UNC has asked for and received an extension on its deadline to present a plan for preservation of Silent Sam, the Confederate monument that was taken down by its detractors in August. The UNC System Board of Governors, which in August ordered a decision by Nov. 15, agreed Friday to an unspecified extension. The new deadline is Dec. 3; the next Board of Governors’ meeting is on Dec. 14.
A week after the statue was pulled off its pedestal, UNC’s Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors met on the same day and passed resolutions aimed at a “lawful and lasting” plan to preserve the statue. The BOG resolution directed the chancellor and trustees to devise such a plan.
Chancellor Carol L. Folt said she and the trustees would consider all options for placing the monument on campus in a place of prominence, while ensuring public safety and the preservation of the monument and history. She then asked for public comment ahead of the deadline, and a dedicated email address — email@example.com — was set up for anyone to submit ideas about the statue’s future.
For her own part, Folt said in a message to the campus community that there was a place on the campus for the monument but not at its “front door” — not, in other words, at its original site in McCorkle Place just steps from Franklin Street.
A state law enacted in 2015 prohibits removal of historic monuments; it stipulates that any monument removed temporarily must be replaced within 90 days.
There has been a lively — and inconclusive — discussion about what the law means for relocation of Silent Sam.
Provost Robert Blouin told UNC’s Faculty Council that the law “says the monument goes back on the pedestal. What we’ve been given is the opportunity to develop an alternative to that.”
The Chronicle for Higher Education recently characterized Folt’s dilemma: “On a state-university campus that largely wants to purge itself of the statue, in a state whose residents don’t, Folt is in a bind.”
Students and others in the Chapel Hill community have said they are insulted by its presence — what they call a symbol of the Confederacy’s loyalty to the institution of slavery — some adding that they didn’t feel safe when counterprotesters come to the campus.
Others see Silent Sam as a tribute to those who fought for their homeland in the Civil War, perhaps without regard to the slavery issue. Many have said that removing the statue would be detrimental to the understanding of history.
UNC’s libraries immediately suspected they might be considered viable alternative sites for the statue.
The Administrative Board of the Library issued a statement in September that said relocating the statue into one of UNC’s libraries would “inhibit their fundamental mission of ‘research, teaching, learning, and public service for the campus community, state, nation, and world’ and create an unsafe and untenable environment for our students and staff.”
The Friends of the Library wrote in October that placing the statue in Wilson Library “would add nothing to our understanding of its place in the University’s history” but would risk damage to rare collections from potential protests.
An August letter signed by 199 faculty members urged the administration to “show leadership” on the issue; two months later, 150 more faculty members set out five principles, among them that under no circumstances should the statue be returned to its former location, where people on either side of the issue have clashed repeatedly.
Fifty-four black faculty members wrote that “In 1913, the Confederate monument did not stand in opposition to the stated values and mission of the University. In 2018, it most certainly does. … A monument to white supremacy, steeped in a history of violence against Black people, and that continues to attract white supremacists, creates a racially hostile work environment and diminishes the University’s reputation worldwide.”
That sentiment is far from universal.
Social media filled up early on the day after the statue came down with comments from people who decidedly did not agree with the action of the protesters.
The North Carolina division of Sons of Confederate Veterans demanded the return of Silent Sam to its pedestal — “its rightful place.”
In September, the conservative Civitas Institute released a statewide poll that said 70 percent of those likely to vote in the November elections did not approve of the statue’s removal.
The deadline coincides with the trustees’ regular November meetings. Committees will meet on Wednesday and the full board on Thursday.