North Carolina

Former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt will be president of University of Southern California

Carol Folt, who left UNC-Chapel Hill in January after serving as chancellor for six years, will become president of the University of Southern California, USC announced Wednesday.

The Los Angeles Times first reported Folt’s hire. It said Folt will be the first female leader the university has had in its 139 years. She will take the job last held by C.L. Max Nikias, who left last year after a series of scandals at the school.

Folt’s appointment was approved Wednesday morning by the USC Board of Trustees, the Times reported.

Folt, 67, was serving as interim president of Dartmouth College when she was hired by UNC in April 2013, according to her biography shared by the school at the time.

Folt took over at UNC when the flagship university was in the midst of an athletic and academic scandal involving 18 years of no-show classes that disproportionately benefited athletes. The university was placed on probation by its accrediting agency. In the end, the NCAA found that the classes didn’t amount to a violation of the association’s rules because athletes weren’t the only students who had signed up for the courses.

She heads to USC as it is still reeling from controversies and scandals of its own, including multiple sexual assault charges against a campus gynecologist, and federal conspiracy charges against several coaches and an athletics administrator. The conspiracy charges were announced last week by federal investigators who said USC was part of an alleged scheme through which wealthy parents enrolled their under-performing students in elite schools across the country.

A native of Ohio, Folt earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has a doctorate from UC Davis.

She was at Dartmouth starting in 1983, serving as a research instructor before becoming an endowed professor, specializing in research into the effects of mercury exposure.

She later took on a series of administrative roles at Dartmouth, serving as dean of graduate studies, associate dean of the faculty for interdisciplinary programs, and then dean of the faculty. She served as interim provost, then provost, leading an effort to correct a $100 million budget shortfall at the school.

Silent Sam

Beyond the classes scandal during Folt’s tenure at UNC, the school also was found to be in violation of the federal Title IX law for how it handled sexual assault and harassment cases.

And then came another huge campus issue. After a woman was killed in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 while protesting the presence of a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, students at UNC renewed a decades-old intermittent fight to remove the sculpture of Silent Sam from McCorkle Place on campus. The statue is UNC’s own ode to the Confederacy, and it became a center of controversy, drawing crowds of activists who argued over whether it represented heritage or hate.

Protesters roped and de-throned the bronze likeness of a Southern soldier in August 2018, smashing it to the ground.

As UNC’s leader, Folt was criticized by the statue’s detractors for not having properly removed it, and by its supporters for not adequately protecting it from student vandals.

Folt, who had said her hands were tied by a state law protecting the monument, ordered the removal of the stone base that remained in January, at the same time she announced her resignation.

Folt had planned to remain at UNC until May but the UNC Board of Governors moved up her departure to the end of January.

Scott Wolf, a blogger who writes about USC, tweeted about Folt’s selection Wednesday, suggesting she would have her hands full when she starts her new job July 1.

“While at North Carolina, new president Carol Folt dealt with confederate monument controversy, athletic-academic scandal and university being found in violation of Title IX. Wait till she starts at USC!” Wolf wrote on Twitter. He followed that by asking, “Isn’t it a bit worrisome the board of trustees and search committee (faculty/trustees) unanimously voted to approve Carol Folt? Rubber-stamping things is what has gotten USC into trouble lately.”

Folt, who lives in Chapel Hill, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.