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.

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