UNC chancellor will consider all options for the future of Silent Sam Confederate monument
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said Tuesday the university will consider all options for the future placement of the toppled Silent Sam Confederate monument.
Her statement came after the UNC Board of Governors directed Folt and the campus Board of Trustees to develop a “lawful and lasting” plan to preserve the 105-year-old statue of a Confederate soldier, according to a resolution passed Tuesday by the system governing board.
The plan is to be presented to the system board by Nov. 15. The resolution says it should address the monument’s “disposition and preservation.”
After a nearly five-hour meeting with the trustees Tuesday, Folt said: “We will look at all options, including one that features a location on campus to display the monument in a place of prominence, honor, visibility, availability and access, where we can ensure public safety, ensure the monument’s preservation and place in the history of UNC and the nation.”
It’s too soon to discuss the various options for where Silent Sam will permanently stand, she said, including the possibility that the statue could be returned to its now-empty pedestal at McCorkle Place.
But she added that the university would follow appropriate processes to secure any needed approvals from the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, the N.C. Historical Commission and the General Assembly.
The trustee board also passed a resolution saying it would abide by certain principles in its decisions ahead — respect and enforcement of the law and UNC policies; campus safety; civil discourse; and the education and curation of monuments and history “with integrity.”
“The Board supports our Chancellor’s stated highest priority for the safety of our students and the university community,” the trustee resolution said. “This is a challenge during volatile times when tensions are high, and we urge our students’ and University community’s support as we keep safety at the forefront.”
The resolutions came as both governing boards met in special session Tuesday to discuss legal and safety issues surrounding the Aug. 20 toppling of the monument by protesters.
The Nov. 15 deadline falls within the 90-day period cited in a 2015 state historic preservation law, which requires the restoration of an object of remembrance to a place of prominence after temporary removal for reasons under the law. However, legal scholars differ on the interpretation of that law because it does not address the situation of a monument that has been forcibly and illegally torn down.
After last week’s toppling, the university took the statue to an undisclosed location for safekeeping.
Before the Board of Trustees closed session, Folt talked about a week of “intense emotion, the pain, the frustration and anger that’s being felt.”
The board cited three reasons for closing the meeting under the state’s open meetings law: to hear a legal update; to hear reports about investigations into alleged criminal conduct; and to discuss “potential action plans to protect public safety.”
Folt said safety is “on my mind every minute of the day.” Public safety is a paramount consideration, she said, adding, “Our students and our faculty deserve no less.”
The process ahead, she said, “this gives us a chance to identify a plan that can be a legal solution which allows us to have a safe and productive campus.”
The chancellor also acknowledged that what happens next with the Confederate monument will have greater implications for the university.
“It has also brought the eyes of the nation on us,” Folt said. “That, of course, is adding urgency to our own determination to find a lawful and lasting path that will protect the public, protect the monument and allow us to return to what we are doing right now — our core mission of education, research and creating the next generation of leaders.”
Folt has been under growing pressure by students and faculty to keep the Confederate statue from being reinstalled on its pedestal at a main entrance of campus.
A flurry of statements and letters to Folt have asked her to move the statue. The Department of English and Comparative Literature posted a statement to its website that called upon university administrators “to house the fallen statue elsewhere, as should have been done long ago, and to renew their commitment to creating a just and inclusive campus.”
“One year ago, we unequivocally supported calls to remove the statue to a place where it could be properly contextualized. In our assessment, its history and its formerly prominent location on campus are at odds with the fundamental principles and ideals of UNC that stand for the inclusion and dignity of all,” the department’s statement said. “We cannot and do not support the ideas that it celebrates in the context of a public university today. Furthermore, we support our students’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom to protest.”
Folt reiterated that the university will take appropriate actions to deal with any criminal action by protesters. Eleven people have been charged in protests on Aug. 20, when the statue came down, and on Saturday, when protest groups clashed over Silent Sam.
“We know that the monument has been divisive for a long time,” Folt said, “but what happened on Monday was wrong. It was absolutely not the solution that we wanted.”
She also invoked the words of the late Sen. John McCain, who said: “We don’t hide from history. We make history.”
Chairman Harry Smith has said he wanted the campus decision-making process to play out, and the resolution reflects that.
Another Board of Governors member, Wilmington lawyer Thom Goolsby, has been adamant that the statue should be put back up pronto.
“To delay the reinstallation of the monument does nothing but put off the inevitable and encourages more violence by outside criminal elements,” Goolsby wrote in an email Monday to his fellow board members.
Goolsby voted “no” on the Board of Governors’ resolution Tuesday.
“I appreciate the Board of Governors’ commitment to obey the Monument Protection Act, but I cannot support the motion as written,” Goolsby said. “I believe the time frame is far too long, especially in light of the violence, the ongoing threats and continuing danger on our college campuses.”
He also criticized the actions of police on Aug. 20, saying they were “highly derelict” in their duty, “by standing back and allowing these outside criminal elements to riot and destroy state property.” He called for a thorough outside “disciplinary investigation” of the UNC police department.
The Board of Governors will hire an outside firm, Smith said, “to conduct an after-action assessment of and review of UNC Chapel Hill preparations for and response to the protests of Aug. 20 in order to help better protect the safety of the university and community for future events.”
Board members Philip Byers and Bob Rucho will oversee the process, Smith said.
Besides the Aug. 20 protest, a demonstration on Saturday by pro- and anti-Confederate monument groups resulted in arrests but no serious injuries. All told, 11 people face criminal charges from the two protests.
A “Silent Sam twilight service” is planned for Thursday night by a neo-Confederate group known as ACTBAC, or Alamance County Taking Back Alamance Country.