Professors from almost every department at UNC signed a letter sent to Chancellor Carol Folt and Provost Bob Blouin demanding leadership and answers regarding the removal of Silent Sam. According to Professor Edwin Fisher of the UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, as of Thursday night, over 320 signatures had been procured.
The letter, dated Aug. 25, 2018, came five days after Silent Sam was forcibly removed by protesters. It recounts how last year, university administrators failed to firmly address how the statue has been the root of divisiveness and public concern.
According to Fisher, who coordinated the email, the growing response from UNC faculty has been “remarkable.” Fisher explained that after sending the email to others in the Health Behavior Department regarding his sentiments toward Silent Sam’s removal, he was encouraged to circulate it through other departments to gather response and support.
Distinguished professors ranging from the Department of Mathematics to Department of Dramatic Art, along with several who had served the Dean themselves, were among the list of signees.
“We need a vision from Carol Folt,” Fisher said, urging the Chancellor to “not play some kind of rhetorical dance with the UNC-system Board of Governors.”
Folt met with the Board of Trustees on Tuesday to discuss Silent Sam's future. The administration was given a Nov. 15 deadline to present a plan to the Board of Governors.
“We will look at all options, including one that features a location on campus to display the monument in a place of prominence, honor, visibility, availability and access, where we can ensure public safety, ensure the monument’s preservation and place in the history of UNC and the nation while also following appropriate processes to secure any needed approvals from the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, the N.C. Historical Commission and the North Carolina General Assembly,” one of Folt's most recent statements said.
"The time is now for the university administration to show leadership, not bureaucratic obfuscation," the letter said. "Show us that you and the university do indeed stand for Lux et Libertas, not sustaining and and enforcing the symbols of human cruelty."
The letter addressed the administration's insistence that safety is a top priority.
"This is not about safety," it said. "It is about the heart of our country. For our administration to continue to dodge that simple reality is coy and cruel."
To Fisher, and hundreds of other UNC professors, Folt’s response (and lack of) is “enormously embarrassing” and “unacceptable.”
“To even talk about a racist symbol being put in a place of prominence and honor is a disgrace to the university, the state, and U.S. higher education,” Fisher said.
Also on Tuesday, UNC’s Faculty Executive Committee also received 41 signatures by department chairs in the College of Arts and Sciences in opposition to returning Silent Sam to campus.
“Returning the statue to any prominent location would reaffirm the values of white supremacy that motivated its original installation,” the email reads. “Moreover, to do so would undermine the moral and physical security of all members of our community.”
Professor Deb Aikat of UNC’s School of Media and Journalism serves on the Committee and shares views similar to those of Fisher.
“There needs to be an attempt on the consensus or seek the opinion of the campus community instead of a top-down decision,” Aikat said. “I have been at this University for 20 years and truth be told, I have not seen any other issue to have such a long-standing division on the campus.”
Aikat and Fisher both agreed the letter represents the voice of the people and the Carolina community, a body waiting for Folt to act on its behalf.
“There will be some action or an inaction. There can be nothing else,” Aikat said.
Both also encourage students to get involved and speak directly to the administration, their professors and family about the future of Silent Sam.
“This university is the university of the people,” Aikat said. "I think there has to be a public conversation."
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