N.C. Attorney General, UNC-Chapel Hill interim chancellor sound off on Silent Sam settlement

By: - December 12, 2019 10:52 am

As the UNC Board of Governors prepares to meet via phone conference Friday, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s office has weighed in on the controversial Silent Sam settlement.

Under the agreement, the UNC System handed over $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans – along with the polarizing ”Silent Sam” statue.

“Attorney General Stein personally believes it is an excessive amount of money that should instead be used to strengthen the university and support students,” N.C. Department of Justice Communications Director Laura Brewer wrote in the statement.

“Department of Justice lawyers played no role in negotiating the agreement,” Brewer wrote. “The Board of Governors hired outside counsel and negotiated this deal entirely on its own, sidelining our office.”

“In light of this and the fact that there were no state funds used, our office’s role was limited to advising the University and Board of Governors whether or not the agreement was legal,” Brewer wrote. “A DOJ lawyer conducted that legal review and provided the BOG with a letter summarizing his conclusions. Our office is unable to waive attorney client privilege and provide that letter. However, we have no objection to the University releasing it to you.”

The UNC System has not, as of Thursday, fulfilled any of the Policy Watch’s requests for communications related to the settlement or details of the trust agreement through which the $2.5 million has been paid.

This week the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced it would legally intervene in the Silent Sam suit on behalf of UNC students and faculty, attempting to prevent the $2.5 million from being paid to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

On Wednesday UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz  shared a letter he sent to UNC System leadership and the UNC Board of Governors in which he expressed concern about the settlement and how the money might be used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

From that letter:

Since my appointment as interim chancellor, I have maintained that the monument should never return to campus, and I support the work by members of the Board of Governors to pursue this goal. My understanding is that the settlement approved by the court required the Board of Governors and the UNC System to pay $2.5 million to a charitable trust separate and independent from the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) for purposes limited to “the preservation” of the monument. I also understand that none of the funds in the trust can be used for the benefit or the activities of the SCV unrelated to the monument’s preservation.

Given the contents of the order, I am particularly concerned with recently published post-settlement comments from the SCV regarding how the organization may seek to use funds from the charitable trust, including plans to promote an unsupportable understanding of history that is at-odds with well-sourced, factual, and accurate accounts of responsible scholars. These comments, along with various aspects of the settlement, particularly the requirement that UNC-Chapel Hill reimburse the UNC System for the payment of the funds to the trust, have led to concerns and opposition from many corners of our campus.

I join with others on my campus in stating that the values expressed by the SCV are inconsistent with and antithetical to the values of the University. In addition, I am deeply concerned by the comments from SCV regarding their intended use of funds from the charitable trust.

The SCV’s statement triggered false public accusations in the state and national media that the University is funding SCV ideologies rather than allowing for the preservation of the monument off-campus in order to eliminate the ongoing safety, financial, and legal risks of returning the monument to campus.  I urge the Board of Governors and the UNC System to take any appropriate steps that are available to ensure that the independent trustee administers the charitable trust in strict compliance with the court’s order and the terms of the trust. I also request that the Board and the UNC System consider providing additional information to our University community about this matter.

Reaction to Guskiewicz’s statement was mixed among students and faculty, who have been pressuring the interim chancellor to make a strong statement against the settlement.

Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor fo Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at UNC-Chapel Hill, pointed out that the documents spelling out the statement do not prescribe how the SCV may use the funds as narrowly as either Guskiewicz of the UNC System have suggested.



Guskiewicz is seeking to make his role as chancellor permanent. The board could vote as soon as Friday on his appointment.

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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.