Sixteen former members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees have signed a letter criticizing the university system’s Board of Governors’ decision to force outgoing Chancellor Carol Folt from her position early and for putting “politics ahead of the best interests of education, research, and patient care.”

The saga over the Confederate statue Silent Sam has embodied that conflict, the members wrote, calling on university system leaders “to govern for the common good, rather than based on individual political preferences.”

In a letter to the campus community on Monday, Folt announced she would be stepping down at the end of the academic year and that she was ordering the base of Silent Sam removed from its spot in McCorkle Place, citing campus safety. Protesters had torn the statue off the base in August. Before day broke on Tuesday, the pedestal and accompanying plaques were gone

Folt had made the announcement while the Board of Governors was in a closed session meeting and without disclosing her plans to move the pedestal. 

Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Governors called an emergency meeting and announced they would accept Folt’s resignation—but that she would leave her job at the end of this month, rather than in May, as she initially intended. 

“Since arriving at Chapel Hill, Carol Folt has stood strong for the University,” the former trustees’ statement reads. “We are much better for the work she has done. However, during her tenure, increasing pressure from Raleigh and the Board of Governors has put politics ahead of the best interests of education, research, and patient care. Silent Sam came to embody it all.

“Tuesday, Chancellor Folt paid the price for her leadership, and North Carolina lost another great opportunity to resurrect its history as a progressive part of this nation. Instead of allowing Chancellor Folt to leave office on her terms—at the end of this academic year—the Board of Governors held an emergency session and forced her to resign in two weeks. It is the same protocol the Board exercised when President Margaret Spellings resigned. The Board could not be satisfied to let them leave on their own terms.”

The group goes on to express support for Folt and the decision to remove the remnants of the monument, saying it had “become a lightning rod for violence and intolerance on this campus and had to be removed.”

It’s unclear what will happen with the base of the statue. The Board of Governors last year had charged UNC-Chapel Hill trustees with devising a disposition plan for the monument that would preserve it, but the board rejected a proposal to build a $5.3 million history center on campus to house it. Members of both bodies were tasked with working together to come up with a new plan this spring. 

It’s likely that the pedestal would be covered by the same 2015 law governing when and where “objects of remembrance” can be moved as the toppled statue. The law defines an object  of remembrance as “a monument, memorial, plaque, statue, marker, or display of a permanent character that commemorates an event, a person, or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.” Silent Sam’s pedestal includes plaques and inscriptions. 

Folt said she was “disappointed” by the Board of Governors decision to force her out early. Interim UNC system president Bill Roper will name Folt’s successor. 

“UNC has been a beacon for progress in North Carolina over the past 225 years,” the former trustees wrote. “At this nation’s beginning,s the leaders of our state understood the value of educating its citizens and chartered a university with access for all. Now, it is our collective responsibility to govern for the common good, rather than based on individual political preferences. We are proud of Folt’s leadership in making Carolina a better place and, in doing so, making North Carolina better. We ask now that those charged with governing UNC put aside divisiveness so we can implement our shared, core mission for the people of this state.”

Read the group’s full letter below:

UNC Former Trustees Letter Re Folt by Sarah on Scribd