Carol Folt couldn’t’ stop smiling as she waited her turn to address the UNC Board of Governors. Color coordinated with her husband in Carolina Blue, the current interim President at Dartmouth College nearly jumped out of her seat after the Board unanimously voted to make her the new chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Oh I just have to say I am deeply honored to lead the oldest and finest public university in America,” Folt said.
Folt spent more than 30 years at Dartmouth, one of the finest private colleges in America. Carolina is five times larger, and public, which means building relationships with state legislators, who control vital funding.
And Carolina also has big-time college sports. And that, in part, is why Folt is here. Her predecessor, Holden Thorp, dealt with an eligibility scandal in football that led to the discovery of academic fraud, and four years of near-constant erosion of the University’s reputation.
“She can bring fresh eyes, fresh perspective to the University of North Carolina,” said UNC system President Tom Ross.
Folt began her academic career as an environmental scientist on the Dartmouth faculty thirty years ago with a research focus of mercury and arsenic toxicity. She steadily progressed through administrative posts until landing as interim president last summer.
“I am convinced she has the right mix of experience, expertise, skills, and passion needed to be a truly great chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” Ross said. “I am thrilled she has agreed to join our leadership team.”
Folt agreed to become chancellor after an exhaustive six-month search by a 21-member search committee. It included a campus tour from the student body president, numerous dinners with important alumni, and attending a basketball game - but not just any basketball game.
“We were here on the day of the Carolina-Duke basketball game,” Folt recalled. “We now really get the importance of Carolina Blue and we did immediately become Tar Heels.”
But being in charge of big-time college sports will be much different than being a fan. Folt admits she has a learning curve in that area.
“I’m a deep supporter of athletics in higher education,” she said. “I’ve had just as many athletes in my labs as I’ve had just as many athletes as I’ve had in my laboratory as I’ve had artists and theater majors so I look forward to learning about it and it’s something I’ll have an active interest in.”
One area in which Folt comes off as much more confident is in her role as a champion of women’s opportunities in higher education. And as the first female chancellor in UNC’s 224-year existence, she seems more than willing to bear whatever burden that historical first may bring.
“The time for women in leadership in higher education is clearly here,” she said.
Folt’s first official day on the job is July 1.