Voices of UNC and who is heard

This week Policy Watch spoke with UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis about the controversial recommendation to return the Silent Sam Confederate statue and the outrage and protests it has inspired.

In suggesting UNC-Chapel Hill faculty and teaching assistants withholding final grades over the plan should be terminated, expelled and barred from future association with any UNC school, Kotis  said he  believed those frustrated with the decades-long issue are trying to achieve change the wrong way.

“There are ways in a democracy to change the things you disagree with,” Kotis said. “You lobby. You vote. You get laws changed. This can’t be how you do it. It can’t be 80 or 100 people deciding these things for everyone, for every school and every student in the system.”

This inspired some spirited reaction from the UNC community who insisted that they have literally pursued every peaceful, democratic avenue available to them to oppose the statue but have been virtually ignored – except in the instances wherein they have been publicly mocked and insulted by members of the Board of Governors and the North Carolina General Assembly.

Indeed, as UNC PhD student James Sadler points out,  nearly every significant faculty, staff and student organization at UNC has gone on record opposing the monument’s placement on campus and supporting those protesting.

The will of those who actually make up the UNC community and the statements of those representing them could hardly be clearer, Sadler argues.

Beyond UNC, more than 120 faculty and and workers at UNC rival Duke University have signed a statement in solidarity with those at UNC opposing the statue’s return to campus.

But, as has been apparent through minor squabbles and major conflicts on the Board of Governors for several years, who the board is supposed to represent is unclear.

Many on the board, appointed by the conservative dominated legislature and stacked with former GOP legislators, lobbyists, former lobbyists and business associates of Republican lawmakers, has been fairly open about seeing its job as carrying out the will not of the UNC community but of the legislature itself.

With that being the case, many in the UNC community are now asking, is there any route for the expressed will of those who make up the community to compete the will of those in power in Raleigh? Should the university system be run as an extension of political arms of government?

The UNC Board of Governors meets Friday and will discuss the proposal to return Silent Sam to UNC.

Unlike most of its meetings, no public comment will be allowed.


UNC athletes oppose return of “Silent Sam,” support protesting faculty and students

More than 100 current and former UNC athletes have added their names to a statement against returning the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” to the Chapel Hill campus.

The statement follows a long list of such statements from other groups like the Student Government, Faculty Council and Graduate Student Association Board.

The athletes also say they oppose any retaliatory action against students and faculty protesting the monument, including those who have pledged to withhold this semester’s final grades or sit out teaching the first week of next semester over the plan to return the statue.

The student represent a wide range of sports from basketball, baseball and football to fencing, track & field, gymnastics and soccer.



UNC faculty, teaching assistants withhold final grades over return of “Silent Sam”

Nearly 80 faculty and teaching assistants at UNC-Chapel Hill are pledging to withhold this semester’s final exam and assignment grades unless the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees abandons a plan to bring return Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” to the campus.

The move could prevent more than 2,000 final grades from being logged.

With finals happening this week on campus and final grades due December 17th, members of the UNC administration met with graduate students Friday morning for a tense discussion they hoped would defuse the situation.

Bob Blouin, executive vice chancellor and provost and Kevin Guskiewicz, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, sent an e-mail Thursday to attempt to dissuade faculty and graduate students from supporting the action. The e-mail warned of legal ramifications.

“We’re trying not frame it as a ‘strike’ but a non-violent protest action,” said Danielle Dulken, a PhD candidate in the American Studies department helping to organize the move. “The work is still being done, the grading is still being done. But the grades are being withheld. Because we’re a large workforce for the university and we provide so much of the labor, this is something we felt we could flex, so to speak.”

The faculty and teaching assistants are making their pledge through a locked online poll. They have pledged to release the grades once:

1) The Board of Trustees’ abandons its proposals to return the monument to campus and create a “mobile force platoon” to deal with protests at UNC schools

2) The UNC Board of Governors holds a listening session with the campus community.

The number of those pledged to withhold grades continues to grow, with updates through the @StrikeDownSam twitter handle.

Thirty faculty and graduate students from the School of Education released a statement Thursday supporting those who take place in the withholding of grades and discouraging the university from retaliating against them. They also pledge not to teach the first week of the Spring 2019 semester if the Board of Governors adopts the proposal to return the monument to campus.

Their statement will continue gathering signatures of support until December 14.

The UNC Board of Governors will discuss the fate of Silent Sam at its meeting next week. One of the board’s more conservative members has already rejected the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees plan to move the monument to a new campus history center as “cowardice.” Several members of the board have insisted that the statue be returned to its original site at McCorkle Place or, as a 2015 law states, to a place of similar prominence.


GOP, Democrats spar over ballot fraud investigations

GOP lawmakers speaking on alleged ballot fraud Thursday.

As revelations of apparent ballot fraud continue in the state’s Ninth Congressional District race and calls for a new election grow louder, GOP lawmakers and Democratic party officials traded barbs over who should be investigating the matter and how.

“Any fraud is unacceptable in the state,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican who represents the Ninth District, which has seen five ballot fraud investigations since 2010.

The state board of elections has shown its “ineptness and inability to be able to transparently and without partisanship…resolve these issues,” Tucker said, whether the problems presented themselves under Democrats like current Gov. Roy Cooper and former Gov. Bev Perdue or a former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.

Tucker was joined by Sen. Dan Bishop and Sen. Paul Newton, who also represent the district, to call on Cooper to convene a bi-partisan task force to work separate from the Board of Elections investigation. Tucker, who is finishing his final term in the General Assembly, volunteered to join such a group.

In his own press conference Thursday, state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said Republican lawmakers need to stay out of the investigation and allow the Board of Elections to do its job.

“It’s interesting that only as the evidence has begun to mount that they now ask for this,” Goodwin said of the bi-partisan task-force proposal. “Any time a study or a task force can be created to get to the truth or the facts, that’s fine. But if their intention is to supplant the state board of elections or to besmirch or smear their professionalism or that of their investigators, or get in the way of them being able to do their job – that’s the wrong way to go.”

At issue: An apparent “ballot harvesting” scheme wherein people in the district were hired by political operative McRae Dowless Jr. to go door-to-door collecting absentee ballots from voters.

NC Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin speaking on ballot fraud Thursday.

At least one voter alleges someone who picked up her ballot offered to finish filling it out for her. There are now questions about how many were harvested, whether they were all turned in and whether some were changed or intentionally made invalid.  Mass collection of absentee ballots is illegal under state law.

Dowless worked for the campaign of Mark Harris, the Republican candidate for Congress. He appears to have personally turned in 592 of the approximately 1,300 total absentee ballots requested in Bladen County. Only 684 absentee ballots were actually cast, leading to questions about absentee ballot requests made on behalf of people who voted in person or claim never to have requested an absentee ballot.

“If Republicans committed fraud, they need to be held accountable – in fact, we need to hold our own accountable,” Tucker said. “The same is true for the Democrats. If they commit voter fraud, they need to hold themselves accountable. Any fraud is unacceptable in the state.”

While calling to avoid “partisan taint” of the investigation, Tucker and Bishop used the press conference to point to Democratic victories — including Cooper’s over McCrory — in which they said allegations of ballot tampering were insufficiently investigated.

“The Democratic Party has a conflict of interests in leading this investigation,” said Newton.

The only way to fully investigate elections in which both parties are suspect is to appoint a fully bi-partisan group to investigate, Newton said.

The Senators said they didn’t want to supplant a Board of Elections investigation, but called into question the motivations of new Board of Elections Chairman Joshua Malcolm, a Democrat appointed by Cooper. State Republicans have criticized Malcolm as too partisan.

The GOP lawmakers’ criticism of the board happens against the backdrop of a struggle over the board itself. A panel of three judges ruled the current nine-member composition of the board unconstitutional, but a court ruling last week is allowing the board to stay as it is through Dec. 12. Cooper and the legislature are in negotiations over the composition of the future board.

Goodwin defended the Board of Elections’ decision to delay certification of the Ninth District results.

GOP lawmakers and party officials initially criticized the board for the decision, but on Thursday Bishop said he would not certify the results under the current cloud of unresolved questions either.

On Thursday Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said he would be open to a new election if the results if evidence determined apparent fraud changed the outcome of the election – an about face from the party’s initial fierce insistence the board should certify the results as they stand.

Goodwin said under-funding the board of elections, which has for years complained the General Assembly does not adequately provide adequate resources for elections investigations, is an important part of what is now happening.

“I would agree we are now seeing the fruits of an underfunded state agency,” Goodwin said. “Time and again the Republican legislative leaders have crowed about how much they’ve cut budgets and dramatically reduced budgets and the like. But they need to respond to the needs of agencies that protect the public.”

“The Board of Elections is an agency that protects the public,” Goodwin said. “We’re talking about protecting the precious right of someone to cast their ballot. That needs to be appropriately funded.”

Bishop called that “a red herring.”

“That cannot be the excuse for not taking this issue on sufficiently to resolve it,” Bishop said.

“I think when you have issues of funding what you look to is ‘What is your lowest priority item that you’re not able to accomplish?’ I don’t think this would be lowest priority. It ought to be top priority.”

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors member calls Silent Sam suggestion “sheer cowardice”

In a video on his personal YouTube channel, UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby called the UNC Board of Trustees’ suggestion on the fate of Silent Sam “sheer cowardice.”

The proposal to build a $5.3 million UNC history center at which the Confederate monument could be housed has incensed both the political right and left, Goolsby said.

A large scale protest of the plan was held Monday night by students, faculty, staff and community members.

Goolsby, one of the most vocal conservatives on the conservative dominated Board of Governors, criticized the trustees as pushing their own agenda and said they’re misinterpreting the law on how the Confederate statue can be relocated.

Goolsby is known for dramatic statements and actions that divide the board. While other members of the board are not always as histrionic, Board Chairman Harry Smith has defended Goolsby a number of times and the board’s most conservative faction tends to agree with him.

The board will meet next week to take up the Silent Sam issue.

Board members Bob Rucho and Phil Byers attended the UNC Board of Trustees meeting at which the trustees’ plan was released, but neither would comment on the board’s report.