Carol Folt will step down as chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC announced late Monday afternoon. Her tenure will end after this year’s graduation.
In a message to the university community, Folt announced her decision, highlighted some of her accomplishments and acknowledged challenges still facing the UNC community.
Among the challenges – her disagreement with the UNC Board of Governors about whether the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument – toppled by protesters last year – should return to campus.
Folt, who has been Chancellor since 2013, has been a frequent target of some of the more conservative members of the Board of Governors. They have criticized her actions surrounding the Silent Sam monument, protests related to the issue and for not taking stronger action against students, faculty and staff engaged in protests around that issue and others with which she has disagreements with the board.
At the same time, Folt has been a frequent target of those in the community who feel she has not done enough to oppose the board of governors’ attempts to pull the campus and the university system to the political right.
In the message Folt said she has ordered the removal of the pedestal on which the monument stood at McCorkle Place in the center of campus.
“As chancellor, the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility,” Folt wrote in the statement. “The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment. No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe. ”
“The independent panel of safety experts we convened in November to help us review options for the monument that we presented to the UNC Board of Governors made a strong and compelling case for risks to public safety,” Folt wrote. “The fact that despite our best efforts even since then, threats have continued to grow and place our community at serious risk has led me to authorize this action.”
“As I have said before, safety concerns alone should preclude the monument from returning to campus,” Folt wrote. “This was also the strong preference of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. The base and tablets will be preserved until their future is decided. While I recognize that some may not agree with my decision to remove the base and tablets now, I am confident this is the right one for our community – one that will promote public safety, enable us to begin the healing process and renew our focus on our great mission.”
In a statement late Monday, several members of the UNC Board of Trustees said it supported her decision to remove the statue’s base in a release that seemed to frame her resignation as directly related to the statue.
“As current officers of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and a former chair who served with Chancellor Carol L. Folt, we support her decision to remove intact the base of the Confederate Monument and accept her decision to step down from her position,” the trustees wrote in the statement. “We thank Chancellor Folt for working tirelessly to elevate our University each and every day to serve the people of North Carolina and beyond.”
“The chancellor has ultimate authority over campus public safety, and we agree Chancellor Folt is acting properly to preserve campus security,” the statement read. “Nothing is more important than keeping our campus community and visitors as safe as possible.”
The message was signed Charles “Chuck” Duckett, vice chair; Julia Grumbles, secretary and Lowry Caudill, current trustee and past chair.
UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith issued his own statement Monday night.
In it, Smith said the board was blindsided by Folt’s resignation during Monday’s closed session “to deliberate issues related to UNC-Chapel Hill’s leadership.”
He also criticized her order to have the Confederate monument’s base removed.
“We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action,” Folt said. “It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the Board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner.”
“In December, the Board developed and articulated a clear process and timeline for determining the best course of action for the future of the Monument—and this remains unchanged,” Smith said.
“Moving forward, the Board will continue to work tirelessly and collaboratively with all relevant parties to determine the best way forward for UNC-Chapel Hill,” Smith said. “We will do so with proper governance and oversight in a way that respects all constituencies and diverse views on this issue. The safety and security of the campus community and general public who visit the institution remains paramount.”
Early Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper issued a statement supporting Folt’s decision on removing the statue’s base.
“I appreciate the Chancellor’s actions to keep students and the public safe,” Cooper said in the statement. “North Carolina is welcoming to all, and our public university should reflect that.”
Folt’s announcement comes after UNC President Margaret Spellings’ own resignation, announced in October. Spellings, like Folt, has had a series of tensions with the UNC Board of Governors.
Folt’s statement in its entirety: