RALEIGH — Silent Sam, the controversial Confederate statue that formerly stood on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, may turn into a rallying election issue for liberal activists, a member of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors told Carolina Journal.
Toppled by protesters Aug. 20, Silent Sam has evoked loud arguments from conservatives and liberals. Some, like BOG member and former state Sen. Thom Goolsby, say the law requires UNC to put the statue back. Others, like board Chairman Harry Smith, say the system’s governing board hasn’t discussed how it will handle the situation and won’t act until it hears recommendations from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the BOT will present those recommendations to the BOG Nov. 15, just nine days after North Carolina’s midterm elections.
The issue is a flashpoint, and an important topic — though not one that undermines the policymaking duties and accomplishments of university leaders, UNC President Margaret Spellings said.
Folt, who has taken some heat for her handling of the situation, is in no jeopardy of losing her job, Spellings added.
“I’m her boss, and she has one of — if not the hardest — job in the system. Period. I don’t think any chancellor would like to have to deal with Silent Sam. It’s very thorny, and safety has to be right at the top of our list of things to consider,” Spellings said.
The situation is further complicated by a weedy governance system, Spellings said. UNC-Chapel Hill’s trustees play an important role in decision making, and the N.C. Historical Commission also gives input into the fate of confederate monuments.
But state legislators, who represent the people, are the most essential players— only they have power to change the law.
Chapel Hill faculty and students strongly oppose the restoration of Silent Sam. Those opinions matter, BOG member Marty Kotis told CJ, but they are just one part of a larger electorate.
A recent Civitas poll found 70 percent of North Carolinians disapprove the illegal takedown of Silent Sam, though many residents favor the legal removal of Confederate monuments.
University trustees should gather all perspectives, Smith told CJ. Administrators have established an email account, [email protected], to collect opinions from the public.
North Carolina General Statute 100-2.1 is clear, Goolsby said.
“Silent Sam needs to go back up [within 90 days of its removal] on that same spot. Anything short of that is giving into mob rule and anarchy, and I won’t agree with it.”
Taxpayers should voice their opinions, since they foot the majority of UNC’s bill, Goolsby said.
The BOG hasn’t discussed what to do with Silent Sam, Kotis said, but vandalism and mob rule shouldn’t be rewarded.
“I would put the statue back and [hold] any discussions about moving it after that,” he said.
UNC-Chapel Hill, the system’s flagship campus, holds influence among state lawmakers, and could push them to overturn G.S. 100-2.1, Kotis said.
The personal opinions of UNC leaders shouldn’t factor into Silent Sam’s fate, Spellings said.
“My role … is to be open-minded about it. I think one of the things that is so troubling to me about where we are politically is that — while I have my own views — I’m not immune to listening and to hearing others and to understanding what the consequences are of removing it, or of putting it back up, or of moving it somewhere else,” she said.
“What are the considerations?”
Kari Travis is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.