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Guskiewicz becomes new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor amid continued Silent Sam conflict

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously voted to appoint Kevin Guskiewicz chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Friday.

The Board of Governors, UNC-System Interim President and Guskiewicz himself declined to answer any questions on the settlement Friday.

Guskiewicz, who has been serving as interim-chancellor for the last ten months, enters the role under a cloud: the controversial legal settlement that gives the Silent Sam Confederate monument to the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — along with $2.5 million.

At an afternoon announcement and celebration of Guskiewicz’s appointment Friday, UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin confronted the issue directly, speaking to Guskiewicz from the stage she shared with him and other UNC leaders.

Her remarks:

The announcement that Silent Sam would be permanently moved to another location other than UNC brought with it mixed emotions from the student body. Many students were excited to hear the monument would no longer occupy a space on campus but disappointed to learn that UNC would be paying a Confederate group $2.5 million to effectively handle the statue and by extension this problem. As a student myself who has spoken with other students about their experiences and thoughts: This is not enough.

Silent Sam may be gone but the feelings and sentiments associated with it remain prevalent both on campus and in the minds of students everywhere. Chancellor Guskiewicz, you now  bear the responsibility of making sense of this new situation — and to lead us forward now that Silent Sam is gone.

In order to do this, we want you to confront UNC’s history and acknowledge the wrongs it has committed in the name of the Confederacy and furthering a racist agenda with the settlement. We want to see you take an active stance against the sentiments of racism, hate and suppression that have taken space up on our campus for far too long. But most importantly, want to see you publicly denounce hate and provide actionable solutions for the minority populations that have been harmed time and time again because of this statue. It will not be an easy feat, but I think it’s important you get a good idea what assuming this role will mean to the students who call UNC home. Chancellor Guskiewicz, there is a lot to do. And I hope to work directly with you as we push forward solutions that better the lives of minority students in the wake of recent events. I hope you will rely on the student voice when making decisions that ultimately impact students and stand for students always.”

UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin.

Guskiewicz has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement.

This week he made public a letter he sent to UNC System leadership in which he expressed concerns about how the $2.5 million might be used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans — and that the group’s values are inconsistent with the university’s.

Guskiewicz thanked Martin for her remarks, saying that he heard her voice and those of many across the campus.

“We do have work to do,” Guskiewicz said.

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UNC Board of Governors dodge Silent Sam settlement questions, appoint new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor

Protesters gathered in the rain outside Friday’s UNC Board of Governors teleconference meeting.

 

The UNC Board of Governors and UNC System leaders avoided  questions about the controversial Silent Sam settlement at its teleconference meeting on Friday — even as some of its members called for more transparency on the $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

As expected, the board voted unanimously to make interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz the next permanent chancellor. But even as Guskiewicz and board members expressed concern over the details fo the Silent Sam deal, the board kept most of its discussion on that issue in closed session.

Board member Marty Kotis initiated the discussion during the open session, saying that while he didn’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” the settlement he shared Guskiewicz’s recently expressed concerns about how the Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to use the settlement money.

“I think the red flag for everyone has been this letter from the leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Kotis said.

In the letter, from SCV leader R. Kevin Stone to group members, Stone talks about using settlement funds to build the group a new HQ, among other uses.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis.

Kotis said it was his understanding the settlement funds, to be managed by a trust, would be restricted in ways that conflict with the SCV’s apparent plans. The UNC System has yet to release the trust agreement — or any other communications about the deal requested by Policy Watch and other media outlets.

The UNC System is working to fulfill those requests and make more documents publicly available, system spokesmen said Friday. They could not say when that might happen.

UNC General Counsel Tom Shanahan repeatedly suggested discussion of the settlement might be better conducted in closed session as it could contain legally privileged information. But as other board members pressed on with discussion, Shanahan said he did believe the funds would be restricted in ways not compatible with Stone’s letter.

The letter is also, in part, the basis for a legal intervention in the settlement announced this week by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Board member Jim Holmes, reportedly one of the architects of the settlement, said how the money may be used would be clear once more information about the settlement and trust agreement are publicly released.

“I want to be exceptionally clear,” Holmes said. “There is a document that — if it hasn’t been released, will be released — that outlines the terms of the trust handled by an independent trustee and the uses of the funds are specified.”

“We can’t control what other people say,” Holmes said in reference to Stone’s letter.

UNC Board of Governors member Jim Holmes.

In the absence of a publicly available trust agreement, law experts who have examined the settlement documents dispute that the uses of the $2.5 million are as narrowly specified as Holmes said.

In an interview with Policy Watch after the meeting, Kotis said he and other members of the board have themselves not seen the trust agreement, so they aren’t certain how the funds can be used.

I keep hearing that a lot of documents are going to be released,” Kotis said. “The board members haven’t had a chance to see them yet — I haven’t seen them.”

“I think what Jim Holmes and David Powers are saying is — they SCV say whatever they want, but they can’t use it for that,” Kotis said. “If that’s true, okay — I can live with that. But if they can use it for all the things this guy described, I think there are going to be a lot of concerned people including me. I have no reason to believe that yet besides this guy’s letter — one blustery letter to his group. But we’ll see what the documents say.”

Board member Thom Goolsby, who has called for the Silent Sam Confederate monument to be re-erected on campus at Chapel Hill, said he has also has strong concerns about the deal and the level of public transparency on it.

“I do hope the board of governors and its counsel will make itself available to answer all the questions that are being raised across the state on this issue,” Goolsby said. “It appears to not be dying down to be revving up.”

Indeed, nearly 100 students and community members protested outside the meeting. About 40 of them were let into the meeting during the open session. When the board went into closed session discussion they left the room chanting “No  payout, no BOG, no racist UNC!” The group was escorted back outside by UNC police. Several protesters said they were not allowed to return for the second half of the open session meeting. UNC spokesmen denied that, saying no protesters stayed the length of the closed session for the resumption of the open meeting.

Goolsby said it’s his understanding money has already been transferred — though he did not specify whether that money was from the UNC System to the trust or UNC-Chapel Hill’s endowment to the UNC System.

“It very much concerns me as to what’s been done here,” Goolsby said. “I look forward to all the truth coming out here and there being open discussion between the board, the press and the people of North Carolina as to how this happened and what’s actually going on.”

UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby.

Goolsby has not returned calls for comment from Policy Watch.

On Thursday afternoon, during a meeting of the board’s University Governance committee, board member Tom Fetzer asked that the minutes of the committee’s Nov. 27 meeting — at which the settlement was approved — reflect that he was not on the call during the vote, and therefore did not vote. Fetzer did not speak on the issue during Friday’s meeting and has not returned calls for comment.

The rest of the settlement discussion happened during a closed session of less than a half hour.

When the board came back into open session, it took a vote on Guskiewicz’s appointment as the next chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We’re going to do great things to move us forward,” Guskiewicz told the board via telephone. “I appreciate your confidence in me.”

Guskiewicz’s appointment is immediate at an annual salary of $620,000.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper, one of the few university leaders who attended Friday’s meeting live, declined to answer questions from reporters on the settlement, Guskiewicz or any other topic after the board adjourned.

Guskiewicz, who has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement, will appear at a media event today at 2 p.m. at the Current ArtSpace, 123 W. Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

The University said he will give remarks at the event, but specified that it is not a press conference. It is not yet clear whether he will take any questions.

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N.C. Attorney General, UNC-Chapel Hill interim chancellor sound off on Silent Sam settlement

As the UNC Board of Governors prepares to meet via phone conference Friday, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s office has weighed in on the controversial Silent Sam settlement.

Under the agreement, the UNC System handed over $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans – along with the polarizing ”Silent Sam” statue.

“Attorney General Stein personally believes it is an excessive amount of money that should instead be used to strengthen the university and support students,” N.C. Department of Justice Communications Director Laura Brewer wrote in the statement.

“Department of Justice lawyers played no role in negotiating the agreement,” Brewer wrote. “The Board of Governors hired outside counsel and negotiated this deal entirely on its own, sidelining our office.”

“In light of this and the fact that there were no state funds used, our office’s role was limited to advising the University and Board of Governors whether or not the agreement was legal,” Brewer wrote. “A DOJ lawyer conducted that legal review and provided the BOG with a letter summarizing his conclusions. Our office is unable to waive attorney client privilege and provide that letter. However, we have no objection to the University releasing it to you.”

The UNC System has not, as of Thursday, fulfilled any of the Policy Watch’s requests for communications related to the settlement or details of the trust agreement through which the $2.5 million has been paid.

This week the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced it would legally intervene in the Silent Sam suit on behalf of UNC students and faculty, attempting to prevent the $2.5 million from being paid to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

On Wednesday UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz  shared a letter he sent to UNC System leadership and the UNC Board of Governors in which he expressed concern about the settlement and how the money might be used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

From that letter:

Since my appointment as interim chancellor, I have maintained that the monument should never return to campus, and I support the work by members of the Board of Governors to pursue this goal. My understanding is that the settlement approved by the court required the Board of Governors and the UNC System to pay $2.5 million to a charitable trust separate and independent from the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) for purposes limited to “the preservation” of the monument. I also understand that none of the funds in the trust can be used for the benefit or the activities of the SCV unrelated to the monument’s preservation.

Given the contents of the order, I am particularly concerned with recently published post-settlement comments from the SCV regarding how the organization may seek to use funds from the charitable trust, including plans to promote an unsupportable understanding of history that is at-odds with well-sourced, factual, and accurate accounts of responsible scholars. These comments, along with various aspects of the settlement, particularly the requirement that UNC-Chapel Hill reimburse the UNC System for the payment of the funds to the trust, have led to concerns and opposition from many corners of our campus.

I join with others on my campus in stating that the values expressed by the SCV are inconsistent with and antithetical to the values of the University. In addition, I am deeply concerned by the comments from SCV regarding their intended use of funds from the charitable trust.

The SCV’s statement triggered false public accusations in the state and national media that the University is funding SCV ideologies rather than allowing for the preservation of the monument off-campus in order to eliminate the ongoing safety, financial, and legal risks of returning the monument to campus.  I urge the Board of Governors and the UNC System to take any appropriate steps that are available to ensure that the independent trustee administers the charitable trust in strict compliance with the court’s order and the terms of the trust. I also request that the Board and the UNC System consider providing additional information to our University community about this matter.

Reaction to Guskiewicz’s statement was mixed among students and faculty, who have been pressuring the interim chancellor to make a strong statement against the settlement.

Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor fo Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at UNC-Chapel Hill, pointed out that the documents spelling out the statement do not prescribe how the SCV may use the funds as narrowly as either Guskiewicz of the UNC System have suggested.

 

 

Guskiewicz is seeking to make his role as chancellor permanent. The board could vote as soon as Friday on his appointment.

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Civil Rights group lays out legal case against Silent Sam settlement

In a new letter to the UNC Board of Governors, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law lays out its legal argument against the controversial UNC System settlement over the Silent Sam Confederate monument.

(Read the full letter here.)

On Wednesday the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced they are representing UNC-Chapel Hill students and faculty clients and plan to intervene on their behalf in the litigation surrounding the controversial university settlement with the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The settlement gives the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam to the Confederate heritage group — along with $2.5 million from the UNC-Chapel Hill endowment funds.

In a letter released Wednesday morning, the national civil rights group outlines its legal argument against the settlement and demands that it be reversed.

“This is matter of grave public interest,” the group wrote in its letter. ” Particularly as it concerns the dubious transfer of $2.5 million in public funds to support the work of a white supremacist organization, apparent improprieties in securing the court’s approval of the Consent Order, and serious questions about the BOG’s fidelity to its legal, ethical, and fiduciary duties. We therefore respectfully request that you act immediately to take any actions necessary to protect the interests of UNC and to recover the 2.5 million dollars of public funds allocated to expand and perpetuate the racist and destructive ‘Lost Cause’ ideology.”

The letter was copied to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and C. Boyd Sturges III, who represented the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the settlement.

The UNC Board of Governors meets Friday in a special session by conference call.

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UNC Board of Governors protest planned despite conference call meeting

Few UNC Board of Governors members are expected at Friday’s board meeting in Chapel Hill. The board will be meeting in a “special session by conference call.”

But that’s not stopping students, faculty and community members who planned to protest the controversial Silent Sam settlement at Friday’s meeting.

Organizers say the planned demonstration will go forward, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Center for School Leadership Development, 140 Friday Center Drive in Chapel Hill.

 

The protest follows weeks of controversy over the settlement, which gives the controversial Confederate monument to the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans — along with $2.5 million.

The deal has been strongly opposed by student and faculty groups as well as alumni. On Wednesday the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced it would intervene legally to block the settlement.

Committee meetings on Thursday, before the full UNC Board of Governors conference call, will include the Budget and Finance, University Governance and Personnel and Tenure committees.

The University Governance committee will hold a closed session that includes a legal affairs report from UNC System General Counsel Tom Shanahan and the approval of the closed session minutes from the board’s meetings of Nov. 14 and Nov. 27. The closed session on the 27th was the meeting in which the Silent Sam settlement was approved by that committee. A full vote of the board was never taken.

Friday’s conference call meeting will include a closed session during which the board will hear a report from Shanahan and UNC System Interim President Bill Roper.

The board will not hold a post-meeting press conference with the Interim UNC System president and chairman of the board, which has been customary for years.