A presentation by Chancellor Carol Folt and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin at the Dec. 7 Faculty Executive Council meeting was interrupted by student activists and widely decried by the council.
Folt, Blouin and UNC general counsel Mark Merritt discussed the Silent Sam proposal during the council’s final meeting of the semester, where many faculty members raised issues with the administration’s plan.
A new issue that surfaced at Friday's meeting was the proposed site for the Center’s proximity to Kehillah Synagogue. Social medicine professor Sue Estroff, who introduced herself as Jewish, said she was concerned about the potential for white supremacist gatherings near a Jewish house of worship.
“I'm asking all of us to understand the wound and the passion of people who, like mine, faced genocide and torture from people who some people thought were wearing uniforms, and were very nice and did what they wanted them to,” Estroff said.
As administrators took a question from the room, five students walked to the front of the room and stood silently before reading excerpts of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he advocates for willingness to disobey unjust laws and critiques the white moderate “who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
Activist and co-chairperson of Black Congress Angum Check said the $2 million dollar proposal for a police force at the Center is meant to "squash student voices."
"You stood up here, and you said you were grateful for the students who had been protesting against this monument, but you want to further militarize the police to squash us and to brutalize us," Check said. "I have been in chokehold by the police multiple times. I cannot study for my exam."
Check, a recipient of the MLK UNC Student Scholarship, then looked directly at Folt and called her a disgrace.
“Never utter MLK's words ever again," Check said. "And I want to tell you all here, if (you're) striking for the faculty, please, please, our safety means this statue does not belong on campus. We do not want that new task force.”
Questions for Folt and other administrators continued after the interruption, with several professors referencing student safety in their comments.
“As the students mentioned, the police do not create safety on our campus, full stop,” UNC studio art professor Hồng-Ân Trương said. “They are the ones who instigate the violence. The proposal has lies.”
Trương went on to say that the administration’s proposal was against the previously expressed wishes of the faculty council.
“I think it is time, overdue time, for the Board of Trustees and for you, Chancellor Folt, to take a moral stance. There is room for you to do civil disobedience,” she said. “... And every moment, every chance that you've had to make the right, moral, courageous decision, it's been left aside.”
After a comment by professor Rohit Ramaswamy about the lack of a public safety focus in the proposal, Folt responded, saying that the intent was to tell every side of Silent Sam’s story.
“If you don't tell those stories, they don't go on any further. You know, you've all been to civil rights museums — I'm not saying you have to have the artifacts there to tell the story, but I think that was the intent, to tell that story. And that was actually what the faculty had advised many times. Part of that — well, excuse me," Folt said, responding to groans and one exclamation of "stop lying" in the crowd. "I'm not lying.”
Folt continued her answer through interruptions.
"The things that were said, the white supremacy that was said at the dedication, you know, that was to be part of the contextualization,” Folt said. “And that's what people had done when they built the exhibit in Carolina Hall. And it was done really well. So people of good will tried to build it that way."
Eventually, the meeting moved on to debate two faculty-submitted resolutions about the proposal. Political science professor Frank Baumgartner put forth a resolution against the proposal. It was amended to say that the faculty council believed the proposal should be rescinded and then passed.
A two-part resolution by public health professor Edwin Fisher was put forth. Fisher called for the creation of a diverse faculty committee that would be consulted about decisions regarding Silent Sam. He also called for funds designated for Silent Sam to be matched with funding for student aid, organizations and pay increases for University housekeeping and services staff, which was struck from the resolution.
There was also significant debate over adding in a statement supporting faculty and teaching assistants participating in the grade strike.
General counsel Merritt added that those striking were exposing themselves and the University to legal risk.
“I would be remiss as University lawyer to say that taking action that’s going to harm students is inappropriate, by faculty members or anyone else on this campus,” Merritt said.
The meeting ended before the second resolution could be voted on. The council's next meeting is Jan. 11, 2019.
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