While the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam wasn’t officially on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the UNC System Board of Governors, it was still on the minds of many at the meeting.
The initial mid-March deadline for a new plan for the statue that stood on the UNC – Chapel Hill campus for more than 100 years had been pushed back to this May meeting. But last week the board announced it would not be discussing any plans at this meeting, and no new timeline was set.
Board chair Harry Smith said after Wednesday’s meeting that the delay was due to continuing discussions between the board and the campus.
“One of the things we don’t want to do is put a timeframe in place that would rush the ability to have meaningful, measured conversations with stakeholders that prove to be critical in getting it right,” Smith told reporters Wednesday.
The future of the Confederate monument has been up in the air since protesters toppled the statue last August. An initial plan for a new facility to be built on campus to house the monument and allow for teaching and exhibit space was rejected by the Board of Governors in December.
The board then appointed five members to work with the campus to formulate a new plan.
Things were jolted once again when former chancellor Carol Folt ordered the statue’s remaining base be removed in mid-January.
While no new deadline has been set, Smith said Wednesday he believed university leadership was “getting close.” But he also conceded the topic was more complicated than he initially anticipated, adding that conversations with the campus community have altered his thoughts on the statue’s future.
“My original view and opinion – which I think was probably quick and uneducated – was just to put it back up,” Smith said. “Having taken the time, energy and effort, talked to a lot of people who I have tremendous faith and trust in, it is my view and opinion – as one member – that that is not the right path.”
Some members of the board have continued to express a desire to have the Confederate monument reestablished on McCorkle Place, with outgoing member Joe Knott expressing that view in an op-ed in the News & Observer this week.
Complicating the situation in some ways is the 2015 law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly limiting the movement of objects of remembrance. Folt maintained for months while she was chancellor that the legislation prevented her from ordering the monument’s removal. She ultimately said the safety threat posed by the statue remaining on campus warranted its removal. Now that the statue is gone, Smith repeated what has become a mantra of his during this process, saying the board just wants to “get it right.”
“I know there’s some frustration with the timeline,” Smith said, “and I certainly understand that and respect it. But from somebody that has a first-row seat in watching the amount of work and the conversations going on, I promise you it’s in the best interest of the people.”
UNC System Interim President Bill Roper and interim chancellor at UNC – Chapel Hill Kevin Guskiewicz have previously said on multiple occasions their preference would be that the monument is not returned to the campus.