With Folt leaving, UNC awaits Silent Sam report

By: - January 31, 2019 11:14 am

Last week, the UNC Board of Governors voted to release an “after-action report” on last year’s toppling of the Silent Sam Confederate monument.

Nearly a week later, the report has yet to be released.

The report, prepared by the Parker Poe law firm, was supposed to be publicly available last Friday. It is still being vetted by the system’s lawyers, according to UNC System spokesman Jason Tyson.

The vote to release the report came in the wake of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt’s abrupt resignation earlier this month. Both Folt and former UNC System President Margaret Spellings resigned after tensions with the Board of Governors. Members of the board publicly criticized both Folt and Spellings for their handling of the lead-up to the statue’s toppling and aftermath.

In her resignation announcement, Folt also announced she was ordering the removal of the statue’s base from where it stood at McCorkle place. That order drew condemnation from board members.

Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith spoke to his disappointment with Folt’s decision after the board’s meeting Friday.

Chair Harry Smith

“I think that was a little bit of my frustration that I struggle with a little bit because I was on my heels personally when that happened,” Smith said of Folt’s order. “One of the biggest concerns that I had was that the actions that were taken would harm the result that we may have gotten if we allow the process to completely weigh out.”

Last month, the board rejected a controversial, $5.3 million plan from Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees to return the Silent Sam Confederate statue to the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. Folt and the trustees made it clear they would prefer to move the statue off campus, but the board of governors say a 2015 state law created to prevent the removal of Confederate statues made that impossible.

The board of governors formed a task force of its own members to join with the trustees in crafting an alternate plan for the monument to be presented to the full board by March 15.

Last week, Dr. William Roper, interim president of the UNC system, said he does not believe the statue should return to its original site at McCorkle Place. He did not rule out relocating it somewhere else on campus.

As the board struggles over the issue, Roper is set to name an interim chancellor for UNC-Chapel Hill.

Last week he said he expects that chancellor could be in place for as long as 18 months during a search for a new, permanent leader. The Silent Sam controversy is among the issues he expects the interim chancellor to have a hand in resolving, he said.

Portions of a draft of the after-action plan on the statue’s toppling were leaked earlier this month. Board members have emphasized portions of the draft that were critical of protesters, including a controversial passage that said protesters threw frozen water bottles, eggs and other things at police officers. First-person news reports and accounts from those on the ground do not support that assertion, and as yet, no publicly available reports have documented any such incident.

The continued characterization of those protesting the statue as violent and dangerous to campus safety led to a feeling on the board that university administrators and even the courts have not been tough enough on protesters.

The board passed a resolution last month to have the board’s University Governance Committee craft minimum sanctions for students, faculty and staff who “engage in unlawful activity that impacts public safety — including assault on law enforcement officers, disobeying lawful orders of law enforcement officers, inciting riots, resisting arrest, participation in a riotous act, and other acts of violence at any of the constituent institutions.”

The sanctions will include suspension, termination and expulsion, according to the resolution.

At a public comment session before last week’s meeting, students and community members sounded off on the tensions over protest and the board’s move to crack down on protesters.

Margaret Hassel, the attorney general for the undergraduate honor court at UNC-Chapel Hill, questioned the motivations of the board.

“This resolution doesn’t spring from a commitment to creating a safe campus,” Hassel said. “ I can’t find a record of any similar vigor in quashing alcohol abuse, sexual violence or other forms of harm or chaos. “

“I hope that you, like I, want Carolina to have a safe campus, one that puts honor and integrity first,” Hassel said. “I hope sincerely that this resolution was a misstep and not a signal that you care more about crushing people who speak up for the descendants of enslaved people who built the campus around Silent Sam than you do about understanding why honor required that the statue come down.”

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.