Folt reflects on presidential role and upcoming transition
By Michael Riordan, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, December 10, 2012
When President-Elect Philip Hanlon ’77 assumes office on July 1, he must focus on improving student life and act as the College’s global “spokesperson,” Interim President Carol Folt said in an interview with The Dartmouth. The first woman to head the College, Folt — who will return to her former position as provost when her tenure as interim president ends — said she will be working directly with Hanlon in the upcoming months to prepare for the transition in leadership.
Folt has worked at the College for over two decades. A biology professor, she began teaching in 1983. She has been a senior administrator since 2001 when she assumed the role of dean of graduate studies. She was named dean of the faculty of arts and sciences in 2004, and in 2006, she became dean of the faculty. She was appointed provost in 2009.
The president’s role is to promote the College’s students and faculty, hire new faculty and monitor emerging trends in higher education and technology, according to Folt. Folt said she expects Hanlon’s executive expertise and personal history with the College to positively inform his decision-making.
“The goal of this year is to keep the excitement and momentum going forward,” Folt said. Dartmouth’s strategic planning initiatives will make the College financially accessible to all students and competitive in the transforming world of higher education, Folt said. “Scholarship protection regardless of ability to pay is critical,” she said. “When you look at the country there are financial roadblocks ahead, and we are thinking about those things.” The majority of government funding for “high-impact” research goes to approximately 60 universities, including Dartmouth, according to Folt. While she is not concerned that cuts will affect Dartmouth’s research, she said she remains determined to provide students with the best education possible. “Have we prepared our students — undergraduate and graduate — with the right skillset in a world that is rapidly changing?” Folt said. “Are we keeping relevant? Are we still investigating the way we’re teaching so that our students are just as competitive?” The College’s recent initiatives, including the Year of the Arts and “Leading Voices in Higher Education” lecture series, demonstrate the administration’s interest in remaining competitive in the higher education market and ongoing desire to expand students’ educational opportunities, Folt said. Over the past decade, Dartmouth has added new faculty and grown its academic programs’ offerings by emphasizing the College’s commitment to undergraduate teaching, according to Folt. New faculty members often choose Dartmouth over other schools where teaching is downplayed in favor of research, she said. “Professors need to be in the classroom as well as researching,” Folt said. Dartmouth is a “unique mixture” of a liberal arts college and research university because it hires scholars who want to teach and provides faculty with resources for their research, according to Lindsay Whaley, acting associate provost for international affairs and a linguistics and classics professor. In order to remain competitive globally, the College must continue to attract outstanding scholars from all disciplines, according to Folt. The College has to dispel the idea that Dartmouth’s rural location is disconnected from the world, Folt said. As interim president, Folt said she has enjoyed her daily interactions with students and leading the College’s strategic planning efforts that will directly affect the institution’s future. In the upcoming months, her primary focus will be on organizing events that celebrate the 40th anniversaries of coeducation at Dartmouth, the passage of Title IX, the formation of the College’s Native American Studies program and the founding of the Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association.
Folt said that some of the College’s most significant reforms, including overhauling the College’s advising system, have been under-recognized by the student body.
“It’s the nature of what we do — some things aren’t seen,” Folt said. “I’m not sure that everybody knows how much work has been done to improve services for students.”
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson has been collaborating with the President’s Office to improve student life, according to Folt. The Dean of the College Office is determined to streamline the College’s advising system so that it is more accessible to students and no longer located in Parkhurst Hall, she said. A new facility that will house academic advisors will soon be opening in Baker-Berry Library.
Folt said she has made it her priority to balance administrative obligations with attending student-oriented events and working on her scientific research.
“I personally am very fortunate to have work that I absolutely love,” Folt said. “It energizes me.”
Folt’s “extreme loyalty” to students has distinguished her from other administrators, according to Roger Sloboda, interim associate provost for research and biology professor.
“When [Former College President Jim Yong] Kim was here, I never, ever saw him on campus outside of a meeting,” Sloboda said in an email to The Dartmouth. “[Folt], on the other hand, could be seen at the Pow-Wow weekend in May, and many other such student events, watching and addressing the students. Given her work schedule, to take a Saturday afternoon of her time for that sort of thing, when she rarely sees her husband I am sure, says it all for me about her devotion to Dartmouth.”