On Tuesday, at a special meeting of UNC’s board of trustees, Chancellor Carol Folt called the issue an urgent matter. In Chapel Hill, the board of governors that oversees the UNC system approved a resolution recognizing that Folt and the trustees “expect to be in a position to provide a plan for a lawful and lasting path that protects public safety, preserves the monument and its history, and allows the University to focus on its core mission” of education, while directing Folt and trustees to present that plan by Nov. 15.
The statue, known as “Silent Sam,” is a symbol of racism for some and of Southern heritage for others, and its presence on or potential absence from campus resonates far beyond Chapel Hill. After it was torn down, some celebrated and others fumed. On Saturday, the university announced that 11 arrests had been made in connection with protests at the site over the previous days.
Harry Smith, the chairman of the board of governors, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the panel had acted in three ways: It will hire a company for an expedited review of the way UNC prepared for and responded to the protest this month; it directed Folt and trustees to present a plan for the monument’s “disposition and preservation” to the board of governors no later than Nov. 15; and it noted that although academic freedom is an important principle for the university, members of the school’s community and visitors to campus must act with respect for the law.
The board will, to ensure safe and secure campuses and uphold the principles of free speech, examine over the coming months “ways to improve and better enforce codes of conduct, policies on freedom of expression” and other procedures.
Heather Redding, a local activist speaking for the Move Silent Sam group, said the resolution provides an opportunity for Folt and the trustees to “handle the situation in a comprehensive manner. Permanently relocating Silent Sam is just a start. Its removal would only scratch the surface of decades of racial inequality and oppression in Chapel Hill.”
On Tuesday night, Thom Goolsby, a member of the board of governors who has been vocal about the need to reinstall the statue, said on social media that he voted against the resolution because he believes UNC leaders need to act more quickly. Activist groups such as antifa, short for anti-fascist, would not wait for university officials to study the issue, he said.
The Move Silent Sam group suggested a number of changes that would be needed, including education on the history of civil rights and racial violence in the area, hiring more faculty members of color and creating a commission on racial justice to implement changes systemwide. Members demanded that all criminal and honor-court charges brought against people involved in efforts to remove the statue be dropped.
Redding said many are still concerned about the university’s response to people who came to campus over the weekend and confronted students. “These groups are being treated as if they are merely Silent Sam supporters, rather than organized hate groups with violent members and connections to other extreme groups.”
The bronze and marble monument was commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in 1913. The memorial to UNC alumni who died for the Confederacy during the Civil War had become for many a symbol of hatred and racism.
Just as other communities across the country have struggled in recent years over how to remember the past, with all its complexity, people at UNC argued over the statue’s role. After white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville last year to support a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and clashes turned deadly, people tore down Confederate monuments in Durham, N.C., and other cities, and officials took down statues in other places nationally. Crowds also gathered around Silent Sam and shouted that it was time to take it down.
A year later, as students returned to campus for classes, chanting and cheering protesters pulled the statue down.
On Tuesday, Folt said at a meeting of the board of trustees that although the monument has been divisive for a long time, “What happened on Monday was wrong. It was absolutely not the solution we wanted.”
The country was watching, she said, and that was adding urgency to the university’s determination “to find a lawful and lasting path that will protect the public, protect the monument” and allow UNC to concentrate on education and research.