When Carol Folt completed her tenure as the 11th chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she left the university in better shape than she had found it. As UNC’s first female chancellor, Folt successfully steered the university through two major controversies — the university’s academic-athletic scandal and the events surrounding the fall of the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam.
Similar to her arrival at USC, Folt was inaugurated as UNC’s chancellor amid one of the biggest scandals ever to rack the institution. Throughout the course of the NCAA’s investigation into alleged fraud and academic dishonesty committed at the university, Folt remained steadfast in her messaging, accepting responsibility for gaps in oversight while insisting that no NCAA violations were committed.
Folt’s deft navigation of the NCAA’s investigation provided the first line item on her resume as a university crisis leader. Her maneuvering of Silent Sam’s political and legal challenges cemented her legacy as a bona fide problem-solver.
With vocal critics on both the left and right, Folt frequently found herself in unwinnable situations. Folt’s measured approach to the issue of Silent Sam rubbed some student activists the wrong way, yet her hands were tied by a 2015 North Carolina law that generally bars the relocation of historic monuments.
On the other end of the spectrum, Folt had a strained relationship with the right-leaning UNC Board of Governors, which felt that Folt was overstepping her duties.
Nearly five months after protestors toppled Silent Sam, Folt — citing “a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community” — finished their work by authorizing the removal of the statue’s base and commemorative plaques in her resignation letter to the UNC community. Folt’s actions received immediate praise from Representative David Price and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, and the student body president said that Folt would have a legacy of being “here to work and to serve students.”
Still, other student leaders reacted to Folt’s resignation by saying they would remember Folt for “systematically silencing us, systematically ignoring us and telling us to our faces that the violence that we’re experiencing and that we’re confronting on a daily basis doesn’t matter.”
Whatever the feelings on Folt’s time as chancellor of UNC, the results of her tenure are undeniable. She successfully led the university through its most difficult period in recent history. The skills she gained in North Carolina will serve her well as she navigates new challenges in Southern California.
The Daily Tar Heel Fall 2019 Editorial Board