Welcome messages lay out priorities for new UNC chancellor
Posted October 11, 2013
Updated March 28, 2016
Chapel Hill, N.C. — When Chancellor Carol Folt takes the stage at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Saturday, she'll officially inherit leadership of a university struggling with rising tuition, an athletics scandal and stagnant faculty salaries.
But these aren't the only issues on the minds of the UNC community.
As soon as Folt arrived in Chapel Hill in July, she solicited feedback from students, faculty, staff and alumni about the state of campus. Specifically, she asked community members to email her two things they loved and two things that needed improvement.
"I thought, 'what a splendid idea. How smart and how sort of obvious once you see it done,'" Charles Coble, alumnus and former vice president of the UNC System, said. "She did it, so I felt obligated as a member of the university to respond to it."
Coble wasn't alone. In the first three days, 239 people responded to Folt's missive.
A WRAL News review of these emails, obtained through a public records request, showed that although athletics was a topic of both pride and problems, other concerns also dominated the messages.
The messages represented a mix of campus groups. More than 100 students responded to Folt's request, with the remainder made up of faculty and staff.
Almost 130 of the emails made some mention of faculty, many as a positive aspect. Other emails pointed out problems with retaining quality professors in light of a pay freeze.
"After four years with only one raise – and it was 1.2 percent – it's really hard to keep the best people," Deborah Gerhardt, assistant professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law, wrote in her letter.
About 40 of the messages mentioned affordability in some aspect, both as a point of pride and an area that needs improvement.
Another 60 messages referenced the university's image, credibility or a need for more transparency.
Fifteen of the emails also referenced controversy at the university regarding sexual assault victims, which Folt addressed soon after arriving on campus.
What respondents seemed to love most, by an overwhelming majority, was the community itself, as well as the beauty of both campus and Chapel Hill.
Gerhardt said she hopes these messages come through loud and clear as Folt continues settling in to her new role.
"I hope that she really took it seriously and that she is reading some of them every day and maybe even getting in touch with those who wrote them," Gerhardt told WRAL News this week. "That would be really cool."
Karen Moon, director of UNC News Services, said it's common for university leaders to reach out to the community for feedback. Former Chancellor Holden Thorp, for example, solicited ideas for budget cuts with another special email account.
Folt has said she's not planning to respond to individual emails. But Moon said she's spent a significant amount of time on material summarizing the messages.
"That information was a valuable source of feedback to her," Moon said.
Folt will officially be installed as chancellor Saturday at University Day. Watch her installation address LIVE at 2 p.m. on WRAL.com.