CHAPEL HILL – In a deeply troubling development, North Carolina’s public universities have lost a second leader with Carol Folt’s announcement Monday that she’ll step down as Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.1
Since Folt arrived in 2013:
- Applications to UNC-Chapel Hill grew to a record 43,384 (for a first-year class of 4,205) for fall 2018.2
- The Carolina Covenant – a program that guarantees low-income students can graduate without debt – has grown to serve more than one in 10 undergraduates.3
- UNC-Chapel Hill received the Jack Kent Cooke Prize for Equity in Education Excellence in 2017 for its efforts to enroll low-income students and support them through graduation. The Cooke Foundation noted that 22% of Carolina’s undergraduates are eligible for Pell Grants, and 44% of students receive need-based aid.4
- The number of first-generation students has grown 16%, now accounting for nearly 20% of undergraduates.5
- The number of students enrolling from North Carolina community colleges has increased 35%.
- Research funding exceeded $1 billion a year, elevating Carolina to a rank of 5th among research universities in the United States.6
- After a $100 million gift from alumnus Fred Eshelman, the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy became the No. 1-ranked school of pharmacy in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.7
- A capital campaign reached the mid-point of its ultimate $4.25 billion goal last summer, with nearly $500 million raised so far for scholarships and financial aid.8
- The university enacted more than 70 reforms to address a long-running academic-athletic scandal.9
The Silent Sam Confederate monument, however, presented a no-win situation for Folt. While faculty and students insist the monument doesn’t belong on campus, a 2015 state law places strict limits on moving memorial markers.10
Folt acknowledged the enormous energy consumed by deliberations over the statue.
“There has been too much recent disruption due to the monument controversy,” she wrote. “Carolina’s leadership needs to return its full attention to helping our University achieve its vision and to live its values.”
Ultimately, she focused on the fundamental principle of public safety for students and visitors to campus. And she courageously ordered the statue’s pedestal to be removed this week, knowing it could cost her her job.
“As I have said before, safety concerns alone should preclude the monument from returning to campus. This was also the strong preference of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees,” she wrote.
“The base and tablets will be preserved until their future is decided. While I recognize that some may not agree with my decision to remove the base and tablets now, I am confident this is the right one for our community – one that will promote public safety, enable us to begin the healing process and renew our focus on our great mission.”
Trustees Chuck Duckett, Julia Grumbles and Lowry Caudill issued a statement backing Folt.
“The chancellor has ultimate authority over campus public safety, and we agree Chancellor Folt is acting properly to preserve campus security. Nothing is more important than keeping our campus community and visitors as safe as possible,” they wrote.11
Folt’s departure is the latest in a sequence of troubling events for North Carolina in recent years: The abrupt dismissal of former UNC System President Tom Ross; enactment of HB2, the “bathroom bill;” the Silent Sam controversy; and the departure of Ross’ successor, Margaret Spellings, who announced her own resignation in late October.12
With this kind of governance, can UNC-Chapel Hill continue to be viewed as one of the top public universities in the country? Repeated events like these don’t signal the stability industry and education leaders look for when they decide where to locate.
In the end, Carol Folt did what she thought was right. We applaud her courage and her leadership; maybe her departure will provide our state a wake-up call.