UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced Monday evening that not only would she be resigning at the end of the academic year, but she was also authorizing the removal of the base of the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. 

After nearly six years heading up the university, Folt said she would step down after graduation.

Folt said little about her decision, only that it was “the right time for me to pass the leadership of our outstanding university, with all its momentum, to the next chancellor.” The news comes about three months after Margaret Spellings, UNC system president, announced she would be stepping down in March.

In a letter to the UNC community, Folt highlighted a $2.25 billion fundraising effort, a $500 million scholarship campaign, the university’s forward-looking plans, and life-saving research it has funded. But the past couple of years have also been tumultuous for UNC leaders, particularly Folt, who was often called out by name by those protesting Silent Sam.

I am writing today to let you know that I have decided to step down as chancellor following graduation, at the end of the academic year: https://t.co/ehdKl1M0Rz pic.twitter.com/3doa3cTosW— Carol Folt (@ChancellorFolt) January 14, 2019

Prior to the figure of a Confederate soldier being torn down in August, Folt had said she would prefer the statue be moved off campus, but that the university’s hands were tied by a 2015 law restricting when and where such monuments can be moved. Throughout more than a year spent figuring out what to do with the monument, Folt and other UNC leaders were frequently criticized as not including input from students and faculty who felt unsafe with the monument present and felt over-policed compared to groups who came to campus in its defense.

Last month, Folt and UNC trustees unveiled a proposal to build a new, $5.3 million history and education center to house Silent Sam and plans to reconfigure McCorkle Place, where the base of the statue still stands. But the Board of Governors, which oversees the UNC system, rejected that plan – citing costs and safety concerns – and asked several members to work with UNC officials on a new plan due this spring. 

In the letter, Folt said she is authorizing the removal of the base of the monument and accompanying tablets from McCorkle Place for safety reasons. A safety panel contracted by UNC trustees concluded the university “faces a high risk of violence, civil disorder, and property damage if the monument is restored to campus.”

“The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment,” she wrote. “No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe.”

It’s unclear what will happen with those items; Folt said the base and tablets “will be preserved until their future is decided.”

“While I recognize that some may not agree with my decision to remove the base and tablets now,” Folt wrote, “I am confident this is the right one for our community—one that will promote public safety, enable us to begin the healing process and renew our focus on our great mission.”

In a statement, three members of the UNC Board of Trustees—Charles Duckett, Julia Grumbles, and Lowry Caudill—said they support Folt’s decision to order the removal of Silent Sam’s pedestal and praised her leadership. 

“The chancellor has ultimate authority over campus public safety, and we agree Chancellor Folt is acting properly to preserve campus security,” they wrote. “Nothing is more important than keeping our campus community and visitors as safe as possible.”

The UNC Board of Governors, which oversees the entire system, was less pleased. In a statement, chairman Harry Smith said that, while Holt tendered her resignation during the board’s closed session today, she did not disclose her plans for Silent Sam. 

“The Board of Governors was not privy to the Chancellor’s announcement prior to her statement being made public,” Smith said. “We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action. It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the Board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner. In December, the Board developed and articulated a clear process and timeline for determining the best course of action for the future of the Monument—and this remains unchanged.”

Within hours of Folt’s announcement, anti-Silent Sam activists gathered to celebrate the news at the base of the pedestal. 

“Tar Heels tore this statue down. Anti-racists run this town.” pic.twitter.com/PqpWDyh0l9— Cole Villena (@colevillena) January 15, 2019

One reply on “UNC Chancellor Resigns, Authorizes Removal of Confederate Monument Base”

  1. I’m of the opinion that Silent Sam represents simultaneously the remembrance of dead soldiers who fought out of loyalty to their state and, unfortunately, a glorification of antebellum racism. It’s too bad that no way was found to separate those two aspects. Regardless, the university is more important than any statue. Recent events had transformed McCorkle Place into a killing field in the culture war. In such an environment, the statue became a symbol of what everyone hates in the other side. Whether or not Folt’s actions square with the letter of the law, I’m hopeful that they bring us one step closer to settling this issue.

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