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Guskiewicz sends letter to BOG, UNC System addressing Silent Sam settlement concerns

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.

Updated 6:35 p.m.: Law professor Eric Muller said interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz's Wednesday response to the $2.5 million Silent Sam trust had false information about what the settlement allows. 

Muller, a member of the Faculty Executive Committee who raised concerns about the settlement at a Monday meeting, tweeted that Guskiewicz's response was a "good statement," but did not properly represent the details of the agreement. 

"Regrettably the agreement negotiated by the @UNC_System doesn't limit the Sons of Confed Vets in the way you say," Muller's tweet said. "It allows expenditures for 'displaying' (not just 'preserving') the monument and for a facility to 'support' it." 

Updated 4:55 p.m.: Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a letter expressing concerns about the recent Silent Sam settlement to interim UNC System President Bill Roper and Board of Governors Chairperson Randy Ramsey on Wednesday. 

In the letter, Guskiewicz urged the BOG and UNC System to take steps to ensure that the $2.5 million trust is administered in compliance with the rules of the settlement, which states that the money cannot be used for activities of the Sons of Confederate Veterans unrelated to the monument's preservation. 

Guskiewicz also requested they "consider providing additional information to our University community about this matter."

"Since last week, I have been meeting with and listening to the reactions of our faculty, students, and staff," Guskiewicz said in the letter. "There are a range of emotions and many people are struggling." 

He said that statements from the SCV and various aspects of the settlement, "particularly the requirement that UNC-Chapel Hill reimburse the UNC System for the payment of the funds to the trust," have led to widespread concern on campus. 

He said he is concerned by post-settlement comments from the SCV about using money from the trust for unrelated purposes, including "plans to promote an unsupportable understanding of history that is at-odds with well-sourced, factual, and accurate accounts of responsible scholars."

"I join with others on my campus in stating that the values expressed by the SCV are inconsistent with and antithetical to the values of the University," he said in the letter.

The Faculty Executive Committee had a special meeting Monday to discuss the Silent Sam statue, just three days after a Faculty Council meeting where protesters voiced their concerns about the University’s settlement.

The settlement gave the monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and stipulated that $2.5 million of non-state funds would go toward its preservation. The statue cannot return to any UNC-System campuses. 

Provost Robert Blouin began the meeting by saying that the UNC System follows a hierarchy, and that the final say regarding Silent Sam is with the Board of Governors. He said the BOG told the Board of Trustees and University administration to solve the problem of Silent Sam’s relocation.

“We were delegated with the authority by the Board of Governors to come up with those solutions,” he said.

He said last year, the Board of Trustees and University administration presented two options to the Board of Governors: to put Silent Sam somewhere on campus or to partner with the North Carolina Museum of History. Of the two options, he said the first was the only legal option.

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Then-Chancellor Carol Folt and the Trustees outlined a $5.3 million plan in December 2018 for Silent Sam to be housed in a freestanding building, which the BOG rejected. 

Blouin said the BOG has the authority to make a member institution pay out a settlement that it has negotiated on that member’s behalf, even if it is against the member’s wishes.

Cary Levine, a member of the committee and a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, said he thinks that the UNC System’s hierarchical organization puts the University, and specifically University administration, at a disadvantage in this situation.

“Our only recourse at this point, considering we had no input along the way, is to, unfortunately, ask our superiors to represent us,” he said.

Levine said he appreciates the strain that the University administration has been put under by the situation.

“I think (interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz) is in a situation where he can either represent us with what he heard on Friday and speak clearly and loudly against this idea, or potentially lose the goodwill of the faculty and the students,” he said.

Blouin said the basis of Guskiewicz’s refusal to come out against the BOG on Friday had nothing to do with the fear of Guskiewicz losing his job, despite the fact that the BOG is interviewing him for the job of chancellor.

“I think his concern, because it’s the same concern that I have, is that we were faced with a binary decision,” he said.

Blouin said the settlement is the best option because it is legal and guarantees the statue will not return to campus.

“There is not another option that has been brought to the table that I’m aware of — unless you are — that would be consistent with monument law other than returning the monument,” he said. “I believe that it weighs heavily on him."

Eric Muller, a member of the committee and a professor in the law school, said ownership of the Silent Sam statue reverted to the United Daughters of the Confederacy immediately after the statue was toppled, according to law.

“It’s hard for me to understand why it wouldn’t have been an option just to preserve the status quo, let it sit in a warehouse, and tell them they can come get it when they want it,” he said.

Lloyd Kramer, chairperson of the faculty and a professor of history, summed up Muller’s thoughts.

“So we actually paid them $2.5 million for a statue they already owned,” Kramer said. “Would that be correct Mr. Muller?”

Muller confirmed.

“Yeah, that sounds right,” he said.

Ed Fisher, a professor in the Gillings School of Public Health, likened the BOG’s actions to abuse.

“I question the wisdom of agreeing with the abuser because there might be worse abuse if one doesn’t,” he said. “I think that’s a bad strategy in dealing with abusers, and I think it may be a bad strategy in dealing with administrative abusers such as we have in this case.”