Members of UNC Board of Governors voice concern over handling of 'Silent Sam' statue

Posted September 7, 2017 10:24 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 9:55 a.m. EDT

Barrier placed around UNC 'Silent Sam' statue

— More than a dozen members of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors are upset with President Margaret Spellings and Chairman Lou Bissette over a lack of communication regarding the handling of the Silent Sam Statue.

Fifteen members of the 28-member board signed on to the Aug. 22 letter, which voices frustration about a letter Spellings and UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt sent to Gov. Roy Cooper in regard to the “Silent Sam” confederate monument.

On Aug. 21, Folt and Spellings sent the letter to Cooper’s office expressing fear the statue could spark protests that could lead to property damage. The letter was sent one day ahead of a rally in which hundreds of students marched through Franklin Street to demand the removal of the statue.

In the Aug. 22 letter, board members say that the correspondence to Cooper was not vetted through the entire board and was “a unilateral decision” that was made “without sufficient board knowledge or input.”

The letter states that a conference call involving the full Board of Governors should have been arranged or a rough draft should have been circulated among members for approval prior to its delivery to Cooper.

“We do not believe that letter was the right course of action to take to achieve the top priority of protecting our students and secondarily, our campuses in public property. As a matter of fact, we believe it had the opposite effect,” the letter states. “The letter exuded a weakness and hand wringing that does not accurately reflect the board’s opinion about how the potential of campus unrest should be treated.”

Members who signed on to the letter said they believe Cooper’s response to the letter, which was widely circulated in the media, “dramatically and dangerously escalated the potential for unrest and violence at the Chapel Hill campus and perhaps others as well.”

In a reply, dated Aug. 23, Spellings and Bissette said formal procedures were followed when the Board of Governors’ seven committee chairs met to discuss the threat surrounding the Silent Sam statue and consulted attorneys, before discussing a plan to send the letter to Cooper.

Three people were arrested in connection with the Silent Sam protest, including 19-year-old Claude Wilson, a UNC student who was taken into custody after officers said he retreated from the crowd and pushed away officers when he was told to move.

Board members in their letter took further issue with the way Spellings and Bissette communicate with board members on a regular basis.

The letter alleges that many members of the Board of Governors learned of an incident in which a 5-year-old boy was stabbed to death by his mother in a graduate student housing complex through the media and people on campus rather than through Spellings or Bissette.

“When we did finally hear from you, far too many hours after the tragic event, it was an afterthought (3rd paragraph of a 3 paragraph letter that began ‘in addition’) in a letter about another matter.

In regards to the death, the letter from Spellings and Bissette said the media was alerted to the crime through social media and other sources before they were able to get enough information to release to the Board of Governors.

Board members say Spellings' and Bissette's choice to communicate with committee chairs, who are appointed by the chairman and not the Board of Governors, is unacceptable and leads to the full opinion of the board being excluded from important issues.

“We do recognize there is a dissatisfaction with the approach to information flow, and we plan to reserve time at the next board meeting to discuss steps we can take to make improvements,” the letter from Spellings and Bissette read.