From that moment, she was hooked.
“It’s that direct connection between our talented and creative faculty and our bright and aspiring students that is unlike any other in its ability in inspire and to change lives,” she explained.
‘Things we hold most dear’
She agreed only on the condition that she not be considered for the permanent position.
Ross said, “She explained, ‘I can’t do an effective job for you as interim if I am also a candidate because people will question everything I do – they won’t know if I am doing it because I want to be president or because it’s right.’”
He added, “That’s the kind of integrity of leadership we were looking for. And we got it.”
Thorp, in dealing with the controversies Carolina has faced, has already begun the process of reaching out to the campus community to do exactly that, Folt said.
The panel discussion Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, will begin later this week about the role of athletics in higher education is the most recent example of that process, she said.
Admittedly, there will be more work to do, including additional conversations focusing on that and other important issues, Folt said. But part of leadership is seizing the opportunities that a period of crisis presents to make the institution even better.
“Sometimes dealing with challenge is enjoyable because you are building new partners and you are becoming bigger than yourself,” Folt said. “I believe, from what I’ve already seen, that Carolina has that kind of spirit.”
Weekend activities and photos above:
Chancellor-Elect Carol Folt quickly began immersing herself in campus life. On Friday night, she had dinner with University trustees, donors, volunteers and other community leaders.
On Saturday, after Chancellor Holden Thorp showed her the chancellor’s office in South Building, Folt gave interviews to journalists and met with the General Alumni Association Board of Directors. Just outside South Building, she chatted with a group of seniors posing in their caps and gowns (top).
Afterward, Folt visited the UNC Science Expo in McCorkle Place (next) and toured Kenan Stadium with Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham during the annual spring football game. Accompanied by Susan Ross and UNC President Tom Ross, Folt met player T. J. Thorpe, right, and former player Giovani Bernard, center (third). That evening, she had dinner with the deans and Chancellor’s Cabinet. On Sunday, Folt stopped to chat with Carolina students (fourth) who said meeting the chancellor was on their bucket lists.
Also, from Friday: Folt and UNC President Tom Ross share a light moment following Folt’s election April 12;
Jackie Overton, Employee Forum chair and member of the Chancellor Search Committee, presents Folt with a North Carolina lapel pin;
Chancellor-Elect Carol Folt greets Jan Boxill, Faculty Chair and member of the Chancellor Search Committee;
Folt poses with Chancellor Holden Thorp and Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser; and
Folt poses with UNC Board of Governors Chair Peter Hans, Susan Ross, Tom Ross, Folt’s husband, David Peart, and UNC Board of Trustees Chair Wade Hargrove.