Deadline for 'Silent Sam' plan pushed back

Posted November 9, 2018 1:56 p.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2018 6:12 p.m. EST

— The University of North Carolina system's Board of Governors said Friday they would push back the deadline for a plan on the future of a controversial Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"Silent Sam" was pulled down from its pedestal during an August protest, and the Board of Governors wanted a plan for what to do with the statue by next Thursday from UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the school's Board of Trustees.

But UNC-Chapel Hill officials asked Friday for an extension, and the Board of Governors agreed. No new deadline date was announced, but officials said it would be before the next Board of Governors meeting on Dec. 14.

"I think it’s a fair request," Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said. "I mean, it’s a lot more complex than any of us thought when you have to figure out a detailed and thorough plan, which is what we’ve asked them for."

Smith said pushing the deadline back won't affect the process, as the board wouldn't have addressed the issue until the Dec. 14 meeting anyway. After the board takes a stance, he said, he's unsure what the next steps will be.

A 2015 state law puts the North Carolina Historical Commission in charge of deciding how to handle the display of Confederate monuments.

"We’ve got a place at the table. We have to figure out what that place is," Smith said.

Hundreds of students, faculty and alumni have signed petitions asking that the monument be kept down, but supporters, including at least one Board of Governors member, have demanded that it be returned to its pedestal on McCorkle Place.

A recent survey of faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill found that only 3 percent of respondents want the statue returned to its pedestal, while another 26 percent want it displayed somewhere else on campus. More than a third want it moved to a museum or historic site off campus, while 30 percent want it withdrawn from public view.

Although the Board of Governors didn't publicly discuss "Silent Sam" during its meeting Friday, two UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students urged the board to reflect on their own history and the history of students on campus when deciding the fate of "Silent Sam."

"I just want you to think about how many of you are white. It’s not a coincidence or a result of meritocracy that you all sit on the Board of Governors. It’s in large part because of your racial privilege," Jennifer Standish said. "When you decide the fate of 'Silent Sam,' you are doing so because of your racial privilege and at the expense of non-white people. So, I’m asking you to listen to them and to not let the statue come back on campus."

Lindsay Ayling said she has been harassed online for her involvement with "Silent Sam" protests. She said the person posting comments about her and other protesters also communicated with Robert Bowers, the man charged with the recent mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, on the far-right social media platform Gab.

"For the past couple months, he has been actively targeting pretty much any student he sees at an event opposing Silent Sam," Ayling said. "I do want to remember that, when you submit your recommendation for 'Silent Sam' to go back up on its pedestal, the Nazi friend of mass shooter Robert Bowers will be very proud of each and every one of you."

Chancellor raises approved

The Board of Governors did approve 4.99 percent raises for nine of 16 university chancellors. Several chancellors haven't been in office long enough to qualify for raises, and UNC President Margaret Spellings said consideration of a raise for Folt would be done in March, when she will receive her quadrennial review.

North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson also received a four-year contract extension from the board, through June 2023.