The UNC Board of Governors rejected a proposal Friday to build a new history and education center on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus to house the toppled Confederate monument known as Silent Sam.
Instead, board chairman Harry Smith asked members to work with UNC-Chapel Hill leaders to come up with a new recommendation by March 15.
Smith cited concerns about public safety and the proposed $5.3 million price tag of the building in explaining why the BOG could not support the recommendation. BOG members discussed the recommendation during a three-hour closed session and then for about three minutes in open session afterward.
“The goal here is nothing more than to get it right,” Smith said.
Additionally, the board—at the request of member W. Marty Kotis III—directed the Committee on University Governance to review policies regarding student, faculty, and staff conduct and propose changes that provide for disciplinary review and sanctions for engaging “in unlawful activity that impacts public safety,” such as participating in “riots” and resisting arrest.
After protesters tore the Confederate monument down in August, the Board of Governors directed the Board of Trustees for the Chapel Hill campus to come up with “a lawful and lasting path that protects public safety, preserves the monument and its history and allows the university to focus on its core mission of education, research, economic stimulation and creating the next generation of scholars.”
The BOT responded by recommending the construction of a new facility on the fringe of campus that would house Silent Sam, along with exhibits and classroom space aimed at teaching the school’s “full” history. The proposal, which would cost about $5.3 million, was met with a tidal wave of opposition from students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
Dozens of instructors have gone on strike, withholding final grades at the end of the semester, and even threatened not to teach when the spring semester begins if the BOG approved the plan. In addition to statements from faculty, at least thirty student organizations at the Chapel Hill campus signed a letter opposing the proposals, and others across the UNC system have joined in solidarity. More than two hundred current and former UNC athletes have also voiced opposition, and more than two thousand alumni have pledged to withhold contributions until the statute is permanently removed from campus.
UNC trustees and chancellor Carol Folt said repeatedly in unveiling their proposal earlier this month that they would prefer to move the statue off campus but can’t because of state law, citing a provision in a 2015 statute saying objects of remembrance like Silent Sam can only be moved “within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated.”
Protesters gathered early at the BOG meeting, and at least one arrest was reported. By the time the board came back into open session, many had left. As with other protests against Silent Sam, there was a heavy police presence.