UNC chancellor Carol Folt meets with Faculty Executive Committee about Silent Sam controversy
UNC-Chapel Hill leaders will hold campus forums to solicit ideas for the future of Silent Sam, and Chancellor Carol Folt said she’s already received suggestions from people across the state.
One proposal was made Thursday by a group of African American faculty members, who say the toppled statue does not belong anywhere at UNC. A statement Thursday signed by 56 professors said: “To reinstall the Confederate monument to any location on UNC’s campus is to herald for the nation and for the world that UNC is not a welcoming place for Black people.”
Also on Thursday, Folt and UNC Provost Bob Blouin met with the university’s Faculty Executive Committee, a group of elected faculty leaders. It marked the beginning of the campus process to find an answer to the fiercely debated question of where the Confederate statue should go.
“We all have to try very hard to sincerely work together to find a solution that is sustainable and consistent with our values,” Blouin told the group.
Folt said she had received a flurry of emails with ideas from people inside and outside the university.
“People are putting their own time, their own minds into ways to find a solution,” she said. “That, to me, is a real message of hope and engagement. That doesn’t mean all those suggestions line up. You know, there’s a lot to do, but these are heartfelt suggestions.”
Campus leaders have until Nov. 15 to come up with a plan that will be presented to the UNC system’s Board of Governors. That leaves just 10 weeks to study the possible relocation of the Confederate monument, including the feasibility of spaces to be considered. Folt said that would involve questions of engineering, safety, cost and educational use.
And she conceded that options may be constrained by available time and the 2015 state law that limits what can be done with historic monuments. “We’re all working in good faith that if we find something that would be really wonderful, we can also work with the legal entities to find a way to get it done,” Folt said.
Folt has not mentioned any future sites for the statue. The Administrative Board of the Library wrote to Folt and Blouin last week, saying Wilson Library, which houses Southern history and special collections, was not an appropriate place for it. They cited a fire hazard and a negative impact on the learning environment at the library.
Vice Provost of University Libraries and University Librarian Elaine Westbrooks wrote to staff Thursday with plans to hold a series of staff meetings to discuss the issue. “It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the Confederate monument will come to Wilson Library, nor is it something that we can assume is unthinkable,” she wrote.
At Thursday’s Faculty Executive Committee, there were questions about the process and exactly who would be in charge of the effort. Folt said it would be led primarily the campus Board of Trustees, which three years ago voted to rename the former Saunders Hall, which had been named for 19th Century Ku Klux Klan leader William Saunders. The board also called for a campus history task force, but instituted a 16-year moratorium on the renaming of other buildings.
Eric Muller, a law professor, said that moratorium had contributed to the recent growing pressure on campus. “Trying to freeze conversations in time, I think, can produce unhelpful consequences,” he said.
But he thanked Folt for her statement last week that she would prefer that Silent Sam not be returned to the “front door” of the university at McCorkle Place, just off Franklin Street. Muller said there was a “palpable” sense of gratification on campus when Folt’s statement came out last Friday.
Cary Levine, an art professor, said there had been tension between the administration and students and faculty. The process ahead should be an opportunity to mend relationships, he said. “Bring them into the fold in a way that allows them a true voice,” he said to Folt and Blouin.
Barbara Entwisle, a sociology professor, warned that there may not be a good solution. “I don’t think, in the end, anybody is going to happy with the outcome of this,” she said. “I think that’s completely understandable. There are just so many different points of view and you have constraints in terms of what you can do.”
Entwisle added that there is still plenty of work for UNC to do “to be a fully welcoming campus.”
The statement from African American faculty Thursday pointed out that when Silent Sam was erected in the Jim Crow era of 1913, no one could have imagined black students and professors at UNC.
“We have witnessed a monument that represents white supremacy in both the past and present be venerated and protected at the same time that we have been asked to serve as examples of diversity and inclusion,” the statement said. “That is a demoralizing burden.”
The black faculty group called for the removal of both the statue and its large, empty pedestal. The objects have no place at a 21st century campus sometimes called “the University of the People,” the statement said.
Folt stressed that the question of what to do with Silent Sam is only the start of “what has to be a nationwide conversation” about grappling with history.
“We have to cross bridges between a public university and the people in the state,” she said. “We have to find ways to work across difference.”
Blouin said he hoped that in 20 years, people would look back on the Silent Sam situation as an instructive case study.
“This is much more than about a statue,” he said. “It’s really about discourse, and how we as a campus can come together and have honest, transparent conversations about difficult, challenging issues. ... We as a campus need to grow significantly from this.”