As Folt Resigns, Carolina Enters Crisis Mode
Amid a flurry of criticism toward her administration, changing tides on the UNC campus, and pressure from the powers above to complete what seemed an impossible balancing act, Chancellor Carol Folt announced yesterday evening her resignation. Folt originally stated she would be leaving in May, at the end of the term, but her exit has now been accelerated to the end of this month by the Board of Governors. Though stepping down, the Chancellor certainly did not go gentle into that good night: in the same statement detailing her departure, Chancellor Folt also revealed that she approved the removal of the base of UNC’s Confederate monument from McCorkle Place.
It is curious that the Chancellor would make her administration’s “last” decision its biggest, but in the context of current university politics, it may have been necessary. The Board of Governors has done nothing to assuage the fear that any autonomous thinking among administrators may come at the cost of their jobs, having capped off the episode with its own troubling move: a press release condemning the removal of the pedestal, and a memo expediting her departure to January 31st.
The events of the past 24 hours have been a full display of the institutionally engrained problems besetting the UNC System. Credit where it is due: the Editorial Board commends Chancellor Folt for siding with student interests and against white supremacy by removing the last of this racially-charged vestige — if all too late. This action is, however, only the beginning. What we must prepare for is the likely reactionary response from our unrepresentative Board of Governors, which could further degrade both the state and reputation of our University.
It is foremostly troubling that the Chancellor of the flagship school of the University of North Carolina System was forced to couple a controversial but necessary decision with her resignation. It is also the clearest sign yet of the smog which has engulfed the air in Carolina’s halls of authority. Although few students monitor emails from the Chancellor’s Office, some will have noticed that the University has been hemorrhaging executive administrators and struggling to find new ones. Among the list of resignations this academic year are Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp, Vice Chancellor and General Counselor Mark Merritt, University Ombudsman Wayne Blair, and of course the Chancellor herself. The search for a new Vice Provost of Global Affairs has been underway for at least a year and is now in its second round. This is not a normal rate of turnover for an elite school system or a top-flight public institution. High level administrators are departing at an unreasonable rate, and new ones are refusing to come.
The sum total of this struggle is clear: there is a poisonous state of affairs in South Building, and a strained relationship between UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC System governance. It is no doubt related to that agenda item which has dominated the last year. Our institution has taken a hiatus from being the fertile research and learning ground that it is known to be. The impasses and inefficiencies at the top have created a toxic environment in the highest ranks, quite literally making it harder to operate.
Moreover, it is damaging - and telling - that the Board of Governors refuses to listen to the people living in this town and on this campus. It has elected instead to be actively reactionary in the face of change, despite presiding over “the University of the people.” This is not the first time that the Chancellor, or the Board of Trustees, have implored to those higher up that the statue cannot return. As Folt mentions in her announcement, even the independent safety experts convened in the initial push for a plan recommended this course of action. That the Board could not cede for something as basic as student safety is troubling. Having been provided ample access to the concerns of Carolina students, throughout the initial planning process and an independent meeting between Chairman of the Board Harry Smith and students and faculty in December, they have forced an issue in which they have the least knowledge but the most power. It is not a coincidence that at the same time, those lobbying for progress here at UNC, such as the University of North Carolina’s Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, have been targeted for defunding. This dogmatism and censorship has caused it to sail blind and run its own ship aground, and the repercussions are increasingly evident.
The pattern is clear: calls for community input are purely theatrical, and the Board of Governors is willing to play politics with the University and our lives. The UNC-Chapel Hill administration is imperfect, but the Board of Governors has proven itself outright hostile. Carolina is in crisis. While it seems that this pass has been a victory, the student voice which was heard ringing around campus in the Fall 2018 semester will have to be as strong as ever in the coming months. It is an accomplishment worth celebrating that activism was able to generate a marked change at UNC, but the pursuit of accountability must be a continuous effort. The health, success, and recovery of Carolina its may depend on it.