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'Reparations, retract or resign': Guskiewicz challenged on $2.5 million Silent Sam deal

Activists make demands for Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on the floor of the Faculty Governance Council for "Reparations, retract or resign" on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 in Kerr Hall. They referred to a settlement between the University and the Sons of Confederate Veterans to give the SCV Silent Sam and a trust fund of $2.5 million.

A group of students marched onto the floor when interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz was introduced at Friday's Faculty Council meeting and chanted three demands: "Reparations, retract or resign."

The students were referring to the recently-announced settlement between the UNC System and the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans to give Silent Sam to SCV and set up a $2.5 million trust. The settlement was approved by the North Carolina Attorney General. 

Opposition to the settlement has been ongoing. Black Congress and the Black Student Movement hosted a rally in response on Thursday, and Professor William Sturkey published an opinion piece against the settlement in The New York Times. Additionally, the Campus Safety Commission wrote a statement to express its disapproval. 

The Faculty Council meeting began with remarks from Chairperson of the Faculty and history professor Lloyd Kramer. 

He called Silent Sam a "zombie" of UNC’s past with slavery and racial tensions.

“The interim chancellor would not say that he thinks the decision to give $2.5 million to the SCV is immoral,” said professor emerita of sociology Sherryl Kleinman. “He hedged. That is a major problem.”

Faculty called for the University administration to make a public statement against the BOG decision.

“This money is going to embolden people with connections to paramilitary groups,” English and African American studies professor Sharon Holland said. “We know this. This is a fact. Am I not right about this? You are talking about people’s safety and this is unconscionable.”

Guskiewicz sent a campus-wide email when the decision was announced, expressing his appreciation to the BOG and emphasizing that Silent Sam will not return to campus. He followed up on Friday with a message saying that, while the settlement ensures that Silent Sam will not return to campus, "issues of racism and injustice persist, and the University must confront them." 

"This is a challenging time," he said in the statement. "On one hand, the monument will never return to campus, and for this I am especially grateful. On the other hand, some of the values and initiatives we have prioritized since I became Interim Chancellor are being tested."

The Faculty Council drafted and motioned to amend a resolution formally stating the faculty opposition to the decision. 

“We condemn the settlement that gives the statues and $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” it said. “Such a settlement supports white supremacist activity and therefore violates the University’s mission as well as its obligations to the state.”

Many in the UNC community have voiced concern and outrage over Guskiewicz’s potential role in the settlement. But he said he has no involvement in BOG negotiations. 

“Chancellor Guskiewicz — people want to hear from you that you are with us,” communications professor Patricia Parker said. “You can take the pulse of this room and see where we are.” 

She said the staff is asking for his leadership, and that they will stand with him if he takes action to do the right thing. She wants him to help the faculty fight for the University and for its values, she said. 

Still, many staff members said they are willing to accept that there is not another avenue for resolution with SVC, or opportunity for further legal action. 

Provost Bob Blouin said the University and the BOG explored a series of options regarding Silent Sam’s status, including the option of giving the statue to a local history museum. But this was not deemed legal under state law, he said. 

Guskiewicz said his top priority has always been to remove the monument from campus, and to prioritize student and staff safety and well being. 

Guskiewicz said he doesn’t fully know what all the future options are. The BOG made the decisions, he said, but he will look into it. 

“I appreciate what you said about safety on campus," English and comparative literature professor Mary Floyd-Wilson said. “But my concern is that by giving $2.5 million to a hate group is that we are actually fostering potential violence and we are putting our name and our authority on the spreading of lies and on our place in history.”     

Although he recognized that Silent Sam is not resolved, Guskiewicz said he hopes UNC can become a model of race relations and education, a goal he is committed to. He said the University is already doing a lot in this space, but he is open to ideas. 

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The administration is currently working on a trust to fund a racial history and reckoning program for student education — one that Guskiewicz said will be likely be supported by more than $2.5 million. 

“I don’t believe in the values of Confederate veterans,” Guskiewicz said. 

An attendee asked Guskiewicz if he would commit to issuing an official statement against the BOG settlement this evening. 

He continued to hold the microphone, but did not respond. Attendees said his silence was his answer. 

“Interim Chancellor Guskiewiz, when you started you said that this is a campus we all love, ” said Kia Caldwell, professor of African, African American and Diaspora Studies. “Let’s not take that for granted. This campus does not love all of us. The love is gone.”

"I used to love Carolina," she said. “No more.”