“This just tears open the wound again,” said Jennifer Larson, a teaching associate professor.
Silent Sam, as the statue is known, stood in a prominent spot on this state flagship campus for more than a century. It became increasingly divisive, as controversy over Confederate memorials intensified nationally, with some defending it as a monument honoring fallen soldiers, and others seeing it as a symbol of a racist past. In August 2018, protesters pulled it down.
In the months since, the campus has been roiled by the question of what to do with the statue, with several failed attempts to resolve the issue. A schism opened between Raleigh and Chapel Hill, with pressure from some state leaders to re-erect it on campus, in accordance with state law, and many faculty and students adamantly opposed to the idea of its return.
A settlement was abruptly announced last week, the afternoon before Thanksgiving. The consent judgment gives the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans rights to the monument, with the stipulation that the statue not be kept in any of the 14 North Carolina counties with a UNC institution. The agreement also requires the university to fund an independent charitable trust, with $2.5 million in money not from the state, for care and preservation of the statue.
R. Kevin Stone, commander of the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said at the time he was ecstatic about the decision. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
On Friday, students and faculty members were asking questions about the legality and morality of the settlement.
“It’s extremely disappointing and unfortunate for a lot of reasons,” said Chris Suggs, president of the UNC Black Student Movement, who was with about 200 students protesting Thursday, despite the pressure of exams starting Friday.
He is glad Silent Sam will not be at UNC-Chapel Hill or any other public university campus in the state, but the timing of the announcement made it seem as though university system officials were trying to sweep it under the rug, he said. “Negotiating with a Confederate group and giving them $2.5 million is a slap in the face to students,” he said. “That money is so desperately needed in other areas.”
Faculty, some fighting back tears, asked UNC-Chapel Hill interim chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz what he knew about the settlement — and whether he would condemn it.
Guskiewicz, who took office vowing not to let Silent Sam return, sent a message to campus shortly before the Faculty Council meeting Friday acknowledging that he had heard concerns, but he noted the settlement proposal was reviewed and approved by the state’s attorney general and signed by a Superior Court judge. The university was also ordered to turn over possession of the monument and transfer money earned from investments to the university system.
“I know many of you oppose the payment to the charitable trust and object to [the Sons of Confederate Veterans] displaying the monument anywhere,” he wrote. “I understand, appreciate and empathize with those sentiments. The settlement ensures the monument will never return to campus, but issues of racism and injustice persist, and the University must confront them.” The university has made efforts to change that, he wrote, but he pledged to create a fund in coming months to more comprehensively transform the campus.
At the meeting, he told faculty members that campus leaders were not part of the negotiations. Over the past 10 days university officials learned of the possibility of a settlement, he told them. A day or two in advance of the agreement, they received some details about the financial implications. He said he did not know how many members of the state board voted to approve the settlement.
The Faculty Council voted to approve a resolution supporting the permanent removal of Silent Sam, but condemning the decision to give it and $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter. “Such a settlement supports white supremacist activity and therefore violates the university’s mission as well as its obligations to the state,” the resolution read.
Eric L. Muller, a law professor, called the settlement legally inexplicable.
Court documents indicate that Randall C. Ramsey, the chairman of the University of North Carolina System board of governors, had signed the settlement days before the lawsuit was filed.
Also in the days before the lawsuit was filed, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s North Carolina Division signed over the rights to the statue to the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, thus giving the group legal grounds to bring a complaint.
C. Boyd Sturges III, an attorney for the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, declined to comment.
An attorney for the University of North Carolina System referred questions to spokesmen for the university. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Faculty and students are asking why the system settled, Muller said. “Why are we handing $2.5 million to the party we could have beaten in court? And ... why would we give $2.5 million of university money to an organization that preaches the exact opposite of the university’s values?"
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.