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The Daily Tar Heel

In less than a month, the Board of Governors will present a plan for Silent Sam

Silent Sam update/future graphic

Following the decision by the UNC-system Board of Governors to extend the deadline to determine the future for Silent Sam from March 15 to late May, there have been no updates from the Board on what to expect from the decision.

Apart from the specific people tasked with working on a plan, members of the Board have not heard much about Silent Sam either.

Jason Tyson, director of media relations for the BOG, said it has been quiet regarding the issue since BOG Chairperson Harry Smith announced the extension of the deadline to the Board.

“These are five very well-qualified members of the Board that have very wide-ranging backgrounds, and I can’t speak for the Board, I can’t make a statement on behalf of the Board on this, but it would seem to me they’ve been tasked with this, and have been given time, and we should see a thorough result,” Tyson said.

After The Daily Tar Heel requested a statement from Smith regarding the upcoming meeting, Tyson said Smith would not be commenting until the group presented their plan. The five members appointed to the group by Smith are Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho. 

Following the BOG’s December rejection of the plan by former Chancellor Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees to house Silent Sam in a new, single-purpose building where it could be historically contextualized, Smith assigned five members of the BOG to work with Folt and the BOT to create a revised plan by March 15. The plan is now in the hands of interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and the BOT. 

BOG member Marty Kotis also said he had not heard anything regarding progress on the plan.

“It’s been more that committee has been studying, and the chair has been working on it – they’ve been looking at different options, but they have not presented anything to the Board of Governors. We haven’t received a briefing on it or anything like that,” Kotis said.

After the monument was pulled down by protesters in August 2018, the timeline to present a plan for the monument was extended from Nov. 15 to December after Folt announced the BOT needed more time. The current deadline in late May will take place when the majority of UNC students are not on campus.

Calvin Deutschbein, a Ph.D. candidate and student activist at UNC, said he expects the BOG's decision on Silent Sam to be largely influenced by the goal of producing electoral wins for the North Carolina Republican Party. Republicans currently hold the majority in the General Assembly, which elects all the members of the Board of Governors.

“I expect they will do a resolution or something like that, requiring Silent Sam to be put somewhere on campus, likely on McCorkle Place, and that it will have some sort of nominal accommodations, so maybe it’ll have a historical plaque, or there will be other monuments or something,” he said. “... It’s certainly my understanding of the law, as well as the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor’s, that the Board of Governors does not have the authority to do that after the monument and pedestal have been removed.”

Following a protest against police brutality in which students organized to leave class on Wednesday, the Orange County Magistrate's Office issued a criminal summons for Deutschbein on a misdemeanor charge of “Injury to Real Property,” related to the breaking of a South Building window.

Deutschbein said he thinks the actions of UNC Police reflect their past efforts to divide student movements.

“I especially want to uplift and honor the contributions of women of color, who really made that event happen. I think it’s unfortunate that I perceive UNC Police as attempting to use arrests and charges to create a political narrative, that erases contributions of women of color by trying to force my name into the news,” he said.

After Silent Sam was pulled down by demonstrators in August, its pedestal remained, as well as a fence that stood around its perimeter. Folt’s announcement of her resignation and order to remove the remnants of the statue in January followed months of demonstrations by activists calling for its permanent removal.

Deutschbein said while he thinks activists should be ready to pull down another statue if it came to that, he doesn’t think that’s a necessary conversation now.

“I don’t personally view the UNC Board of Governors as having a vested interest in the health of the UNC system, but I do see them having a vested interest sort of in an appearance of having an interest in that,” he said.

Kotis said he originally hoped the monument would’ve been contextualized with markers and an additional statue of a prominent African American from UNC, to preserve and learn from history and Southern heritage. He now believes the monument should be relocated off campus so the BOG can focus on education.

“When you look at the University overall, and the University system overall, we’re not a museum, we’re not a lot of things," he said. "I think there’s a lot of mission creep in the University that needs to be dialed back, and we need to focus a lot more on simply education and educating the people of the state as free as practical.”

The Board of Governors will discuss a preservation plan for Silent Sam at the May 20-22 meeting.


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