UNC Police officer went undercover to gather information on “Silent Sam” protests

Last week, a group of students and faculty protesting the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus told the UNC Board of Governors they have endured mocking, racial slurs and threats as they demonstrate in front of the statue.

In and around the same time they were speaking to the board, they also faced a new and much stranger challenge: a UNC Police officer who has apparently been gathering information on the protesters and their movement without identifying himself and using an assumed name.

In the videos below a few demonstrators confront the officer. He evades their questions, is nervous about being videotaped in a public place, tries to get them to talk to him at the police sub-station and ultimately justifies his actions by saying “it’s called police work.”


Demonstrators said the officer – who eventually identified himself to them as Officer Hector Borges – came to them as someone who also opposed the statue, telling them an elaborate story about being a veteran with post traumatic stress disorder named “Victor.”

UNC Police Media Relations Director Randy Young provided the following statement to Policy Watch:

“The UNC Police department is aware of the recorded conversation between a UNC Police officer and a members of the public recently. While we don’t discuss specific details of operation, UNC Police has assigned officers to the area around Silent Sam, both in uniform and in plain clothes, ever since the Charlottesville incident with the sole purpose of maintaining student and public safety.”

Young said he could not elaborate on that prepared statement.

In a public comment section of Friday afternoon UNC Board of Governors meeting, UNC student Maya Little told board members Borges solicited personal information from students and tried to ingratiate himself with them before they saw him in uniform on campus and uncovered his deception. Little said it is particularly ironic that UNC Police would devote and undercover officer to this kind of work when students are simply exercising the First Amendment rights the board says it is attempting to protect with a new campus speech policy.

Several other faculty, staff and students said the incident seems to confirm that not all speech will be treated equally under the policy.

“Essentially, a police officer from the department that we pay our student fees and tuition to was hired to spy on us – to spy on students – in what I assume was an effort to protect this racist statue on the forefront of our campus,” Little said. “As a student at this university, as a worker, as a community member, I am deeply disturbed not only by the alumni and Carolina fans who harass us but also by the campus police officers who are hired by the University to do so.”


UNC Board of Governors discuss hiring own employees

The second day of the UNC Board of Governors’ meetings in Chapel Hill was fairly tame Friday. A long day of committee meetings Thursday and the desire to adjourn and begin the weekend seemed to keep members from lingering too long on any one report or discussion.

But the seeds of the recently contentious board’s next major disagreement were apparent in tense discussion in the board’s Thursday governance committee that spilled into Friday’s full-board session.

At issue: whether the Board of Governors, which has no dedicated staff of its own, should hire a few employees.

Board member David Powers brought up the issue in the governance committee, moving that the committee draft a plan for hiring three employees to report directly to the board. The employees could help to do some of the leg-work of the recently much more active board and cut down on the wait time when the board relies on general administration staff, Powers said.

But Board of Governors Chairman Louis Bissette Jr. opposed the move, saying he had spoken to UNC President Margaret Spellings about it and she would consider it another example of the board encroaching on her authority. Bissette said it would also be likely to divide the board, which after several recent controversies had just gotten back to a good place.

“The optics would be bad around the state,” Bissette said of the move, which could be construed as overreach by the board into university functions.

Board member Frank Graingier agreed, saying the board is currently “the most divided board I’ve ever been on or seen,” and that he wants to avoid further divisive moves if possible.

After some back and forth over the issue in the committee, a vote was taken. Bissette made the unusual move of voting himself, though not technically a member of the committee. That led to a 4-4 vote, meaning the motion would not move forward.

That didn’t sit well with some board members. When the full board reconvened Friday morning, board member Marty Kotis asked that the full board consider the hiring matter. Bissette said the issue had died in committee and that barring a 2/3 vote of the board, the full board could not consider an issue that didn’t make it out of committee.

Though the board did not make that vote or further address the issue in its Friday meeting, several members said they expect to see it reemerge in the board’s December meeting.

“It might go through another committee,” said Kotis after the meeting. “Or, when a large number on the board want to discuss an issue, there’s a way to have a full board discussion.”

Kotis said it was unusual for Bissette to create a tie on the issue when the 7 member board might otherwise have voted it out of committee. He appreciated the view of those who oppose hiring staff for the board, he said, but thinks it would make things move more quickly on the board and keep from overburdening existing staff who now deal with board matters.

“I don’t see it as being about undercutting the President at all,” Kotis said.

Grainger said he’s not looking forward to any further discussion of the issue.

“I think we should just do what we do and not get into any other areas,” Grainger said. “Let the President do what she does, let us make policy and stay out of it.”


UNC speech policy takes final steps to passage

The UNC Board of Governors’ Committee on Governance passed a controversial university speech policy Thursday in a standing-room-only meeting.

A controversial university speech policy took a crucial step toward becoming a reality Thursday, passing the UNC Board of Governors’ committee on governance unanimously.

The committee on governance met in Chapel Hill Thursday, part of the the first of two full-day meetings for the full board. The policy will need to be reviewed and passed by the board at its next meeting.

“I feel like we have a consensus free speech policy that will be a benefit to the university,” said Governance Committee Chairman Steve Long.

The committee did spend weeks reaching out to students, faculty and staff at the university – and the latest draft policy does reflect some concessions to their concerns. But students, faculty and staff members said Thursday they do not think there is a need for the policy.

“We sent them a statement with our concerns and they did listen to us and there were some concessions,” said Gabriel Lugo, chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly. “But overall, we think we have systems in place now that have worked very well for us. We don’t agree that if a student or a faculty member is part of a disturbance and is arrested, they should be punished twice – criminally and then through the university.”

“But we are good citizens and we understand this will be the policy,” Lugo said.

Lugo said faculty members were happy to see some concessions, including a change to the policy’s language that would allow individual schools to decide on punishments for those found in violation of the policy rather than a system-wide mandates of specific punishments. That was a change also sought by civil liberties groups.

The committee also firmed up some of the ambiguous language in the policy, giving specific examples of things that would constitute a “substantial” disturbance. But students, faculty and staff members said they’re still concerned the policy will be misused to target political speech with which the conservative General Assembly and Board of Governors disagrees.

“This is as inclusive a policy for vetting a policy as I’ve seen,” said board member David Powers. “A lot of compromises were made to get to a final policy.”

“There’s no way you can satisfy everyone,” Powers said. “But everybody has had a chance to have their say.”


UNC employees sound off on free speech policy

As a controversial UNC system speech policy continues to take shape, the UNC Employee Forum met Wednesday to voice their concerns.

The UNC Employee Forum met Wednesday, discussing a controversial campus speech policy now being crafted by the UNC Board of Governors.

The forum, held at the Chapel Hill campus’ Sonja H. Stone Center for Black Culture and History, came ahead of the Thursday and Friday meetings of the full board at which they will discuss the latest draft of the policy.

With few exceptions, the employees vented fears and frustrations over the process by which the UNC Board of Governors has crafted the policy and its possible consequences.

“In my opinion it’s a slap in the face from the General Assembly,” said Kathy Ramsey, vice chair of both the Employee Forum and the Carolina Black Caucus. “It’s a slap in the face especially to Carolina, on top of what they’ve done to the Civil Rights Center and the Poverty Center.  It’s another intimidation tactic.”

The General Assembly and Board of Governors have shown a willingness – even an eagerness – to use policy to punish political adversaries, Ramsey said – so it’s very difficult for the UNC community to believe that the proposed speech policy will be evenly and justly applied.

And how the policy is applied will be everything, a number of employees said. That’s because the draft language leaves enough ambiguity about what sort of speech or demonstration might cause a “substantial” disruption, which would lead to punishment. The system for punishment is itself ambiguous, said UNC General Counsel Mark Merritt. It sets out specific punishments and a “three strikes, you’re out” policy, Merritt said – but then says individual campuses may choose to discipline those found in violation of the policy differently, if warranted.

That ambiguity has caused groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to express concern with how violations will be handled and how the policy will be applied.

Though the newest draft of the policy did away with a section that laid out uniform punishments across the system, it’s far from clear that letting the 16 campuses decide for themselves how to deal with violations of the policy will lead to uniform application of the policy – or please the Board of Governors and General Assembly.

It’s also not clear how the universities will go about dealing with violations, said Katie Turner.

Turner, from the university’s office of faculty governance, said there is already a complicated system of channels for dealing with students and faculty accused of violating university policies. The new draft policy mandates that each campus appoint someone to make sure the free speech policy is carried out properly – something that will have to be built into the current structure without any additional staff or funding from the General Assembly.

“Some things are going to have to be completely overhauled to accommodate this,” Turner said. “That’s going to mean a lot of resources for something that doesn’t actually seem to be a problem – and those resources are going to have to come from somewhere. Right now everything is tight – budgets are tight, time is tight.”

Several employees pointed out that UNC has an excellent reputation for upholding freedom of speech – something reflected in their “Green Light” rating from FIRE. Given that, they said, there does not seem to be a reason that is not political for putting this policy in place.

“If someone disrupts, we remove them, said Mariel Eaves, an administrative support specialist for UNC’s LGBTQ Center. “Is further disciplinary action really necessary to protect the speech?”

Employee Forum Chair Shanya Hill put it succinctly.

“It appears the only reason to have this policy is because the General Assembly has said we have to have this policy,” Hill said.

Clare Counihan, a program coordinator for faculty and staff, shared that concern.

The policy – and the state law that prompted it – were born in the wake of controversies over conservative speakers like white supremacist provocateur Richard Spencer being shouted down and prevented from speaking at public universities. Before that happened the General Assembly’s Republican majority had shown little interest in getting involved in the issue of free speech on campuses. Given that context, Counihan said, it is inevitable that the policy will be seen as a way of intimidating or punishing demonstrators on the political left.

Merritt, the UNC General Counsel, said he will do his best to be sure that whatever policy is finally approved is never applied in a way that violates the First Amendment.

“That supersedes any state law or policy,” Merritt said.

In the meantime, he said, he will take the concerns of the faculty and staff to the Board of Governors.

The Board of Governors holds committee and full board meetings in Chapel Hill this Thursday and Friday, November 2nd and 3rd.

The board will meet in regular session 9:00 a.m. on Thursday and 9:00 a.m. on Friday in the Board Room of the UNC Center for School Leadership Development at 140 Friday Center Drive in Chapel Hill.



UNC Board of Governors meets this week, withholds records in runup

This week, Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, the Board of Governors holds committee and full board meetings in Chapel Hill.

The board will meet in regular session 9:00 a.m. on Thursday and 9:00 a.m. on Friday in the Board Room of the UNC Center for School Leadership Development at 140 Friday Center Drive in Chapel Hill.

There will also be three committee meetings by teleconference on Tuesday at the Spangler Center at 910 Raleigh Road in Chapel Hill.

You can find the tentative agenda for the meetings here and here.

The run-up to the full board meeting this month has been less than transparent. Despite repeated requests from N.C. Policy Watch, the board has yet to supply membership rosters for several task forces and sub-committees that have worked on important issues to be discussed this week by the full board. Board members have been engaged in a campus tour, the schedule of which has not been publicly provided. Last week, several dates into the tour, N.C. Policy Watch was told that a schedule could not yet be provided because it had not been finalized.

Likewise, several requests made by N.C. Policy Watch under the Freedom of Information Act have yet to be fulfilled by the board or the UNC System. These include requests for a list of new hires, e-mails involving controversial board decisions and communications involving the debate over “Silent Sam,” the confederate monument on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus.

After being told that some of these documents would be delivered last week, we enter this week still hoping…but not holding our breath.