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Extended Silent Sam decision perpetuates uncertainty of statue's future

BOG Comittee Meetings Kellie Hunt Blue, Wendy Floyd Murphy, Matt Brody
Vice-Chair Kellie Hunt Blue (right) and Chair Wendy Floyd Murphy (left) listen as Committee Member Matt Brody (center) presents aspects of a survey which collected data on arears of university faculty pay, retention, and participation across the UNC system and Historically Minority-serving institutions. Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 at the UNC Center for School Leadership Development.

Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced Monday that the UNC-system Board of Governors has extended the deadline for the Silent Sam preservation plan from March 15 to the May 2019 meeting – once again delaying a decision about the contentious monument's future, a cause for concern for student activists on campus.

While Guskiewicz has not commented on what exactly the Board of Governors will do with the statue, he has said on record that he prefers that the monument not return to campus.

“As we move toward the Board of Governors’ new deadline for a decision on the Confederate monument, we will continue engaging with them to share viewpoints from our campus,” Guskiewicz said in a statement sent to The Daily Tar Heel. “I look forward to continuing thoughtful conversations with the Board of Governors in the coming weeks, and I remain optimistic that we will find the right path forward.”

In a letter to the Board of Governors, Chairperson of the Board Harry Smith Jr. said the postponement was to give the team — Board of Trustees members and other appointed individuals — time necessary to do their work. 

“I think they wanted to fully make sure they are giving enough time to the process, and the original March deadline wasn’t enough time,” said Jason Tyson, director of media relations for the UNC system. “I think it was a Board-level decision, and I’m pretty sure that they thought through every scenario, and they fully vetted their decision.”

Lindsay Ayling, a Ph.D. candidate at UNC’s History Department and a member of the grassroots activist organization Defend UNC, said she has been active in protests against the Confederate monument since the beginning of the 2017 school year. She said she believes the postponement of a decision is dangerous for the campus.

“White supremacist groups still think that there is some hope that the statue will return, so they’ve been hosting demonstrations on UNC’s campus, and obviously that puts our community at risk," Ayling said. "The right thing to do would be for the Board of Governors to announce immediately that they will not return the statue in any form to our campus.”

Multiple pro-Confederate groups have come to UNC’s campus to protest, both before Silent Sam was knocked down and in the aftermath of the monument’s removal. These include members of Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County , an organization that has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and individuals who had attended the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

At the end of February, pro- and anti-Silent Sam activists clashed over tensions regarding plaques placed in the Pit and on Franklin Street to memorialize James Cates, a black UNC student murdered by a white supremacist gang on campus in 1970, and the woman referenced in Julian Carr’s 1913 Silent Sam dedication speech, respectively. Those plaques have since been removed.

Ayling speculated that the Board of Governors is waiting to make a decision until after students have left campus for summer break for fear of backlash from student activist organizations. 

“They can’t hide forever, and even if they make this decision over summer break, UNC students will eventually return to campus," Ayling said. “It’s rapidly becoming a UNC tradition to kick off fall semester with massive anti-racist protests.”


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