UNC-Chapel Hill installs 11th chancellor, Carol Folt
Oct. 12, 2013 @ 10:13 PM

“Oh boy,” said Carol L. Folt as she stepped up to the lectern, wiping tears from her eyes after taking the oath of office and receiving the UNC Chancellor’s Medallion. “As I look out into your smiling faces, I am overwhelmed by Carolina warmth and a Tar Heel welcome.”

Folt was officially installed as the 11th chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Saturday afternoon. She is the first woman to hold the position and began her duties at the university July 1.

To a crowd of about 2,500 in the Polk Place quad, Folt stood in front of Carolina blue banners hanging from South, the central administration building.

Since 1957, UNC has installed its chancellors on University Day, which commemorates the 1793 laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the nation’s first state university building.

She took the oath on UNC-Chapel Hill’s 220th birthday. When asked why she wants to lead a public research university, here and now, that is home to more than 29,000 students and more than 3,600 faculty, she said, “Well, the answer is simple. Like all of you, I am deeply inspired by Carolina’s history and its higher purpose.”

Folt replaced Holden Thorp, who held the position for five years and originally came to UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate student.

She came to UNC from Dartmouth College, where she served as interim president during the 2012-13 school year. She also was a Dartmouth professor of biological sciences, and her research has focused on the effects of dietary mercury and arsenic on human and ecosystem health, salmonid fisheries management and restoration, and global climate change.

Tom Ross, UNC system president, said he interviewed many “stellar” candidates for the chancellor position.

But “when I asked Carol Folt the first interview question, I knew she was the right person to lead Carolina,” Ross said. “I knew because I could see in her eyes a genuine passion for students and public higher education, for the future of this state and this country. In her first 104 days, she has demonstrated sound judgment, savvy, intellect, energy, wisdom and empathy.”

State and campus leaders took turns talking about how Folt is the right woman for the job, to include North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

“Even on a cloudy day, we’re in a piece of heaven right here in Chapel Hill,” McCrory said. “...You’ve picked a class act for your new chancellor.”

During Folt’s first few days, McCrory said, she visited the governor’s office. He said she understands the importance of connecting UNC-Chapel Hill with state commerce, and a vitally important mission of the university will be making sure the offered curriculum aligns with the needs of the current and future marketplace, to include strong focuses on research and entrepreneurship.

“Her personality just connects with everybody that she reaches out to and I felt that connection immediately, but also felt that connection of things she knew she had to do as a leader of a wonderful, wonderful institution that we have here in Chapel Hill,” McCrory said.

The audience applauded when Robyn Hadley, chair of the UNC General Alumni Association’s board of directors, mentioned the historical significance of Folt being a woman.

“There’s nothing like a birthday party, and what a grand one we’re having today,” Hadley said. “... It is a great honor to bring well wishes to our 11th chancellor, as she, yes, she, sets sail on this journey to take our nation’s first public university to greater heights in its 220th year.”

UNC student body President Christy Lambden said during the fall convocation, he stood next to Folt and helped her learn the Carolina cheers.

“Over the first 100 days...I appreciate that she has taken the time to listen to the student population on a variety of issues,” he said.

Folt was surrounded by Carolina history during the installation ceremony: She received the Chancellor’s Medallion, the chain’s rectangles engraved with the dates of service and names of the university’s 10 previous chancellors, and she placed her hand on a 400-year-old bible, the oldest bible associated with a North Carolina family in the state, having come over from England in 1658 with George Durant.

She was accompanied by her husband, David Peart, and two adult children, Noah and Tessa, during the ceremony.

During her speech, Folt said she will continue UNC’s strong commitment to research, to giving students the opportunities work side-by-side with “giants in their fields.” She wants to maintain a strong focus on the liberal arts and help more students from underserved communities make it to college. She wants UNC to maintain an affordable tuition and keep student debt low.

“Our students - undergraduates, graduates and professionals, are so strong,” Folt said. “They are independent and collaborative. They publish. They compose. They start companies. They study around the world. They work in our communities, and they shine on the playing field, in the media and on the stage.

“But even more,” she continued, “they pride themselves as people who look outward, who care about the world. This is not an inward, all-about-me kind of place.”

She said that a few days ago, she was walking across campus just after dawn, when it was quiet, beautiful, before the university woke up. It’s “a place to reflect, a place to dream,” she said.

“It is the privilege of my life to be here. Together, we can make history.”