Board of Governors to “go back to the drawing board” on Silent Sam plan

The UNC Board of Governors on Friday rejected a controversial, $5.3 million plan to return the Silent Sam Confederate statue to the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. The board is forming a task force of Board of Governors members to help put together an alternate plan to be presented to the full board by March 15.

UNC President Margaret Spellings, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith huddle at the board’s Friday meeting.

Board members Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho will “got back to the drawing board” with UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the school’s board of trustees, UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said.

The board came to the decision after a closed session that lasted more than three hours, with no discussion of the issue in open session and no period of public comment at any point Friday.

“At the end of the day $5.3 million is tough for most of us to swallow,” said Smith.

Smith applauded the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees for their work on the issue and said he looked forward to seeing what the new group could come up with.

In a separate press conference of her own, Folt said she is grateful to have more time to explore other options for the monument. She said she acknowledged the plan put forward by the board of trustees “hasn’t satisfied anyone.”

Folt said would like to continue pursuing off-campus locations for the monument, which she and the board  of trustees still believe is the best option.

“We are the only university in this state that has anything closely resembling this statue,” Folt said.

“Put here more than one hundred years ago, our community is carrying the burden of an artifact, given to us by a previous generation in a different time,” she said. “The burden of the statue has been and still is disproportionately shouldered by African Americans. No university today would even consider placing such an artifact on their campuses.”

Smith said the board of governors continues to interpret a 2015 law as preventing the monument’s removal from campus. He said he could not say whether the board may talk to lawmakers in Raleigh about amending the law so that the monument could be moved off-campus.

To move the statue off campus would require a general statute change,” Smith said. “And the group will have to decide if that’s a path they want to go down.”

The board also passed a resolution to have its University Governance Committee craft minimum sanctions for students, faculty and staff who “engage in unlawful activity that impacts public safety — including assault on law enforcement officers, disobeying lawful orders of law enforcement officers, inciting riots, resisting arrest, participation in a riotous act, and other acts of violence at any of the constituent institutions.”

The sanctions will include suspension, termination and expulsion, according to the resolution.

Around 100 protesters gathered early in the day outside the Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill, where the board met Friday. Rain and a long closed session led most of them to disperse. More than 100 police – including members of the N.C. Highway Patrol – were on hand throughout the meeting. Only one arrest was made. Details were not available on the charges by early Friday afternoon.

In a press conference after the meeting, Smith and UNC President Margaret Spellings said they met with students, faculty and staff at UNC-Chapel Hill Thursday in an emergency meeting. About 80 people attended the meeting, which was not publicly announced, Spellings said.

Smith said that at the meeting he offered the opportunity for students to put together a leadership team to meet with the board of governors on the issue of the statue.

Folt said the meeting was “more like 50 people” and “was not a formal meeting.”

Folt did not detail who was at the meeting and how they were chosen, but said there was “a good cross section” of the university community including students, faculty and staff. Folt did not address why the media was not alerted to the meeting. When told some students and faculty were upset they had not been made aware of the meeting, Folt said finals may have kept some people from being able to attend and that there would be other opportunities.

Smith said he was moved by what he heard from students about their fears for campus safety and what it meant for them to have the monument returned to campus.

When you hear students speak about fear and safety and concern, it’s pretty real,” Smith said. “End of the day, I think hearing it first hand… there’s so much sensationalism, But when you heard students speak from their own hearts, it draws a pause.”

Whether the rejection of the board of trustees proposal and an offer from Smith to meet with students on the issue satisfies the terms of faculty and teaching assistants who have pledged to withhold final grades over the statue’s return remains to be seen.

Spellings said there “will obviously be consequences” for faculty or teaching assistants who do not fulfill the terms of their employment, but Spelling and Smith did not expand on what those may be.

“I think it’s our hope we won’t get there,” Smith said. “We can’t work under threats and intimidation. We can’t set that stage for the entire system.”

This story is ongoing and will be updated throughout Friday afternoon and evening as it develops.


UNC Faculty Chair discourages withholding final grades over Silent Sam

The chair of UNC’s faculty is discouraging faculty and graduate teaching assistants from withholding final grades to protest a plan to return the Silent Sam Confederate monument to campus.

In a letter released Friday Leslie Parise encouraged those protesting to “continue to be heard in ways that can have impact, but without further jeopardizing the students that we know you teach and care about.”

Parise also said UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith, UNC System President Margaret Spellings and UNC Chancellor Carol Folt met with a group of students and faculty, offering “a platform for dialogue with members of our campus, including students, that you will probably hear more about.”

The letter:

Online reaction the letter was swift and largely derisive.

The UNC Board of Governors is now meeting in Chapel Hill, where protesters have shown up in force. The board is allowing no public comment at the meeting. The full board session begins at 11 a.m., following a series of committee meetings.


More than 2,200 pledge to withhold donations to UNC over Silent Sam

With the UNC Board of Governors meeting Friday morning to consider a controversial proposal to return the Silent Sam Confederate monument to the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, thousands of UNC community members – most young alumni – are pledging to withhold donations to the school should the statue return.

More than 2,200 people have signed onto a letter announcing the move, sent to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees early Friday morning.

To the Chancellor and Board of Trustees:

More than 2,200 members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community, the vast majority young alumni, have pledged to withhold all philanthropic contributions to the university until a solution is reached that will permanently remove Silent Sam from campus.
The pledge, with a full list of signatories attached, aligns the signers in solidarity with the TA Strike, UNC Black Student Movement, and Students of the Silent Sam Sit In.
The pledge has been circulated widely throughout alumni networks, with nearly 70% of signatures coming from young alumni who graduated graduated in 2000 or later. Additional signers include current and former faculty and staff.
Many of the alumni who have pledged not to make any additional donations to the university were student leaders when they were on campus. Many have already begun to build successful professional careers that represent significant lifetime giving potential for the university.
Pledge signers believe we should have an influence on the way UNC-Chapel Hill expresses its values as the future of the donor base – and that Silent Sam does not represent the Carolina Way, or a Carolina that’s open to all.
Signatories pledge not to participate in any university giving campaigns, including the current “For All Kind: Campaign for Carolina” that purports to build a university where “opportunity is for all kind.”
Please heed the feedback of this significant community base and adopt a plan for Silent Sam that preserves our beloved university’s inclusive future. I hope to hear from you soon.
Leah Josephson
Class of 2011
Co-chair, Ann Arbor Carolina Club
A large number of protesters amassed outside the Board of Governors meeting Friday morning, where no public comment was scheduled. Committees meet throughout the morning with the full board meeting scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
Education, News

After years of warnings about K-12 infrastructure, Speaker Moore to file $1.9 billion school bond bill

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

North Carolina lawmakers were told nearly three years ago that the state’s school infrastructure needs had reached a staggering $8 billion or more.

Yet efforts to put a statewide school bond referendum on the ballot were stymied by North Carolina lawmakers in recent years.

Today’s news might mean, however, that the proposal may finally have some momentum in the legislature.

State House Speaker Tim Moore announced that he would file a bill to put a $1.9 billion public school bond on the ballot, addressing at least a portion of the state’s capital needs.

According to Moore’s release, $1.3 billion would go to K-12 construction needs, $300 million to the UNC system, and $300 million to North Carolina’s community colleges.

“Education is what matters most to families and businesses — to the private and public sectors alike — and North Carolina is poised to build on historic commitments to our schools with another long-term investment in capital construction for our rapidly growing student population,” Moore said in the release.

“Our state’s explosive growth over the past decade brings opportunities and challenges for our school systems. The state General Assembly must continue to meet those needs with investments in our future.”

It’s worth mentioning that while Moore refers to “another” investment in our student population, this would mark the first statewide K-12 bond since 1996.

Lawmakers did authorize and voters approved a $2 billion bond in 2016 to fund STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) facilities on UNC campuses, but the state’s K-12 schools have long bemoaned the state of crumbling facilities in some of North Carolina’s poorer regions.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson also announced his support for the bond in Moore’s release Thursday, which came hours after GOP lawmakers choose Moore for his third term as state House speaker.

State officials told legislators nearly three years ago that the school construction tab was expected to balloon to $13 billion by 2026, and that’s before a controversial elementary class size cap may have exacerbated the problem for local districts.

No word yet on whether the bill has backing in the state Senate, which has been considerably more problematic for public school advocates in recent years.

Moore said in his release that the bill should be approved in the 2019 legislative session and be placed on the ballot in 2020.

agriculture, Courts & the Law, Environment

Judge tosses punitive damages claims in hog nuisance case

The punitive damages phase of the most recent hog nuisance trial against Smithfield Foods had lasted just a half-day before the judge pulled the plug.

Yesterday a jury found Smithfield had committed a nuisance against its neighbors of Sholar Farm in Sampson County and awarded eight plaintiffs compensatory damages. During the punitive phase, which began yesterday afternoon, plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Kaeske presented his case to the jury that Smithfield had acted with “willful and wanton disregard” for the neighbors — not just those on Herring Road, but throughout the state — and for more than 20 years.

But this morning, as Kaeske tried to enter seven exhibits into the record for the jury to review, Senior District Court Judge David Faber allowed only three to be admitted into evidence. Faber then ruled there wasn’t enough evidence for the jury to assess punitive damages. Case closed. The jury went home.

The purpose of punitive damages is to deter future bad behavior by the defendant — and that of other potential defendants who might consider comporting themselves the same way. Nine factors play into the question of whether to award these damages, including the duration of the misconduct and the defendant’s awareness of it.

During the opening statements for the punitive phase, held yesterday afternoon, Kaeske told the jury, backed by more than 20 years’ of articles, memos and documents, that Smithfield had known odor was a problem at its hundreds of farms. The company’s lobbyists and proxies at the NC Pork Council had helped craft pivotal legislation to give the industry even more power to site farms wherever it pleased and to undercut regulations on odor and water discharge.

“This is the way we finish the job,” Kaeske told the jury.

But the job now goes unfinished. Throughout the trial, Faber never hid his contempt for Kaeske’s argumentative style of questioning. But yesterday, the judge sighed, grumbled and told the courtroom that the case needed to end soon. Faber disallowed any mention that Smithfield is owned by a Chinese conglomerate; nor could Kaeske discuss the ample salaries of Smithfield executives. Kaeske had presented this information in previous trials to prove that Smithfield could well afford to upgrade its waste lagoon and sprayfield technology.

“Those are emotional arguments,” Faber said, dismissing Kaeske’s request.

Jim Neale of McGuireWoods, representing Smithfield, objected to many of Kaeske’s statements. In fact, Neale argued, unsuccessfully, that the word “Smithfield” should even be uttered because technically the Sholar Farm is owned by Murphy-Brown. However, Murphy-Brown is wholly owned by Smithfield — and, even the judge agreed, that fact had been central to the first phase of the case.

To underscore the Smithfield-Murphy-Brown connection, Kaeske asked his first witness, Don Butler, a former director of Smithfield Foods, about the signage in front of each farm. Yes, Butler said, Smithfield had replaced all the signs that read “Murphy-Brown” or “Carroll’s” or any of the companies it had bought. Now all of the signs say “Smithfield.”

And so on, for more than two hours of objections, overrulings and sustainings, until the judge, jury and courtroom observers were exhausted.

This morning, Judge Faber unveiled a prewritten statement as he called off the punitive phase of the case. No amount of Kaeske’s protestations changed the judge’s mind. By 11 o’clock, the jury had been sent home.

The next case, also overseen by Judge Faber, is scheduled for January.