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UNC-CH board has until November to devise plan for ‘Silent Sam’

August 29, 2018

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has until mid-November to come up with a plan for the future of a Confederate monument on campus that protesters pulled down a week ago.

After spending almost two hours behind closed doors Tuesday, the UNC Board of Governors adopted a resolution allowing Chancellor Carol Folt and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to hash out details for what happens to the “Silent Sam” monument.

“Silent Sam,” which stood on the Chapel Hill campus since 1913, has been in temporary storage in what officials called “a secure location” since last week’s protest.

Folt said it’s too early to speculate on where the monument might wind up.

“We will look at all options,” she said Tuesday afternoon, “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 while also following appropriate processes to secure any needed approvals from the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, the North Carolina Historical Commission and the North Carolina General Assembly.”

The resolution recognized the “considerable work to explore options” Folt and UNC-Chapel Hill officials have already put in on handling the monument, which has been a flashpoint for protesters for more than a year.

The Board of Governors wants a plan it can review by Nov. 15 that would provide “a lawful and lasting path that protects public safety, preserves the monument and its history, and allows the University to focus on its core mission,” according to the resolution.

Thom Goolsby was the only member of the Board of Governors to vote against the resolution.

Goolsby has been an outspoken critic of the Aug. 20 protest that toppled “Silent Sam” and has said state law requires that the monument be returned to its pedestal on campus.

“I believe the time frame [for a plan] is far too long, especially in light of the violence, the ongoing threats and the continuing danger on our college campuses,” he said.

Greg Wallace, a professor at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, said Goolsby has a point in saying that state law requires the monument to be restored to its previous location.

“I think the law clearly contemplates that such a monument is not going to be permanently removed without permission from the North Carolina Historical Commission,” Wallace said. “The statute really deals with what we’re talking about here, a temporary relocation of the monument, and that is, in this case, to preserve it, even though what precipitated the need to preserve the monument was the protestors’ unlawful action.”

The Board of Governors also plans to hire an outside firm to review the actions UNC-Chapel Hill took before, during and after the protest. Chairman Harry Smith said the review would help improve safety in the future.

“To ensure that UNC institutions provide safe and secure campuses and uphold the principles of free speech and expression, the board will examine in the coming months ways to improve and better enforce codes of conduct, policies on freedom of expression and procedures and approaches to ensure UNC institutions are safe and secure,” Smith said in a statement released after the meeting.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees met for several hours Tuesday in its own closed session – across the street from where the Board of Governors met – to discuss the criminal investigation into the statue’s fall, public safety plans and legal options for its future.

The trustees adopted their own resolution noting that UNC-Chapel Hill will “educate and curate our monuments and our history with integrity” while also abiding by the law and ensuring a safe campus.

“The board does not condone the lawless acts that took place,” the resolution states. “The incident jeopardized the safety and well-being of students and local citizens.”

Folt, who bounced back and forth between the two closed-door meetings, said the past week has been one of intense emotions, as the toppling of the statue coincided with the start of the new school year on campus.

“We know that the monument has been divisive for a long time, but what happened on Monday [last week] was wrong. It was absolutely not the solution that we wanted,” Folt said Tuesday morning before the Board of Trustees went into its closed session. “As I think about what I need to focus on, I have to focus on safety and the operations of the university. Our students, our faculty deserve no less.”

The university will take action against those involved in pulling down “Silent Sam,” as well as a clash Saturday between supporters and opponents of the monument, she said.

“It has also brought the eyes of the nation on us, and 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,” she said.

Folt added that the process may not be going as fast as some would like, but university officials want to make sure everything is done right.

“I’m always sympathetic of people who want things done faster – that is the era we’re in – but in the end, I’m going to do it in a lawful way that is sustainable, and sometimes that doesn’t get done as quickly as people like,” she said.

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