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After hours of closed-door meetings, UNC is given a deadline on Silent Sam decision

savannah putnam bot meeting

Student Body President Savannah Putnam attends a special meeting of the Board of Trustees the morning of Aug. 28 at Paul J. Rizzo Conference Center.

Behind closed doors in conference rooms separated by a seven minute drive, the Board of Trustees and UNC-system Board of Governors concocted two statements that institute a Nov. 15 deadline for Silent Sam's future. 

The BOT convened at the Rizzo Center at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. Normally the BOT holds its meetings in the Carolina Inn, but an exception was made for this short-notice special meeting held simultaneously to the BOG's private gathering down the road.

Chancellor Carol Folt was communicating with both groups, working with leaders of both the school and state university system to put UNC in a position to develop a "lawful and lasting" plan that will conclude the statue's travels.

“We believe that we will spend a great deal of the time in closed session,” said BOT chairperson Haywood Cochrane. “But we will come back into open session from time to time as we need to discuss things openly.”

After Folt gave remarks, the BOT left the room and entered closed session.

During this time, the BOG released a brief statement, in which they directed the Chancellor and the BOT to generate a plan for the monument’s “disposition and preservation” by the November deadline. 

The meetings didn't generate solutions for the relocation of the statue, just a confirmation that the parties responsible for executing the next steps will be the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor.

"We are grateful for (the BOG's) support in putting this back in the hands of the campus that has the issue," Cochrane said. 

The Trustees returned to the open session at around 2 p.m. The first thing they did was disseminate their own stand-alone statement, which reiterated that dealing with Silent Sam was now a task of the University. 

“This is a compilation of thoughts from many trustees,” Cochrane said. “I’ve lost count of the number of iterations this represents, but I think it’s either seven or eight.” 

The only order of business left was to confirm the statement as the BOT’s public position, but before it could be ratified, dissent emerged from two Trustees who were connected via intercom. 

First, Hari Nath asked for a few words to be added to a sentence in the third paragraph — a small request that was not pursued. Then, Bill Keyes offered the more aggressive suggestion of rewording the document’s language, taking emphasis off the Chancellor’s name, and reaffirming the importance of the BOT. 

“This is a statement about the Board’s view,” Keyes said. “Every other paragraph we mention the Chancellor. I love the Chancellor as much as everybody else does. I respect the role of the Chancellor and all of that. I would like to just say, this is what we believe as a board.”

Keyes wanted to erase the Chancellor’s name in a few places, reword some sentences and add in the word “we” in lieu of acknowledging Folt. He was met with heavy pushback from other BOT members. Multiple Trustees made statements affirming the Chancellor’s importance in the upcoming decision process, and spoke about the specific directions they received from the systems board to collaborate on a solution with the Chancellor. 

After a few more Trustees spoke out in Folt’s defense, Nath came back in over the intercom: “I’m completely lost,” he said. He said he wasn't sure what the new motion was for. 

“You’re no more lost than others in this room,” Cochrane said.

Nath had one more suggestion. He asked for resolutions to be presented to the BOT six hours before meetings, to avoid laborious sessions of word-smithing. 

Cochrane told him the day’s proceedings were too open-ended for the Board to provide the document in advance. 

“These events are somewhat real time, very fluid,” Cochrane said. “Other times we might have more chance to deliberate.” 

"It’s our job to hold the University accountable"

Student Body President Savannah Putnam was asked to leave a conference call last week, in which sensitive information was discussed among the BOT, Cochrane said in an email to UNC Media Relations Manager Kate Luck. 

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After it happened, Putnam contacted her administration in a group Slack message that The Daily Tar Heel received from an anonymous source, saying, “I just got kicked off the BOT call, I should be getting a follow up later but that’s something peculiar to say the least.” After some questions from her team she added, “We don't know if it was malicious or not.” 

Putnam was asked to leave the call because of the Board’s conflict of interest policy. The SBP had made a public statement about the monument's removal, presenting a problem for the Board. In a statement, Cochrane said that she then had “a conflict of interest with her role as a Trustee.”

“I suggested she recuse herself from the call,” Cochrane said in the email. “And she agreed.”

At the meeting on Tuesday, Cochrane asked for any Board member who was aware of a present conflict of interest to identify it. No one responded, and Putnam stayed at the table.

Putnam declined to comment on being asked to leave the call and is intent on being an active part on the solution process. She said she doesn't want the student voice to be silenced by the individuals making the decisions.

“It’s our job to hold the University accountable, make sure they're at the right side of history,” she said. “We’ll do our very best to get a seat at that table.”

In a message geared toward students of the University, Folt said undergraduates would be an important part of the University’s next steps. 

“I’m grateful that we have a chance to really look at this in a way that gives us the opportunity to truly find a solution, that is safe and allows our campus to continue to function,” Folt said. “I ask that they understand I don't have that fully developed yet, but we will reach out to people.”

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