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The Daily Tar Heel

'We’re talking about a $100K gift': 2017 emails reveal donor concern over Silent Sam


In September 2017, David Routh, vice chancellor for University Development, received a concerned email from alum George S. Rhodes, class of 1969.  

“I am waiting to see what happens to ‘Silent Sam.’” Rhodes wrote. 

Rhodes had attended UNC almost 50 years ago, in the midst of a decade known for political upheaval and social change. But there was one change that Rhodes didn't want to see on today's campus. 

“If the University chooses to defy the wishes of the majority of people and removes it, then I will no longer support Carolina.” Rhodes wrote. “I hate to do this, but the current hysteria about benign monuments and statues saddens me greatly.” 

Rhodes could not be reached for comment.

Vice Chancellor Routh thanked Rhodes for caring enough to write. He then sent a message to three other development officials.

“Can one of you give me Mr. Rhodes’ giving history?” he wrote. 

This email exchange is one of several released in compliance with a public records request and published on Twitter. The emails, posted by the account @ToppleThemAll, detail several conversations between graduates, Trustees and University officials related to the Silent Sam monument.

In another released email chain from the month prior, Paul Gardner, associate dean for advancement at the UNC School of Dentistry, received an email from Charles Norman, a potential donor to the school. Norman had seen news of the Silent Sam protests on Facebook, he wrote.

“You should let the development office know that potential contributors like Sharon and I are very upset and disturbs (sic) about what is going on to erase history,” Norman wrote. “We will have to seriously consider our potential gift in light of how the greater university handles this issue.”

Norman could not be reached for comment.

Gardner forwarded the email to a staff member at the office for University Development, asking that comments like Norman’s be addressed in future meetings.

“I’m sure you’ve seen a few of these,” Gardner wrote in his message. “Would you please make sure it’s included in the discussions with David and the chancellor? Thank you. I'll respond personally to Chuck (we’re talking about a $100K gift).” 

Alyssa Bowen, a Ph.D. student at UNC, said Chancellor Carol Folt and the UNC Administration have shown their feelings about student activists through their actions, or lack thereof. 

“These emails did confirm our beliefs and they showed the media and members of the community who supported us, but hadn't directly interacted with the administration, the more nefarious and deeply-seeded reasons for administrative inaction,” Bowen said in a statement to The Daily Tar Heel. 

Although the emails suggest that the opinion of donors were considered in the University’s decision-making, not all alumni agree with Norman or Rhodes' support of Silent Sam’s preservation.

Last week, eight alumni leaders of UNC’s $4.25 billion fundraising campaign, Campaign for Carolina, signed a letter to the Board of Trustees stating their belief that Silent Sam “should not return to its former location” on McCorkle Place. 

The Campaign for Carolina leaders did not say whether the debate surrounding the Silent Sam monument has had any impact on their fundraising efforts. But UNC’s inaction on the issue has compelled Elizabeth Flake, class of 2011, to stop giving. 

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“We need more leaders in our university and local community to take a firm stance. We need to make it clear that there’s no place for Silent Sam on campus, and be willing to fight for that,” said Flake, who used to donate regularly to the University. 

Flake stopped donating as she became more frustrated with the University’s handling of the situation surrounding Silent Sam. 

“It’s just become evident that the majority of alumni and students, faculty, the local campus community want Silent Sam far away from campus,” Flake said. 

Flake and the eight fundraising leaders joined a growing portion of the UNC community that has spoken out against the monument, including students, professors and community members. 

The Board of Trustees and UNC Board of Governors agreed to set a “lawful and lasting plan” for Silent Sam’s future by Nov. 15. 

With increased pressure from all sides and a deadline looming, all eyes are on Chancellor Folt and the Board of Trustees as students, professors and alumni alike look to the UNC administration for the next steps. 

“It’s unfortunate and concerning that the BOT and BOG are receiving all this feedback,” Flake said. “Yet they continue to drag things out when the decision should be an easy one.”