Education, Higher Ed

Board of Governors’ actions ‘deeply troubling,’ harmful to UNC’s reputation

The decision of the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) to expedite the departure of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt is drawing more criticism.

After having the remnants of Silent Sam removed from campus, Folt had hoped to stay on board through end of the academic year. The Board of Governors instead gave her until the end of this month to wrap-up her work.

Twenty former members of the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees have now issued a letter denouncing the Board of Governors’ move to abruptly dismiss Folt in this manner:

Since arriving at Chapel Hill, Carol Folt has stood strong for the University. We are much better for the work she has done. However, during 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. Silent Sam came to embody it all.

Tuesday, Chancellor Folt paid the price for her leadership and North Carolina lost another great opportunity to resurrect its history as a progressive part of this nation. Instead of allowing Chancellor Folt to leave office on her terms — at the end of this academic year — the Board of Governors held an emergency session and forced her to resign in two weeks. It is the same protocol the Board exercised when President Margaret Spellings resigned. The Board could not be satisfied to let them leave on their own terms.

Read the trustees’ full letter here.

The non-profit Higher Education Works Foundation also condemned the BOG’s action:

Folt’s departure is the latest in a sequence of troubling events for North Carolina in recent years: The abrupt dismissal of former UNC System President Tom Ross; enactment of HB2, the “bathroom bill;” the Silent Sam controversy; and the departure of Ross’ successor, Margaret Spellings, who announced her own resignation in late October 12.

With this kind of governance, can UNC-Chapel Hill continue to be viewed as one of the top public universities in the country? Repeated events like these don’t signal the stability industry and education leaders look for when they decide where to locate.

This weekend on News & Views, Policy Watch’s Rob Schofield discusses the week’s events with NC Justice Center Executive Director Rick Glazier.

Glazier believes the Board of Governors’s ideological bent will negatively impact the ability to attract new leadership and retain high-quality faculty for the university, and could even dissuade some students from applying.

Click below for a preview of that radio interview:

For more reaction on the departure of Chancellor Folt and the removal of Silent Sam, read Jane Stancill’s piece in the Raleigh News & Observer.

Higher Ed, News

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.”

Higher Ed, News

Carol Folt stepping down as chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill

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.

 

UNC President Margaret Spellings, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith huddle before a tense meeting of the Board of Governors in December.

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:

 

Dear Carolina Community:

At the start of this semester and new year, I see possibility and promise and am filled with the sense of the limitless potential that makes Carolina such a vital place. In that spirit, I would like to share two important announcements with you.

First, you’ve heard me say many times that it is the privilege of my life to serve as chancellor of this great university. I’m deeply proud of what you’ve accomplished and what we’ve accomplished together since I became a Tar Heel nearly six years ago in 2013. I am writing today to let you know that I have decided to step down as chancellor following graduation, at the end of the academic year.

I have always been driven by the “new and the next,” working with people to take on challenges, solve problems, create frameworks for success, and act to achieve them. Over our years together, we have created a deep and thoughtful shared vision for Carolina’s future—the Blueprint for Next—and we used it to propel our historic Campaign for Carolina past its mid-point goal of $2.25 billion last summer. With the dedication and care of our staff and faculty, our schools are advancing curricula for the future and our students and alumni are succeeding in all fields. We’ve raised nearly $500 million in scholarships and aid, and our community is making discoveries every day that save lives and advance our state and society. As I have reflected on all of this, I’ve decided that this is the right time for me to pass the leadership of our outstanding university, with all its momentum, to the next chancellor, and look ahead for my own “new and next.”

There is much I intend to accomplish with you in the next few months. I will continue to focus on our core mission, do all I can to make sure every person on our campus can thrive and feel welcome, and push forward with Carolina’s campaign and history task force. There has been too much recent disruption due to the monument controversy. Carolina’s leadership needs to return its full attention to helping our University achieve its vision and to live its values. And I want this semester to be exciting and fulfilling for every one of our soon-to-be graduates.

Most importantly, we must always do what we can to make sure our faculty, students and staff have a creative, innovative work and living environment, one that is inclusive, forward-looking and safe. This year for example, we reached our highest level of research funding ever (5th in the nation in federal funds), continued to see historic increases in first-year applications and levels of philanthropy, and pushed ahead as a national leader in affordability, access and student graduation rates. These accomplishments show how talented and dedicated our community is and what can be achieved even in the face of disruption. Just imagine what is possible if we can put our full attention to the potentials and needs of the future.

Second, I have authorized the removal of the base and commemorative plaques from the Confederate Monument site in McCorkle Place. As chancellor, the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility. 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. 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. 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.

As we celebrate Carolina’s 225th year, we are poised for a strong future. Supported by citizens of our state, generations of dedicated faculty, students, staff, donors and alumni, we are accomplishing great things for the state and the nation. Carolina is better positioned than ever to be the “university of and for the people.” I believe Carolina’s next chancellor will be well placed to build on our momentum. And with your help and energy we will make this another semester filled with Tar Heel energy, creativity and action.

Respectfully yours,

Carol L. Folt
Chancellor

 

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member calls Silent Sam suggestion “sheer cowardice”

In a video on his personal YouTube channel, UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby called the UNC Board of Trustees’ suggestion on the fate of Silent Sam “sheer cowardice.”

The proposal to build a $5.3 million UNC history center at which the Confederate monument could be housed has incensed both the political right and left, Goolsby said.

A large scale protest of the plan was held Monday night by students, faculty, staff and community members.

Goolsby, one of the most vocal conservatives on the conservative dominated Board of Governors, criticized the trustees as pushing their own agenda and said they’re misinterpreting the law on how the Confederate statue can be relocated.

Goolsby is known for dramatic statements and actions that divide the board. While other members of the board are not always as histrionic, Board Chairman Harry Smith has defended Goolsby a number of times and the board’s most conservative faction tends to agree with him.

The board will meet next week to take up the Silent Sam issue.

Board members Bob Rucho and Phil Byers attended the UNC Board of Trustees meeting at which the trustees’ plan was released, but neither would comment on the board’s report.