On the heels of a decision to indefinitely postpone the unveiling of a Silent Sam plan, the Board of Governors met this week, keeping the issue of the confederate monument entirely off the docket.
Chairperson Harry Smith, however, did acknowledge after the meeting that his thinking on the issue has evolved in the time since the BOG took responsibility for the statue away from UNC. Currently, five members of the BOG are working on the issue, in conjunction with UNC and its Board of Trustees, ever since the original plan of creating a freestanding building to house the statue was shot down in December.
Smith called his original wish — an immediate resurrection of the statue — “quick and uneducated,” and now contends he personally believes placing Silent Sam back on McCorkle place is “not the right path.”
“It would’ve been easy to rush, make the decision and move on, but I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” Smith said. “I don’t think there’s a new deadline.”
In the public comments section of the meeting, students and activists gave prepared remarks in which they expressed concern regarding police presence on campus and the role of public safety.
“I would urge you to take action to bring these forces under control, beginning with a minimum of disarmament or force reductions,” said Calvin Deutschbein, a fourth year doctoral student of computer science, “and moving toward the model common at so many other institutes of learning of having no police force at all.”
In the full board meeting, the attitude toward campus police was starkly different than that expressed by the visiting public. A trustee from UNC-Charlotte made remarks in the first meeting of the board since the shooting at their school; afterward Smith recommended increasing the size of campus police and the public safety team.
“I really want to take a chance to thank our police departments around the system and all they do,” he said.
Although support for police was strong in the halls of the UNC System, activist Lindsay Ayling said that language from the BOG and administration has emboldened and justified threats she and others receive from pro-monument groups.
“They’re lending legitimacy to that narrative,” she said, citing multiple instances in which the BOG and others have condemned the anti-monument movement.
BOG member Marty Kotis has previously referred to the threatened TA grade holdout from the fall as “terrorism,” which Ayling said is eerily similar to how far-right groups characterize the movement online.
UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken said what began as an anti-racist campaign “has now devolved into a concerted effort focused on the opposition to, and destruction of, all forms of campus authority.”
Outgoing BOG member Joe Knott said in a News & Observer op-ed that the failure to immediately return Silent Sam to McCorkle Place represents the triumph of “lawlessness, threats and violence” on campus.
Ayling feels the anti-monument movement has been unfairly represented by the administration, and has led to inappropriate treatment from police. She said officers confiscated her group’s canned goods at a potluck event in the fall, which drew the attention of pro-monument counter protestors, under the pretense that they could’ve used the cans as projectiles.
“We were just trying to gather food for the homeless,” she said.
In a period in which the University and the UNC-system are both helmed by interim leaders, the BOG is taking its time with the monument issue. Smith acknowledged that there are many different complicators and stakeholders involved in the decision making process, and the process is still ongoing.
“Looking in the rearview mirror ain’t going to help us get it right,” he said. “We’re going to do the right thing.”
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