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As Carol Folt prepares to leave UNC, Silent Sam's future still uncertain


Chancellor Carol Folt looks on as undergraduate students Angum Check and Tamia Sanders take the stage to show their disapproval of the proposal given by Folt about the re-erection of Silent Sam on UNC's campus. 

The Silent Sam controversy is far from over, but by the end of the month Carol Folt won't be a part of it. 

University Chancellor Carol Folt announced Monday she will be stepping down from her position. Though she originally planned to resign following spring 2019 commencement, the UNC-system Board of Governors decided in an emergency meeting Tuesday that Folt's last day would be Jan. 31. 

“As I have reflected on all of this, I’ve decided that this is the right time for me to pass the leadership of our outstanding university, with all its momentum, to the next chancellor, and look ahead for my own ‘new and next,’” Folt wrote in a statement announcing her resignation. 

The announcement came after months of escalating debate surrounding the Confederate monument’s future and its place on campus — a debate in which Folt has often played a critical part.

Silent Sam has incited protest and racial tension since the 1960s, and Folt’s chancellorship was no exception.

“Dear Carol, Step down,” wrote Leah Osae, a graduate student at the time, in a 2015 letter to The Daily Tar Heel, following a clash between pro- and anti-Silent Sam protesters earlier that week. “Step down because your students had to scramble together within a week to prepare themselves for the arrival of anti-Black, xenophobic terrorists to our campus.”

Folt has often been criticized by students who say she has taken the side of University and UNC-system administrators instead of acting in students' interests regarding the statue’s removal and the occasional presence of Confederate or alt-right groups on campus.

“Carol Folt is the white moderate MLK warned us about,” read a poster taped to the monument’s base on Martin Luther King Day in Jan. 2018, “More devoted to order than to justice.”

Signs taped to the base of Silent Sam in January 2018 reproached University administrators for their actions regarding the Confederate memorial.

Decades of protest against the statue came to a head when demonstrators forcibly removed Silent Sam from its pedestal on the night of Aug. 20, 2018. 

In an email to the student body the following day, Folt condemned the demonstrators’ actions as “unlawful and dangerous.” 

A week later, Folt announced that the UNC Board of Trustees would develop a plan for the monument’s “disposition and preservation” by Nov. 15 to present to the UNC-system Board of Governors. 

Six days before that deadline, another campus-wide email from the Chancellor’s Office pushed the date back another month, to Dec. 3.

Folt continued to address the issue with the UNC community, including an apology for the University’s legacy of slavery on UNC’s 225th birthday on Oct. 14.

“As chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I offer our University’s deepest apology for the injustices of slavery, our full acknowledgement of the slave people’s strength in the face of their suffering and our respect and indebtedness to them, and I reaffirm our University’s commitment to facing squarely and working to right the wrongs of history, so they’re never again inflicted,” Folt said.

On Dec. 3, as final exams loomed, Folt and the Board of Trustees presented their plan for the monument’s future, only to be met with swift backlash from the student body and the public. Many critics focused on the plan’s $5.3 million price tag to build a “University History and Education Center” to house the monument.

The BOG rejected the proposal last month and announced it would work with UNC to come up with an alternative plan by March 15

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Folt, it seems, will no longer be a part of presenting that plan.

In another campus-wide email following the proposal's rejection, Folt apologized once again to the campus community. 

“I know how difficult these past few months have been and am sorry that this semester has been so trying and painful for many as we struggle to deal properly with Silent Sam,” Folt said.

In addition to her forthcoming resignation, Folt also announced that she has authorized the removal of the statue’s pedestal, calling it a “continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment.” The pedestal was removed early Tuesday morning, hours after Folt's announcement.

In her Monday night message to the UNC community, Folt expressed her eagerness to move past the Silent Sam controversy during what are now her last two weeks as chancellor. 

“There has been too much recent disruption due to the monument controversy.” Folt wrote in the email. “Carolina’s leadership needs to return its full attention to helping our university achieve its vision and to live its values.”