The Confederate statue known as Silent Sam is continuing to cause safety concerns and is taking away attention from the mission of UNC. That was the sentiment expressed by Chancellor Carol Folt during her address to the university’s Board of Trustees on Thursday.
“I do believe that as long as Silent Sam stands in its current location, it runs the risk of continuing to drain energy and good will that we’ve worked so hard to maintain on our campus and truly does distract us from reaching the important goals that we all share,” Folt said during her remarks Thursday.
Silent Sam has been a focal point of protests on campus following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month protesting a decision to remove Confederate statues in that university town. A counter protester was killed at that rally when an alleged white supremacist drove his vehicle into a crowd.
A protest of Silent Sam was held in late August to mark the first day of the fall semester at UNC.
The calls for the removal of the Confederate statue have continued, and trustee chair Haywood Cochrane said the board would open the floor for public comment later this fall.
“At the chancellor’s suggestion,” Cochrane said, “this board will provide an opportunity for campus and public input at our next Board of Trustees meeting in November.”
The protests against Silent Sam have taken several forms, including a boycott of some campus commerce which was launched recently and is expected to continue at least until the university’s fall break in mid-October.
Folt said that she had attended meetings with members of the campus community recently that are “not easy meetings but these are honest meetings, every single one of them.” Folt has said she would order the statute be removed due to safety concerns, if she felt the university had the legal authority to do so. But she has also maintained that a 2015 law prevents her from issuing that directive.
Governor Roy Cooper recently petitioned the North Carolina Historical Commission for removal of Confederate monuments in Raleigh, but Silent Sam was not part of the agenda.
Folt, Cochrane, UNC System President Margaret Spellings and chair of the Board of Governors Lou Bissette wrote to Cooper just before the August protest against Silent Sam asking Cooper to “address the urgent concerns” of the “safety and security threats” presented by Silent Sam. Cooper wrote back that if university officials “believe there is a real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures.” But language in the law over who has the authority to deem the statue a public safety risk seems to have led to a legal pickle for the campus.
Folt said on Thursday that the university was not asked whether it would like for a petition to be put before the state Historical Commission at its meeting last week to look into moving Silent Sam. Cochrane reiterated Folt’s statement, adding that it was a decision that would have to come from the system.
“We were not asked,” Cochrane said. “We were not approached about joining the petition. We believe the system was because that is the right hierarchy of governance that we live under.
“So, it would be a system request to join, not a campus request.”
The News & Observer previously reported that a letter was sent to Spellings and Bissette from other members of the Board of Governors – which is appointed by members of the Republican-led General Assembly – who disagreed with their decision to seek advice from the Democrat Governor Roy Cooper.
The commission voted last Friday to move forward with a plan to form a committee to study – in consultation with the UNC School of Government – the monuments that Cooper petitioned to have moved in Raleigh. The results of that study are expected to come back before the state commission in April 2018.