As a member of the UNC Board of Governors and an African-American, I am offended by the Confederate monument on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus known as Silent Sam and the shameful history associated with it dating back to its dedication. I know that Chancellor Folt would remove the statue if she could, and for that reason I cannot remain silent while the editorial “More souring on Sam, but where is Folt?” (Sep. 2) unfairly impugns her reputation and leadership on this issue. It is useful to review the guidance Chancellor Folt received from President Spellings, university attorneys and the Board of Governors.
On Aug. 15, the university’s general counsel wrote that a state law passed in 2015 bars state agencies, including the university, from permanently removing any object of remembrance – defined as a “monument, memorial, plaque, statue, marker, or display of a permanent character that commemorates an event, person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.”
On Aug. 18, President Margaret Spellings wrote the Board of Governors that “neither the Board of Governors nor the institutions have the authority to independently remove the statute,” and that the law requires authorization of the N.C. Historical Commission to move a state monument.
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On Aug. 21, Gov. Roy Cooper offered a tortured reading of the statute in a letter to President Spellings, writing that “[i]f our University leaders believe there is real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures” to remove Silent Sam under the authority of “building inspectors or similar officials.” Even if the governor’s interpretation of the statute were correct, however, the required condition that the governor said was necessary to remove the statue, “a real risk to public safety,” never occurred.
On Aug. 24, our Board of Governors chairman wrote, “I can confirm that we do not believe that Chapel Hill can act unilaterally.”
One might ask, “Where is the attorney general?” It is telling that the state’s leading law enforcement official has not supported the governor’s position, nor has he weighed in with his own analysis. Despite Chancellor Folt’s strong personal denunciations of the sentiments represented by Silent Sam and her exemplary record related to civil rights issues, she was unfairly attacked for failing to do what state law prohibits and unilaterally remove the statue.
William A. Webb
Member, UNC Board of Governors