New USC president Carol Folt battled over Confederate statue and faced N. Carolina backlash

Police stand guard after the Confederate statue nicknamed Silent Sam was toppled by protesters at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Aug. 20, 2018.

The monument in the heart of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus was a landmark, honoring former students who fought for the slave-holding Confederacy.

But the Confederate statue became a lightning rod for Carol L. Folt, who led the university amid intense debate over the statue and was named Wednesday as the new president of USC.

Folt championed the removing of the statue from its central location on campus. The decision would play a role in her abrupt departure at the North Carolina college.

FILE-In this Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 file photo, UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt speaks during U
Carol Folt
(Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer)

Now, Folt is returning to California. An environmental scientist, she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Santa Barbara and a doctorate from UC Davis.

She went on to join the Dartmouth faculty in 1983 and rose to become provost and interim president before leaving for North Carolina.

Here is some background about the controversial UNC statue and the new USC president from the pages of The Times and other sources.

Silent Sam

♦ The removal of the statue known as Silent Sam occurred amid a larger debate across the South over Confederate statues and other symbols. Other communities had removed statues in recent years, and there was debate in Chapel Hill about what to do with this one.


♦ In 2018, protesters toppled the monument. It was placed in temporary storage and quickly became a flashpoint. In August, about a dozen people carrying Confederate flags were met by dozens of protesters. A violent clash ensued, and seven people were arrested.

♦ The idea was to move the statue to a less prominent location as part of a larger exhibit that Folt described as a “truly strong interactive center that tells our full history of this university.”

♦ Folt ordered the base for the toppled statue removed because of continuing unspecified threats. “Despite our best efforts, even since that time, threats have continued to grow and place our community at serious risk. This led me to the action that I authorized,” she told reporters in January. “While I recognize that some may not agree with my decision to remove the base and tablets now, I’m confident that this was the right one for our community.”

♦ The action brought cheers from many quarters on campus, and some said Folt was brave for taking a stand. But conservatives in the state slammed her, including some on the board that oversaw the university. Folt, said the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “has effectively erased the contribution and sacrifice of these brave veterans and the tribute paid to them by subsequent generations.”

The largest piece of a Confederate monument pedestal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is lifted away.
(Julia Wall / News & Observer)

Stepping down

♦ Folt stunned many by announcing she would step down at the same time the statue was removed. In a letter announcing her resignation, Folt said: “There has been too much recent disruption due to the monument controversy. Carolina’s leadership needs to return its full attention to helping our University achieve its vision and to live its values.” In the same announcement, she ordered the removal of the Confederate monument’s base and commemorative plaques.

♦ Folt told the News & Observer her resignation was not directly tied to the statue controversy. “I was making these decisions somewhat separately,” she said. “This really was a decision I was making about my next step and the proper timing of that for the university.”

♦ The university trustees ended up having her leave months earlier than she had planned. “We feel strongly that it’s probably in the bes t interest to go ahead and allow a change in leadership so we can move to a healing process,” a board trustee and critic of Folt told the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.


Updated: This story was updated to make clear Folt supported moving Silent Sam to a different location on campus, not completely remove it.

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