First ever female chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill named

POSTED: 3:31 PM Apr 15 2013   UPDATED: 4:51 PM Apr 12 2013
Carol Folt
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

The country's oldest public university turned to the Ivy League to select a new leader Friday.

The state university system's governing board picked Dartmouth College interim president Carol Folt as the first female chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Folt replaces Holden Thorp, the Chapel Hill campus chancellor since 2008, who decided to resign last year after his leadership was marred by a string of scandals involving academic fraud, improper travel spending by fundraisers, and special treatment for athletes.

Folt becomes the first woman to head the Chapel Hill campus, a ground-breaking role she also held at Dartmouth. She takes over in July.

Tom Ross, president of the 17-campus state university system, said he sought a leader able to manage a complex organization operating with constrained resources yet still committed to keeping tuition low, in line with a requirement in the North Carolina constitution. Ross said he wanted a proven fundraiser and communicator, who made academics a priority but recognized that athletics had a key role in building school pride and alumni loyalty.

"In the end, the search committee and I found all of those qualities and more in Carol Folt," said Ross, who picked her from among three finalists.

Folt, a 61-year-old environmental scientist, leaves Dartmouth after 30 years at the New Hampshire private university. Its enrollment is five times smaller than UNC-Chapel Hill and doesn't have the big-time collegiate sports that Tar Heel boosters crave but which bedeviled Thorp's term.

Folt became Dartmouth's president in July after Jim Yong Kim left the job to become head of the World Bank. She had been the school's chief academic officer, the school's second-highest rank, for three years. She told the college's trustees - who include General Electric chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Marye Anne Fox, former chancellor at North Carolina State University and the University of California at San Diego - she would not seek the Dartmouth president's job permanently.

Dartmouth, founded in 1769, has about 1,000 faculty members and about 6,100 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UNC-Chapel Hill, chartered in 1789 and opened in 1795, has about 29,000 students and 3,200 faculty members. Nearly 60 percent of students are women.

Folt's academic work focused on the toxicity of metals in waterways on humans and other animals. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a doctorate from the University of California at Davis.

"I'm still fun to have dinner with even though I study things like arsenic," Folt said.

Thorp is stepping down by July 1 to become provost at Washington University in St. Louis.

Athletics were at the root of several scandals that plagued Thorp's tenure, though he has had to shoulder little of the blame. It was revealed that football players accepted gifts from agents, which led to Thorp's abrupt firing of high-profile coach Butch Davis and NCAA sanctions. Further investigation of the team uncovered players benefited from no-show courses and instructors who didn't teach. The university's top fundraiser and the mother of former Tar Heels basketball star Tyler Hansbrough, also a fundraiser, resigned last fall after it was revealed they may have used donated money to pay for personal travel.

Recruiters searching for a new UNC-Chapel Hill leader were competing with other prestigious universities including Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn State, Wisconsin and Berkeley.

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