Folt Voltage

Carol Folt addressed the crowd of 2,500 assembled in Polk Place after she took the oath of office as Carolina’s 11th chancellor. Her speech was titled “Carolina Strong – Ever Fresh, Forward and for the People.” Watch the video.
The first woman to serve as chancellor, she was installed on University Day, the day that commemorates the 1793 laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the nation’s first state university building.
“I believe that Carolina can indeed be the leader in shaping the path for the great public university in America. We can show how you do it – to be the one that preserves excellence and innovation, access and affordability, a deep commitment to the state, and gathers strength to innovate and meet new challenges.”

Installation of a public university chancellor

It was an exciting few days, and intermittent rain did not dampen spirits as Carol Folt, our new chancellor was installed formally. Attending were faculty members, UNC president and NC governor, boards and bards, staff members and students, family, friends and alumni—all part of the pomp and circumstance. Wherever she went, Carol Folt amplified the energy in a space. She is an amazing person who is not only brilliant in her science and superlative in building a leadership team but a person of astounding energy and emotional intelligence.

Leloudis on the public university

Events began with a compelling lecture by James Leloudis, associate dean for Honors Carolina and director of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence. Leloudis asked the group to repeat the words: “Carolina is America’s first public university.” I find it hard to hear those words without a catch in my throat. A public university is not a private university. People sometimes ask me in frustration: “So why is it different? What is different?” I have been in two privates and two publics, and their souls are worlds apart. Leloudis reminded the audience that in 1915, UNC President Edward Kidder Graham outlined his vision for a university that would “provide a program of guidance for the state, one that would lift North Carolina from beneath its heavy burdens of poverty, illiteracy and ill health.” Sounds like our School! Leloudis also said that if Frank Porter Graham were there that night, “he and Edward Kidder Graham would urge us to attend to our students’ development of translational skills.”

We are engaged with and intertwined with the fortunes of NC in a way that is fundamentally different from even the most socially-conscious private universities. We are embedded in our state, and we educate North Carolina’s children. We’re part of the community, and are interdependent. We don’t stop at the state’s borders, because we have global vision and are committed to global impact. But we start with North Carolina.

Academic panels

Friday’s events showcased three academic panels with three faculty members in each. Their brilliance reminded us that we are in a special place where ideas matter, and the ideas that matter especially are those that get translated in ways that improve the lot of people in North Carolina and around the world. Two of nine faculty members selected to present were from our School—Holzworth Distinguished Professor Jamie Bartram and Associate Professor Will Vizuete. They were fabulous, and I was proud! Each of the nine was great and had substantive remarks that made the audience think and engage with those around us. I liked Kenan Distinguished Professor Jim Johnson’s comment that we must inspire NC to believe in itself again was poignant and powerful. We should do it again—without the occasion of installing a new chancellor.

The big day

Saturday, a light rain fell on and off through the morning. I thought, “If I am going to trudge over to Polk Place with my cap and gown, it had better stop raining.” And it did, on and off. No one seemed to mind the occasional drops; the mood was joyful, optimistic, speakers focusing on the future ahead, with bountiful praise for the new chancellor and the University. Speakers were warm, positive, on point and moved by this dynamic woman. The Governor came, stayed and praised Folt and she him; their positive chemistry was palpable, and we sighed with relief. This is going to work.

“Today,” Chancellor Folt said, “with knowledge and technology exploding, with the socioeconomic and the political landscape changing, and our global relationships also in flux—it is even more important that our great research universities partner to advance knowledge and work with our communities and our businesses to address critical, destabilizing global issues like declining fresh water, food, climate change, poverty, human rights and disease.”

Could public health be more central or more relevant?

Watch the video. Be proud and inspired.

A good day ends

For students, it ended with Folt Fest—faculty and staff members not invited—a good plan. For my husband and I and a room full of ebullient people, it ended with a glorious evening at Wilson Library, celebrating and toasting the new chancellor, the search committee and one another—a community. Now, the important work continues.

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