UNC leaders propose 'Silent Sam' remain on campus in new building

UNC-Chapel Hill officials said Monday that they don't believe a controversial Confederate monument should be returned to its pedestal on campus.

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Sarah Krueger
Emmy Victor, WRAL reporters
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officials said Monday that they don't believe a controversial Confederate monument should be returned to its pedestal on campus.
The school's Board of Trustees presented a plan for "Silent Sam" that will be sent to the UNC Board of Governors for approval this month.

Following a closed-door session, Chancellor Carol Folt and other officials proposed that Silent Sam not be returned to its former home on McCorkle Place. Instead, the board proposed that the statue be displayed in an indoor location on campus.

"It was very clear, public safety alone would make it impossible to return it to its base or any outdoor location on our campus," Folt said. "We developed a plan, most important to me, that I believe could be successfully safe, that I believe could actually be based at its core on education."

Officials stated that the proposed plan will allow the statue to be preserved in a safe location, referencing its toppling by protesters in August.

The university would construct a new building at Odum Village, and Folt called it a "center for history and education." The center would tell a fuller, more honest history of the university, officials said.

The new building would cost $5.3 million plus $800,000 in annual operating costs.

"This is so important to us that we are going to make it happen," Folt said of funding the new building.

"Students and community members have risked their physical safety and personal freedom to stand up to the statue’s white supremacist supporters. We have been assaulted, stalked, threatened and harassed," several groups, including Defend UNC, the UNC Black Congress and the UNC Black Student Movement, said in a statement. "From the comfort of a closed session, Chancellor Folt and the Board of Trustees made the cowardly decision to put our community at further risk."

"They are building a safe space for white supremacy and forcing us to pay for it," the letter states, noting a proposed $65 increase in student fees for facilities maintenance.

Other students and faculty also voiced opposition to the plan, and a protest was planned for Monday evening.

Savannah Putnam, UNC-Chapel Hill's student body president, said she doesn't think the plan meets the needs of students.

"I simply can’t support putting a Confederate monument back on campus," Putnam said.

"I’m concerned about the public use of money for continued preservation of a monument most people on campus are opposed to," said Andrew Curley, an assistant professor of geography. "I don’t think statues tell a good history. They’re propaganda from a certain period of time – any statue, anywhere. If you wanted history, you can spend $5 million [and] give everyone on the campus a book on North Carolina history."

But junior Yusra Nasri supports the plan.

"We don’t have to accept what’s occurred in history, but we can observe what’s occurred and learn from it, and a museum seems to be a good place to do that," Nasri said.

Folt said UNC-Chapel Hill officials would have preferred to move Silent Sam off campus, but state law does not allow that.

"I have a preference to move it off-campus, but like everyone here, I swore to obey the law," she said. "Sometimes you don’t agree with the law, but I don’t have the privilege of choosing which laws I agree with and which ones I do not."

"We believe that an on-campus, indoor location, as will be described, is an appropriate measure to preserve the monument and is completely consistent with governing law," said UNC-Chapel Hill general counsel Mark Merritt.

The UNC Board of Governors is expected to review the proposal at its Dec. 14 meeting. It's unclear whether Silent Sam can be moved if the board approves the plan or whether the North Carolina Historical Commission would have to sign off as well.


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