Chapel Hill, N.C. — Carol Folt, provost and interim president at Dartmouth College, was named Friday as the 11th chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – and its first female leader.
The UNC Board of Governors voted unanimously after UNC President Tom Ross recommended Folt as someone who could ensure continued academic success at the nation's oldest public university.
"I needed someone with sufficient life experience to manage and lead a large, complex institution, someone who understood how to operate with constrained resources while maintaining a vision for the future," Ross said.
He lauded Folt's commitment to liberal arts education and research, as well as her ability to work with groups from students to faculty to donors.
"She has proven herself to be an engaged, effective leader who promotes openness, collaboration, strategic thinking and creative problem-solving, as well as an unwavering commitment to academic excellence and student success," he said. "She has also earned a reputation for great integrity, sound judgment and the ability to face tough and complex challenges head on."
Folt, 61, was appointed interim president of Dartmouth, in Hanover, N.H., in July 2012 after 30 years on the faculty. She has risen through the ranks at the Ivy League school, from a biological sciences professor to dean of graduate studies to provost.
Ross noted that Dartmouth has increased the number of women and minorities in leadership positions under Folt's leadership, expanding its graduate programs and increased the number of endowed faculty positions. He said she personally has mentored more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students and won $50 million grants to research issues from climate change to the effect of mercury and arsenic in human diets.
"I still am fun to have dinner with even though I study things like arsenic in rice," Folt joked after her election.
Dressed in a Carolina blue jacket with a gold NC pin on the lapel, Folt said UNC-Chapel Hill and Dartmouth are very similar. She cited their roles in the educational history of the U.S., strong academic traditions and loyal and involved alumni. She also noted that one of her interviews with the 21-member chancellor search committee came on the day UNC hosted arch-rival Duke University, so she has already become immersed in "Tar Heel fever."
Moving to a public university, she said, only intensifies the need for transparency, especially with the scandals UNC-Chapel Hill has had to confront in recent years.
The school has seen an NCAA investigation of the Tar Heel football program and internal probes of possible academic fraud in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies and questionable travel expenses by the school's top fundraiser.
The U.S. Department of Education is now investigating how the school handles sexual assault cases after five women complained about an atmosphere of sexual violence.
Folt said such issues were discussed during her interviews.
"I have spent my time at a private (institution) trying to be as public as possible about the things that we do," she said. "We have to hold higher education to the highest possible standards.
The Akron, Ohio, native is a product of public education, having earned three degrees from the University of California, and she promised she would try to carry on UNC-Chapel Hill's legacy of academic achievement.
"We are going to work together to make sure our students don't simply learn what we know, but they learn how to create what will be," she said. "We're going to work together to find the frontiers of knowledge and to put that knowledge directly into practice, to use it to solve difficult problems and to reach for the stars."
UNC students were excited by the move, especially for what it means for women on campus. Female students account for 58 percent of the school's enrollment.
"It's something that's going to change the comfort that they feel on campus with a woman leader," senior Janae Hinson said.
Students said they hope Folt is the right leader to handle the university's trying times.
"I think they have quite a challenge on their hands, but it will be hopefully a good change for us and I'm looking forward to it," John Jay said.
Kevin Guskiewicz, chairman of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science and a member of the search committee, said he believes Folt brings a wealth of academic and leadership experience to meet the challenges.
"She walked the campus and talked to faculty and students. She realizes that this is a place where we can have big-time athletics and excellence in academics," Guskiewicz said.
Folt succeeds Chancellor Holden Thorp, who has headed UNC-Chapel Hill since 2008 but announced last fall that he would step down at the end of the school year. Thorp has accepted the position of provost at Washington University in St. Louis, and he plans to start that job on July 1, the same day Folt will take the reins in Chapel Hill.
Ross called Thorp a trusted friend in thanking him for his service to the university and praising his ability to lead the school through trying circumstances.
"Holden has faced more than his share of challenges in his current role, but one thing we all know for certain, his love and devotion to Carolina are beyond question," Ross said. "He has made a real and lasting impact and difference in the classroom and laboratory (and) in the lives of students."