Published: April 12, 2013
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has had more than its share of things go wrong in recent years, so it’s refreshing to see the hiring of a new chancellor go so right.
The selection of Carol Folt, the interim president of Dartmouth College, to succeed Chancellor Holden Thorp appears to be an inspired choice. We hope she brings the level of leadership that will also make it a bold one.
Folt is promising because of who she is and who she is not. She has impressive credentials in all three dimensions of academe: teaching, research and administration. She has been honored for teaching, has mentored more than 100 undergraduates and graduate students and is a role model for women in the sciences. An environmental scientist with a doctorate in ecology, she has served on federal scientific review panels and held office in scientific review societies.
Finally, Folt has deep experience as a dean, provost and interim president at Dartmouth, an Ivy League college where academic excellence is not simply a priority, but the core of its identity.
Then there is who she isn’t. UNC-CH’s first female chancellor is by definition not in the old boys club. She is not an insider, a product of the Carolina Way and the Carolina Family and other tribal codes that hold together – and perhaps in recent years have held back – the nation’s first public university.
And, despite her diplomatic nod Friday to “Tar Heel fever,” Carol Folt is not leading a sports enterprise. She is an educator. One task of her tenure will be to know and to show the difference.
It may be relevant that Folt’s forte as a scientist is studying environmental hazards. Her research focuses on how mercury and other metals affect aquatic life, and she helped lead Dartmouth’s Superfund Basic Research Program. Perhaps that work will help her as she looks for hazards within UNC’s academic and athletic environment. Her task will be to clear the troubles that arise when big-time athletics cloud a university’s academic integrity.
A question that remains about the chancellor-elect is how well she understands the obligations of a large public university to the public. She has developed her talents and accumulated her experience during 30 years at Dartmouth, one of the nation’s best schools but a much smaller and private institution.
Folt has accomplished so much – including winning out over a strong field of candidates for the UNC job – there’s no reason to think she can’t make the adjustment from the private to the public realm. But if she need tips, here are a few: Be open, be accountable, remember you serve the public. Then insist that all those in your administration do the same.
Congratulations to the UNC Board of Governors and UNC President Tom Ross on a successful search. And welcome to Chapel Hill and North Carolina, Carol Folt.