President Folt transitions smoothly into new role, students say
By Lindsay Ellis, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The first two months of interim College President Carol Folt’s time in office have been marked by a smooth transition and effective engagement with students, according to faculty and students interviewed by The Dartmouth. Folt, who previously served as provost, assumed her current position on July 1.
Inter-Fraternity Council President Tim Brown ’13, who was not in residence for the Summer term, said he was impressed by Folt’s communication with off-campus students. Her announcement regarding the death of Stephanie Pignatiello ’12, for example, was timely and “sensitive,” he said.
“That was tragic, and she emailed us right away and followed up,” Brown said. “She handled it with care.”
Several student leaders had lunch with Folt on Aug. 2 to facilitate communication and interaction between students and the administration, according to Kwame Ohene-Adu ’14.
“To get to talk to her in such an environment, I feel like that’s useful because you’re not going in trying to fight something — you’re getting to exchange ideas,” he said.
Ohene-Adu said he hopes Folt will be more visible around campus and that he would like her to host similar events in future terms.
“All you hear about Parkhurst is that you don’t want to be in there,” he said. “But she was really engaging. It was a relaxed setting.”
The group spoke about welcoming members of the Class of 2016 and about the role of upperclassmen, according to Odene-Adu.
Andrew Longhi ’14, who served as Student Assembly president during Summer term, said he appreciated Folt’s effort to meet with campus leaders. The best measure of Folt’s success will be her level of engagement with campus when the majority of students return for the Fall term, he said.
Summer Panhellenic Council President Eliana Piper ’14, who did not attend the luncheon, said Folt and students should communicate more about policy, especially in light of the summer’s alcohol policy changes.
“If the administration listens to students, and if students take administrative advice, we can improve the safety of our school,” Piper said.
The policy changes, which will be finalized this fall and include measures that aim to limit hard alcohol consumption, demonstrate that Folt’s administration considers student safety a priority, Piper said, although she said she does not know Folt’s role in formulating them.
“She’s supportive of finding ways to make this campus safer,” Piper said. “They’re invested in making sure these policies work.”
Summer Events Coordinator for the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault Holli Weed ’14 said she was surprised the Folt administration implemented new alcohol policies so soon after she took office.
“I expected Summer term to be a time for her to collect information, particularly student feedback, and then take action,” Weed said.
The Folt administration’s quick action in reforming alcohol policy shows an effort to improve student safety, according to Anna Winham ’14. Determining the policy’s effectiveness, however, will require tracking the number of Good Samaritan calls and reported sexual assaults in the upcoming terms, she said.
Folt’s previous role as provost has prepared her for a smooth transition into the interim president role, according to biology professor Ed Berger, whose office shared a floor with Folt’s when she taught in the department.
Folt’s shift from provost to president mirrors that of former College President James Wright, Berger said. Wright served as dean of the faculty, provost and acting president before being elected president in 1998.
“They knew the ground,” said Berger, who has worked at Dartmouth since John Kemeny’s presidency. “They knew the people.”
Folt has been visible on campus since her July 1 inauguration, attending athletic, social, faculty and alumni events, Berger said.
“Unlike Jim Kim, she doesn’t want to play football — she just wants to root for the team,” he said.
During her time as dean of faculty, Folt demonstrated a commitment to the arts and sciences, according to anthropology professor Deborah Nichols. Nichols, who worked with Folt during this time, described the interim president’s recent transition as “quiet.”
“Much of the day-to-day functioning should go on as it has regardless of who is the president,” Nichols said. “I have every reason to think that most of the College will operate quite smoothly.”
Nichols said judgments on Folt’s presidency may be premature, as Folt has not served as president for long enough.
Folt has the ability navigate the “creative tension” between academic departments and graduate programs to the institution’s benefit, according to English professor and chair of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program Donald Pease. Pease said he worked with Folt in her roles as dean of graduate studies, dean of faculty and provost.
“She brings her gifts together with her skills as an administrator,” he said. “She links both and is what I would call an academic politician — she’s a stateswoman as well as a strong leader.”
The role of interim president, as opposed to full-time president, gives Folt some leverage when making decisions, Brown said.
“She can do what she thinks is right without worrying about political fallout,” he said. “It puts her in a slightly stronger position.”
In his role as IFC president, Brown said he expects to work primarily with Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson rather than with Folt.
“I don’t think [Folt] should be in the trenches,” he said. “I’m sure she’s involved with the process, but in terms of the day-to-day work, on the ground, that’s Dean Johnson’s job.”
During her time as president, Folt will set the stage for the next presidential term, creating the conditions that will be inherited by her successor, he said.
Folt must ensure that the next president understands the campus and its culture, which requires that she become familiar with campus social life and current policies, Longhi said.
Upon accepting the interim position, Folt said she would focus on continuing the College’s strategic planning initiative and increasing communication between the administration, faculty and students.
Given that Folt took charge of the initiative under former College President Jim Yong Kim, she has developed a direct relationship with each of the initiative’s committees, according to Pease.
“She challenges the committee not just to describe what Dartmouth already wants but inspires members to imagine what it should want,” Pease, who serves on the initiative’s research committee, said.
Folt previously told The Dartmouth that she will continue to develop the initiative by promoting such projects as integrating digital technology in classrooms, extending Dartmouth’s public image abroad and advancing the Center for Health Care Delivery Science.
Although Folt has said she will not apply for the position of College president, Berger said he wishes the presidential search committee would consider Folt, given her long history of service to the College.
“I worry about someone from the outside who’s never been part of the Dartmouth community, even an undergrad from 30 years ago,” Berger said. “It changes so much.”
Folt could not be reached for comment by press time.