Politics & Government

UNC faculty want seat at the table in Silent Sam deliberations

The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

A faculty committee will be formed to provide input to the UNC-Chapel Hill administration on the future location for the Silent Sam Confederate statue, though there’s no guarantee professors will be directly involved in deliberations.

The Faculty Executive Committee met Monday to propose that the panel have seven to 15 faculty with “diverse expertise and concerns” in the history and impact of the statue. That group, to be named soon, “shall be included” by the administration “in all planning” for the ultimate destination of the monument that was toppled by protesters in August, according to a draft resolution that will be considered by the Faculty Council later this week.

Last month, the council passed a resolution insisting that the faculty be a part of the discussions going forward. Despite a series of lengthy faculty workshops last fall, a report on professors’ suggestions appeared in an appendix in a report from Chancellor Carol Folt and the campus Board of Trustees that recommended the statue be placed in a $5 million history center at the edge of campus.

Faculty were not involved with that proposal, which was swiftly rejected by the UNC system’s Board of Governors in December. Folt and the trustees were sent back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan by March 15.

The UNC Board of Governors did not approve a Board of Trustees plan for a $5.3 million building to house Silent Sam. They instead voted on Friday to task the BOT and select BOG members with creating a new plan by March 15, 2019.

Several faculty leaders on Monday expressed frustration that the two university governing bodies have had no direct consultation with faculty and no open deliberations. All debate has occurred in closed door executive sessions, with board leaders saying they are operating under exceptions for legal issues in the state’s open meetings law.

Rumay Alexander, the university’s chief diversity officer and associate vice chancellor, said the faculty’s resolution creates an implicit suggestion that “there is some mistrust here” between faculty and the administration.

“I think it is explicit and implicit, and unequivocal, that there is lack of trust,” answered Cary Levine, an art history professor.

Eric Muller, a law professor, said faculty have not been included in any high level discussions and their suggestions “were dead on arrival.”

“There has not been a single word, not one, of public discussion about this memorial, ever, at all, by any decision-making body,” Muller said. “Everything has been done in ways that have, not intentionally, but have ended up not triggering public meeting requirements.”

A crowd of protesters pull down the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam on the campus of the University of North Carolina Monday night, Aug. 20, 2018.

Faculty Chair Leslie Parise said she would be surprised if there is much discussion ahead of the possibility of returning the statue to campus.

“This committee could end up with not much to do,” Parise said. “That’s my hope, because that would be the best for us.”

Harry Watson, a history professor, said it’s useful to present the administration with a document that indicates “it has a trust problem and needs to rebuild trust, not only with the faculty but also with the students and other stakeholders.”

“Transparency is the first step,” Watson added. “So if we have to make it sound like we’re on our hind legs a little bit here, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”

Meanwhile, graduate students who have been activists against Silent Sam called on fellow graduate students Sunday to boycott future meetings convened by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Last month, a group of graduate students threatened to withhold grades to protest the proposal to return the statue to a new history center on campus. They later released the grades after the Board of Governors rejected the history center idea, but vowed to continue to pressure university officials.

“Those who have been sacrificing their jobs, careers, and physical safety to support students — particularly Black and Brown students who are most at risk of white supremacist and police violence — ask that you not attend these meetings,” said an email Sunday from the unnamed “Concerned Antiracist Graduate Students.” “This is not the first time the administration has employed a divide-and-conquer tactic often used against progressive coalitions.”

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Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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