CHAPEL HILL — There was a feel of summer orientation this week at UNC-Chapel Hill, as a fresh crop of leaders, led by new Chancellor Carol Folt, began to set their own priorities for the university.
On a day when five new trustees were sworn in and a new board chairman took the gavel Thursday, Folt gave a report about her initial impressions of the university three weeks since she started the job as chancellor. She offered no specific agenda yet, but said she’s met a lot of faculty and staff and learned her way around, from the medical school to sports stadiums to Chapel Hill eateries.
She said she had been impressed by the friendliness of the campus and the staunch commitment to education accessibility and affordability.
“I feel every day even more strongly the honor that it really is to be here in North Carolina and to be taking this role as chancellor of a very, very special university,” said Folt, the former interim president of Dartmouth College, who succeeds Holden Thorp. “First in the nation status for a public university – that’s just such a powerful and meaningful tradition. The pride that people feel here about being the university of the people. That already moves me every time I hear somebody say it.”
She made sure to announce a little positive news at her first official board meeting – the new figures on research funding in fiscal year 2013, which reached $777.8 million. That’s an increase of $11 million over 2012.
“In this federal climate, that is an enormous accomplishment,” she said, “and it really does speak to the real strength of the place.”
Folt is one of several new faces on the campus. The university’s top administrative ranks are turning over after three tumultuous years that included an NCAA investigation of the football program, an academic fraud scandal in African and Afro-American Studies and upheaval following misspent money by the former chief fundraiser. The university is also the subject of federal investigations into its handling of sexual assault cases and reporting of campus crime.
A new provost, Jim Dean, former dean of the business school, will lead academics. The university is also looking for two new vice chancellors – one to handle public relations and another to be the chief fundraiser.
Folt said she has received hundreds of emails. Many were well-wishers who recounted their own personal connections to the university, she said. Others were critics who want to see changes in the way the campus has run athletics and the way it has handled sexual misconduct cases.
Many have spoken about the need to “rebuild confidence” in the university’s processes. “And they’ve also expressed to me in many ways a very fervent desire to see Carolina not only address some of its own complex issues but actually become a national leader in these very issues.”
To that end, she said, the university will get recommendations from two major reports in the coming weeks – one by an internal task force on sexual assault, and another from an external panel examining the balance of academics and athletics. That group is led by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities and former president of Cornell University.
Other task forces
That won’t be the end of task forces. Lowry Caudill, the new trustee chairman, announced two new task forces. One will look at forming a better strategy for communicating with outside audiences, including the public and state policymakers who pay the bills. Another will evaluate the university’s risk management, picking several areas of risk to either drop or mitigate. But there may be areas that the university should invest in for its future, he said, because it would be financially risky not to.
“I’m from industry,” said Caudill, of Durham, a co-founder of Magellan Laboratories and adjunct lecturer in chemistry at UNC-CH. “I’m an entrepreneur. I think about things that way, and our board thinks about things that way. This is a $4.5 billion enterprise. It’s a huge operation.”
Other new officers are Vice Chairman Alston Gardner, a venture capitalist from Chapel Hill, and Sallie Shuping-Russell, managing director at BlackRock, an investment firm.
The five new trustees are: Jefferson Brown of Charlotte, a partner with Moore and Van Allen law firm; Haywood Cochrane Jr. of Elon, board chairman of DARA Biosciences; Charles Duckett of Winston-Salem, partner with Battle & Associates Inc.; Kelly Matthews Hopkins, a civic leader from Charlotte; and Dwight Stone of Greensboro, president of D. Stone Builders Inc.
Two of the trustees have played key roles in the Rams Club, the booster club also known as the Educational Foundation. Stone is chairman of the board, and Caudill is vice chairman.