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Carol Folt: An undistinguished choice

By Joe Asch
Posted Friday, April 12, 2013

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Chapel Hill, NC - UNC has made a curious choice for its next Chancellor, one that has people in New Hampshire wondering just how the school came to its decision. Carol Folt was passed over twice for Dartmouth’s Presidency, first when Jim Yong Kim was picked for the position in 2009, and then again in 2012 after Kim precipitously left the College to lead the World Bank, at which point the University of Michigan’s Provost Philip Hanlon was chosen.

Folt had been Dartmouth’s Dean of the Faculty from 2004 to 2009, and in the latter year she was named Provost. Her ambition to be President was well known, and she had plumped hard for the Presidency both last year and in 2009, but the Trustees understood that she was not respected in Hanover.

The UNC Board of Governors may have been impressed by her Ivy League resumé, but a few phone calls to faculty members in Hanover would have revealed Folt to have been an ineffective leader over the past decade. She seems adverse to progress and change, and slow to understand it; professors go to great lengths to avoid asking her for any type of approval. A review of the past ten years shows the academic program at Dartmouth to be dead in the water: where are the new programs, the interesting curricular changes, and the innovations that are the lifeblood of any institution? The record is empty.

Dartmouth’s recently released Strategic Plan – two years in the making, the result of endless meetings by nine different committees, and all at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars – is an example of Folt’s inadequacy. The Plan’s nine reports are riddled with errors of grammar and syntax, but more significantly, they are no more than a compendium of brainstormed ideas, rather than a precise, well-thought-out timeline for progress at the College.

Furthermore, Folt has a long history of capriciousness and a reputation for spin. Each justification for failure may seem plausible enough to outsiders, but for people who are aware of the truth on the ground, Folt’s penchant for inventing facts and for shallow rationalizations is disheartening. One would expect better from an academic leader.

How did Folt attain her high positions? She was put in place by Jim Wright, Dartmouth’s President from 1998-2009. During this period of time, Dartmouth’s endowment, which had had the highest growth in the Ivy League from 1990, came to have the lowest level of growth. Nonfaculty staffing ballooned: while the number of undergrads was stable, the staff grew by well over 40%. And the College’s debt soared by a factor of almost five. Tuition today at Dartmouth is the second highest in the Ivies, even though Hanover is situated in the lowest-cost locale among the Ancient Eight schools. As Wright’s ever-loyal lieutenant, Folt was part of the decision-making that weakened Dartmouth in almost all areas.

Poor administration does not pass unnoticed. Numerous commentators have remarked that the College is now, at best, coasting on its reputation. This year Dartmouth was alone among the Ivies to increase the percentage of applicants that it accepted, the result of the malaise afflicting the institution and the social scandals that have rocked the school.

Carol Folt has never taught anywhere but at Dartmouth, so she brings only a narrow range of experience to UNC. Her knowledge of sports, and certainly big-time sports, is nonexistent, and nothing in her background indicates an ability to move an institution forward.

About the most that can be said of Folt’s departure from Dartmouth is that it is being quietly fêted in Hanover. However, people with a more generous spirit are lamenting, for UNC’s sake, her arrival in Chapel Hill. The betting line in New Hampshire is that the Board of Governors will soon understand how weak an administrator Carol Folt is, and she won’t be UNC’s Chancellor 18 months from now.

Joe Asch is a 1979 graduate of Dartmouth College and a 1983 graduate of the Yale Law School. He writes, a daily blog about Dartmouth College.

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Carol Folt: An undistinguished choice
UNC's new chancellor Carol Folt, formerly of Dartmouth College.

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