Harry Smith, chair of the UNC System Board of Governors, told a news conference Wednesday that he thinks restoring UNC’s Confederate monument to its original site just off Franklin Street is “not the right path,” according to media reports.
This is a reversal of Smith’s previous stance on the disposition of Silent Sam.
N.C. Policy Watch reported today that Smith said his “thinking has undergone an evolution.” His remarks followed a regular meeting of the Board of Governors.
“My original view and opinion, which I think was probably quick and uneducated, was just to put it back up,” Smith is reported to have said. “Having taken the time, energy and effort and talking to a lot of people I have tremendous faith and trust in, it’s my view and opinion as one member that that’s not the right path.”
It was not immediately known the extent to which Smith’s view is shared by others on the 28-member board. It is in line with Kevin Guskiewicz, who became UNC’s interim chancellor in early February and is on record suggesting that the statue be relocated. Dr. William Roper, who became interim president of the UNC System a few weeks earlier, said that position was a factor in his choice for interim chancellor.
Joe Knott ’74 (’80 JD), wrote in a newspaper opinion piece earlier this week that the statue should be returned to its original location in McCorkle Place “immediately” and that the discussion of whether to move it elsewhere should occur after that. Knott’s term on the board will end this summer. Other BOG members have expressed the same view. One of them, Thom Goolsby, has produced YouTube videos stating that putting the statue back up is the only way to conform with a 2015 law enacted by the N.C. General Assembly that prohibits removal of historic monuments.
In mid-December, the Board of Governors directed UNC’s trustees, the chancellor and top administrative staff to work with a BOG task force to find a solution to the Silent Sam issue by March 15, after the board cited financial and security concerns in rejecting the University’s proposal to place the monument in what would have been a new building on South Campus.
In March, members of the Board of Governors agreed to extend the deadline to May. On May 14, another delay was announced — that the monument issue would not be on its agenda in May meeting.
Protesters pulled the Silent Sam statue off its pedestal in August 2018.
Then-Chancellor Carol L. Folt made it clear she was committed to not returning the statue to its location in McCorkle Place near Franklin Street. UNC faculty have overwhelmingly supported that position, and library administrators have asked that the statue not be placed in any University library, leaving few practical locations.
In mid-January, Folt announced her resignation simultaneously with an order that the statue’s pedestal and commemorative plaques be removed.
“From my perspective, my views and opinions have evolved greatly as I’ve gone through the process and learned,” Smith was reported to have said. “I think others’ have as well. It would be easy to rush, make a decision and move on,” Smith said. “I don’t think that would be the right thing to do either. The goal here is simply to get it right.”
No new deadline has been set for a resolution.
“I’m not a legislator,” Smith said. “We’re just working. … And the goal is just to get it right. Whatever right is, that is the goal.”