UNC Board of Governors dodge Silent Sam settlement questions, appoint new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor

By: - December 13, 2019 11:26 am
Protesters gathered in the rain outside Friday’s UNC Board of Governors teleconference meeting.


The UNC Board of Governors and UNC System leaders avoided  questions about the controversial Silent Sam settlement at its teleconference meeting on Friday — even as some of its members called for more transparency on the $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

As expected, the board voted unanimously to make interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz the next permanent chancellor. But even as Guskiewicz and board members expressed concern over the details fo the Silent Sam deal, the board kept most of its discussion on that issue in closed session.

Board member Marty Kotis initiated the discussion during the open session, saying that while he didn’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” the settlement he shared Guskiewicz’s recently expressed concerns about how the Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to use the settlement money.

“I think the red flag for everyone has been this letter from the leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Kotis said.

In the letter, from SCV leader R. Kevin Stone to group members, Stone talks about using settlement funds to build the group a new HQ, among other uses.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis.

Kotis said it was his understanding the settlement funds, to be managed by a trust, would be restricted in ways that conflict with the SCV’s apparent plans. The UNC System has yet to release the trust agreement — or any other communications about the deal requested by Policy Watch and other media outlets.

The UNC System is working to fulfill those requests and make more documents publicly available, system spokesmen said Friday. They could not say when that might happen.

UNC General Counsel Tom Shanahan repeatedly suggested discussion of the settlement might be better conducted in closed session as it could contain legally privileged information. But as other board members pressed on with discussion, Shanahan said he did believe the funds would be restricted in ways not compatible with Stone’s letter.

The letter is also, in part, the basis for a legal intervention in the settlement announced this week by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Board member Jim Holmes, reportedly one of the architects of the settlement, said how the money may be used would be clear once more information about the settlement and trust agreement are publicly released.

“I want to be exceptionally clear,” Holmes said. “There is a document that — if it hasn’t been released, will be released — that outlines the terms of the trust handled by an independent trustee and the uses of the funds are specified.”

“We can’t control what other people say,” Holmes said in reference to Stone’s letter.

UNC Board of Governors member Jim Holmes.

In the absence of a publicly available trust agreement, law experts who have examined the settlement documents dispute that the uses of the $2.5 million are as narrowly specified as Holmes said.

In an interview with Policy Watch after the meeting, Kotis said he and other members of the board have themselves not seen the trust agreement, so they aren’t certain how the funds can be used.

I keep hearing that a lot of documents are going to be released,” Kotis said. “The board members haven’t had a chance to see them yet — I haven’t seen them.”

“I think what Jim Holmes and David Powers are saying is — they SCV say whatever they want, but they can’t use it for that,” Kotis said. “If that’s true, okay — I can live with that. But if they can use it for all the things this guy described, I think there are going to be a lot of concerned people including me. I have no reason to believe that yet besides this guy’s letter — one blustery letter to his group. But we’ll see what the documents say.”

Board member Thom Goolsby, who has called for the Silent Sam Confederate monument to be re-erected on campus at Chapel Hill, said he has also has strong concerns about the deal and the level of public transparency on it.

“I do hope the board of governors and its counsel will make itself available to answer all the questions that are being raised across the state on this issue,” Goolsby said. “It appears to not be dying down to be revving up.”

Indeed, nearly 100 students and community members protested outside the meeting. About 40 of them were let into the meeting during the open session. When the board went into closed session discussion they left the room chanting “No  payout, no BOG, no racist UNC!” The group was escorted back outside by UNC police. Several protesters said they were not allowed to return for the second half of the open session meeting. UNC spokesmen denied that, saying no protesters stayed the length of the closed session for the resumption of the open meeting.

Goolsby said it’s his understanding money has already been transferred — though he did not specify whether that money was from the UNC System to the trust or UNC-Chapel Hill’s endowment to the UNC System.

“It very much concerns me as to what’s been done here,” Goolsby said. “I look forward to all the truth coming out here and there being open discussion between the board, the press and the people of North Carolina as to how this happened and what’s actually going on.”

UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby.

Goolsby has not returned calls for comment from Policy Watch.

On Thursday afternoon, during a meeting of the board’s University Governance committee, board member Tom Fetzer asked that the minutes of the committee’s Nov. 27 meeting — at which the settlement was approved — reflect that he was not on the call during the vote, and therefore did not vote. Fetzer did not speak on the issue during Friday’s meeting and has not returned calls for comment.

The rest of the settlement discussion happened during a closed session of less than a half hour.

When the board came back into open session, it took a vote on Guskiewicz’s appointment as the next chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We’re going to do great things to move us forward,” Guskiewicz told the board via telephone. “I appreciate your confidence in me.”

Guskiewicz’s appointment is immediate at an annual salary of $620,000.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper, one of the few university leaders who attended Friday’s meeting live, declined to answer questions from reporters on the settlement, Guskiewicz or any other topic after the board adjourned.

Guskiewicz, who has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement, will appear at a media event today at 2 p.m. at the Current ArtSpace, 123 W. Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

The University said he will give remarks at the event, but specified that it is not a press conference. It is not yet clear whether he will take any questions.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.