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UNC Board of Governors “flabbergasted” by resignation of UNC Chancellor

When UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced her resignation earlier this week, it came as a surprise to most of the UNC community.

That included her bosses on the UNC Board of Governors, according to board member Marty Kotis.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis

“We didn’t have a conversation or even get notice or a copy of her letter before it was posted publicly,” Kotis said in an interview Thursday. “I’m flabbergasted why she would do it that way – I think most of us were.”

The abrupt resignation came after prolonged tension with the board of governors over the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument, which was toppled by protesters last year. Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees made it clear they would prefer the statue not return to campus, but the board of governors have insisted  a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues mandates its return.

Though Folt denies that conflict led directly to her resignation, she joined the two issues in her resignation letter. In her announcement, she let the public – and the board of governors – know that she had ordered the base of the monument removed from McCorkle Place. Board members said Folt was overstepping her duties as a  a task force of board members had been established to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees on a new plan for the monument to be delivered by March.

“We have a process and a governance structure,” Kotis said. “That’s my frustration right now – that people don’t seem to want to take the time to go through the governance structure.”

In her resignation announcement, Folt said she made the decision because “the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility” – a seeming jab at a board and process that insisted she substitute her judgement for their own.

Folt’s resignation comes just after UNC President Margaret Spellings announced her own in October. Spellings has also repeatedly butted heads with the board, which she has criticized as micro-managing and attempting to assume responsibilities and make decisions that should have been hers.

A group of 20 former members of the UNC Board of Trustees signed on to a letter this week placing the blame for Folt’s exit squarely on the board of trustees and saying they monument issue was emblematic of a larger problem.

“[D]uring her tenure, increasing pressure from Raleigh and the Board of Governors has put politics ahead of the best interests of education, research and patient care,” the letter read. “Silent Sam came to embody it all.”

Whatever Spellings’ differences with the board, Kotis said, she did come to them and talk about her resignation before announcing it publicly – making as amicable a split as could be managed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone publicly submit a resignation before talking to their bosses about it, until now,” Kotis said.

The board accepted Folt’s resignation the day after it was offered – but decided not to let her serve out the rest of the semester, as she had wished. Instead, she will leave at the end of the January.

“I think she made a point about there needing to be a change and a healing that begins,” Kotis said. “And we thought that it was best to go ahead and bring in an interim to begin that healing. You’re not going to choose a new chancellor right away anyway – whether she leaves at the end of this month or in May. The process doesn’t move that fast.”

The board authorized acting UNC President William Roper to appoint an interim chancellor as soon as he sees fit.

Kotis said he would like to see someone like UNC alum and former pharmaceutical executive Fred Eshelman, who pledged $100 million to the university in 2014, take the position.

“I’ve always said that we should be able to find someone from North Carolina for these positions,” Kotis said. “I think if they’re connected to North Carolina and to the university, they’re more likely to stay. And Fred has written some big checks – that’s not to say you buy your way into these things, but I think it shows a connection to the university and a commitment.”

Similarly, Kotis said, he thinks someone like Jim Goodnight – the billionaire software developer and N.C. State alum – would be a good president for the system.

“I would love to see someone with ties to the state, ties to the university and experience in the business world for these positions,” Kotis said. “That’s that kind of candidate I would choose, if I had a magic wand.”

Everyone will have to take Folt at her word that the Confederate statue controversy didn’t cause her resignation, Kotis said – but they certainly seemed connected.

“I can actually sympathize with her because I think Carol and Margaret were both blasted by people in this,” Kotis said. “Carol had that student interrupt her meeting with the faculty and get in her face and call her all sorts of things. I think we’re living in a culture where there’s so much polarization and where people feel like they can just be vicious.”

Folt dealt with criticisms from the political left and right.

Over her nearly six year tenure she faculty and students accused her of refusing to take a stand on important political and social issues facing the university – and for not standing up to a board of governors they said wanted to pull the university system to the political right.

At the same time, critics on the political right said she didn’t take a strong enough hand with faculty and students who engage in protests at which they were arrested, made incendiary public comments or politicize lectures and academic issues.

“I think what we’re struggling with now is first to try to create an environment where students are safe and then trying to get back to a place where we can have reasonable conversations about these issues,” Kotis said. “If I could solve that, I’d probably win a Nobel Prize.”

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member: Re-erect Silent Sam – and new statues

This week has seen a whirlwind of new controversy surrounding the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument.

On Monday UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt abruptly resigned following UNC Board of Governors over whether the toppled monument would return to campus. Folt ordered the base of the monument removed from McCorkle Place. This infuriated members of the board who voted for a task force of board members to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees on a new plan for the monument to be delivered by March.

On Tuesday the board held an emergency teleconference meeting during which they voted to accept Folt’s resignation, but decided to replace her with an interim chancellor by the end of the month rather than allow her to serve until the end of the semester as she had desired.

Most of the board – including those on the task force – aren’t going on record about the flap. But board of governors member Thom Goolsby has posted a video to YouTube condemning Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees over the removal of the statue’s base. Calling it a “calculated act of disregard for North Carolina law,” Goolsby suggested the statue should be re-erected on the campus with a structure around it to provide security. He also suggested erecting other statues, perhaps commemorating the 1898 white supremacist coup in his town of Wilmington referred to as “The Wilmington Race Riot” and minority women who were sterilized as part of a eugenics program.

Goolsby, a Republican, characterized both as atrocities committed by Democrats.

As historical experts have observed throughout the debate over Confederate monuments, modern conservatives regularly make such broadsides while ignoring the historical realignment of political parties in the United States. That realignment has led to members of what was the party of Lincoln fiercely defending Confederate statues erected in the Jim Crow era as part of a white supremacist movement.

Goolsby, a former state senator, is often an outlier even on the largely conservative board of governors, frequently at the center of controversies and butting heads with his fellow board members. He called for the immediate re-erecting of the statue in the wake of its toppling and was the only board member to vote against the recent task force to decide the statue’s future.

Last month a panel of independent security professionals concluded the statue’s return to campus is a security risk likely to attract violence and further damage to the statue. In a report to the board of governors, the panel suggested the safest solution would be to move the statue off campus – a position with which Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees agreed. Most members of the board of governors say a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues makes that impossible.

Goolsby ended his video by urging people to contact their state legislators and pledging to fight “until the rule of law is reestablished in North Carolina.”


Update: UNC Board of Governors wants UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor gone by January 31

The UNC Board of Governors accepted UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt’s resignation Tuesday – but said they want her out of the position by the end of this month.

Folt announced her resignation abruptly Monday after tensions with the board of governors over the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue. In a press conference Tuesday morning, Folt said she hoped to stay until graduation in May.

The Board of Governors has authorized interim UNC President William Roper to to appoint an interim chancellor “at such time as he deems appropriate” until a new full-time chancellor can be chosen.

UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith said in a statement Monday that the board was blindsided by Folt’s resignation and upset by her  order to remove the base of the Confederate statue, which was taken to an unnamed secure location Monday night.

While I’m disappointed by the Board of Governors’ timeline, I have truly loved my almost six years at Carolina,” Folt said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “Working with our students, faculty and staff has inspired me every day. It is their passion and dedication, and the generosity of our alumni and community, that drive this great University.”

“I believe that Carolina’s next chancellor will be extremely fortunate, and I will always be proud to be a Tar Heel,” Folt said in the statement.


Update: UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor denies “Silent Sam” issue led to resignation

In a short telephone press conference Tuesday morning, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt denied tensions with the UNC Board of Governors over the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument led to her announcing her resignation this week.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt

“I have not wanted my job status to be part of the decision making about the monument and it hasn’t been,” Folt told reporters Tuesday.

Her decision to order the removal of the base of the statue – which was toppled by protesters last year – came in the same Monday statement in which she announced her resignation. Both moves blindsided the UNC Board of Governors, according to Board Chair Harry Smith.

But after nearly six years as chancellor, Folt said, she had been considering her next steps for some time. The tension with the board over the statue and her resulting order, which infuriated some of its members, happened at the same time she made her decision but weren’t directly related, she said.

After touting her accomplishments as chancellor since 2013, Folt deflected questions about her tensions with the UNC Board of Governors and rejected the notion that she should have acted more quickly and decisively on the divisive monument.

Asked whether she had waited too long to develop moral clarity over the statue and the necessity of its removal, Folt said she believes her moral position hasn’t changed. She was simply looking at the problem for a legal perspective and constrained by a 2015 state law protecting such statues, she said.

With the statue’s toppling and continued examples of its danger to campus safety, she said, the way the problem was approached had to be changed. Last month Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees delivered a report to the board of governors in which a panel of security experts concluded the statue should not return to campus. Prominent members of the board of governors disagreed, with Smith saying the law left no other option.

The board of governors is meeting in an emergency closed session teleconference at 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss Folt’s resignation announcement.

Asked if she thinks they will fire her or ask her to leave before the end of the semester, Folt said she couldn’t speculate – but she hopes not.


Remants of “Silent Sam” removed from UNC campus as chancellor resigns

Yesterday, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced her resignation in the midst of a standoff with the UNC Board of Governors over the return of the Silent Sam Confederate statue to campus.

She also further rankled the board by ordering the base of the statue, which was toppled by protesters, removed from its site at McCorkle Place.

Overnight, a crew removed the pedestal.

Governor Roy Cooper signaled his support for Folt in a statement early Tuesday.

“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.”

But UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith condemned the chancellor’s move in his own statement, which is likely to represent the sentiment of the conservative-dominated board.

“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.”

Folt’s resignation came during an emergency closed session of the board, held via phone conference Monday, “to deliberate issues related to UNC-Chapel Hill’s leadership.”

That has fueled speculation that the board’s simmering tension with Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees over the future of the monument had come to a boil, forcing Folt to choose between defying the governing board of the UNC system or staying in her job.

The board has called another emergency closed session teleconference Tuesday at 1 p.m. “to discuss a confidential personnel matter.”

Folt will hold her own short telephone-only press conference at 11: 15 a.m. during which she will make a further statement and take some questions.

Last month Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees unveiled a plan to return the Confederate monument to the Chapel Hill campus, as the UNC general counsel concluded was mandated by a 2015 law intended to protect Confederate monuments.

The plan, which called for building $5.3 million UNC history center in which the statue and other UNC historical items would be displayed, was rejected by both the board and those who opposed the statue’s return.

Folt and the board members made clear, as she had said for months, they would prefer the statue not return to campus at all. The plan, they said, was an attempt to thread the needle of complying with the law and making the statue a less prominent part of the campus.

The board of governors appointed at ask force composed of board members Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho to work with Folt and the school’s board of trustees on a new plan.

A statement of support for Folt from several board of trustees members following her resignation suggests that process reached an impasse almost from the beginning.

“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.”

Some of Folt’s critics on the political left – frustrated she did not oppose the board of governors and condemn the monument earlier – continued those criticisms in the wake of her resignation Monday.

Hampton Dellinger, a former North Carolina Deputy Attorney General who last year threatened a federal lawsuit over the statue, took to Twitter with his thoughts.

On Tuesday morning, however, Dellinger applauded Folt’s follow-through in removing the statue’s remnants from campus.