Politics & Government

UNC graduate students and professors who had threatened a strike release grades — for now

Opponents of Silent Sam protest before UNC Board of Governors meeting

Opponents of Silent Sam gathered outside the Center for School Leadership Development at UNC before the Board of Governors meeting Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.
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Opponents of Silent Sam gathered outside the Center for School Leadership Development at UNC before the Board of Governors meeting Friday, Dec. 14, 2018.

UNC graduate teaching assistants and faculty who had threatened a grade strike over Silent Sam said they have turned in undergraduate grades for the fall semester, but are prepared to strike in the spring if the Confederate monument is brought back to campus.

The statement was in response to Friday’s action by the UNC Board of Governors to reject a proposed $5.3 million history center to house Silent Sam, which had been recommended by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and Chancellor Carol Folt. After closed session deliberations Friday, the board voted to appoint a five-member committee to work with Folt and the trustees to come up with a new plan by March 15 for the toppled statue.

“For the StrikeDownSam Anti-Racist Coalition, this new timeline necessitates a new strategy; we recently released all grades for the fall 2018 semester, but will be in a strong position to continue our action in spring 2019 if the BOG, BOT, or members of the university administration decide to place UNC students at risk,” the coalition said in a news release.

Some grades were withheld by teaching assistants, according to a group spokeswoman, but were released collectively on Sunday — the same day as the university’s winter commencement. The group has not released a figure for how many grades were withheld and how many graduate students and faculty participated. But early on after the action was announced, the group said 80 were participating, potentially affecting 2,300 grades.

The group said it would work in the upcoming spring semester to “continue exerting pressure on the university.”

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

About 80 teaching assistants and faculty had initially indicated their willingness to withhold grades in protest of the university’s proposal to build a new history center at the edge of campus. Faculty and student groups have been insistent that Silent Sam should not be placed anywhere on the UNC campus.

The news release said the group welcomes the Board of Governors’ rejection of the new history center to house Silent Sam, but “their decision does not guarantee a satisfactory long-term resolution.”

Further, the graduate student and faculty grade strike supporters criticized the Board of Governors’ resolution Friday to review its disciplinary policies in an apparent attempt to clamp down on protesters, by prescribing minimum sanctions such as suspension, expulsion or termination for those who engage in acts that threaten public safety.

“The Confederate monument must never return to campus in any shape or form nor a center to its history be erected,” the news release said. “We further express here our right to freely assemble and to practice our freedom of speech on a matter of great public concern.”

On Monday, the UNC Board of Trustees recommended building a historical center on campus to house Silent Sam. The building is estimated to cost $5.3 million.

Meanwhile, another group asserted Monday that the Board of Governors failed to follow state law in not re-erecting the monument within 90 days.

The N.C. division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said in a news release that it was “dismayed” by the board delaying action to return Silent Sam “to its original, proper and legal place.”

“State law clearly provides that any such memorial must be returned to its original location within 90 days after temporary removal,” the Sons of Confederate Veterans statement said. “Further, the law provides that no such object of remembrance shall be relegated to a ‘museum’ unless originally located there. Yet this is precisely the action that both the Board of Trustees and now, apparently, the Board of Governors endorse. On both counts, the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees are openly avoiding their duties under the general statutes of North Carolina.”

The monument, which had stood at a main gateway to campus, was pulled down by protesters on Aug. 20.

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Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.


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