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‘A lightning rod’: Faculty discuss Silent Sam, AAUP letter at monthly meeting

Faculty Council February
At the February Faculty Council meeting, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz addressed recent information that has come to light surrounding the Silent Sam settlement.

Chairperson of the Faculty Mimi Chapman said she disagreed with a recent statement from a group of UNC professors calling on Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to resign — and that it does not represent the entire University faculty — at a Faculty Council meeting Friday. 

The statement, posted by UNC-Chapel Hill’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors on Feb. 11, followed the revelation that UNC official Clayton Somers was involved in the negotiations for the UNC System’s 2019 Silent Sam settlements. Members of UNC’s AAUP chapter cited “serial dishonesty” from the chancellor and his fellow leaders that caused them to lose trust in the University’s leadership. 

Chapman said she heard about this statement prior to its publication and wrote to the president of the AAUP chapter, which has roughly 70 members, to let him know she disagreed with the choice. Other leaders in faculty governance did the same, calling the decision “reckless,” she said.  

At Friday’s meeting, Chapman and University leaders expressed an interest in moving forward, past discussions solely focused on the Silent Sam settlement. Other topics brought up at the meeting included UNC’s relationship with its cultural centers, vaccine rollout in Orange County and plans for the next semesters at UNC. The council also approved a recommendation aimed at “mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on faculty careers.” 

'A lightning rod'

In response to Chapman's comments at the meeting, history professor Jay Smith, vice president of the campus AAUP chapter, told The Daily Tar Heel it was disappointing that Chapman suggested her view of the situation was more representative of faculty opinion than the AAUP's statement.

Chapter member Sherryl Kleinman, who serves on the Executive Committee, added that Chapman’s comments sent the message that asking questions of the chancellor would be associated with recklessness.

Moving on from the AAUP statement, Chapman compared Silent Sam to a lightning rod. 

“It keeps us focused on the statue and the settlement and diverts our attention from the other structures on our campus that perpetuate racism — both literal and figurative — and that desperately need our attention and focus,” she said. 

Now that the chancellor has responded to questions about the Silent Sam settlement with his campus message, Chapman said those who can likely tell the rest of the story are at the system and BOG level. 

“If we want further answers, that is the place to look,” she said. 

Following Chapman’s remarks, Guskiewicz said the Silent Sam settlement in November 2019 was his first major encounter with the tensions of UNC System’s complex governance structure.

On the matter of Silent Sam, Guskiewicz said the authority lies with the BOG, as it did in November 2019. 

“Some of you wish that I had rallied a public fight against the settlement the moment I learned it was under consideration — even if that meant risking that the monument would be forced back onto campus,” he said. “That was a real risk. And it was not a risk that I was willing to take at that time.” 

He reiterated his commitment to keeping Silent Sam off UNC’s campus

“I've said all that I want or will say on the matter of the Confederate monument or the settlement,” he said, “and I'd now like to turn to other important items.”

Coming semesters 

The low positivity rate from mandatory on-campus testing this semester is promising, Guskiewicz said.

As the University looks ahead toward “establishing normal campus operations” for the fall semester, he said it's a good sign that current in-person classes are going well. 

Looking ahead toward the summer session, Provost Bob Blouin said it will likely look similar to last summer, which was conducted remotely. Still, Blouin said the University is not ruling out any possibility of face-to-face interaction in summer classes. 

As for the fall, Blouin said the University will try to make the semester as normal as possible, though it is a “moving target.” He said UNC leaders have been consulting with experts about the coming semesters, and that the increased pace of vaccine rollout will be important to a successful fall.  

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Build our Community Together 

Both Blouin and Guskiewicz brought up progress within the University’s strategic plan, specifically its first initiative: “Build Our Community Together.” 

But Larry Chavis, director of the American Indian Center at UNC, said his program isn’t feeling the effects of this initiative. While he feels supported as a business school professor, he said it isn’t the same where the AIC is concerned. 

“As director of the American Indian Center, I was just working on my resignation letter, because I can't go in again and look the women that I work with in the face, knowing how underpaid they are,” he said. 

Chavis said it’s difficult to see that the University got $8 million in funding for the Program for Public Discourse while knowing his staff remains so underfunded. 

He also brought up an experience through his work on the History, Race and a Way Forward commission when he was asked to write the land acknowledgment for UNC being on stolen Native American land. 

“It's like me, writing my own thank you note for a gift that was taken from me,” he said. “I'm not excited about that and I'm tired. I'm tired of being in the same place I was this time last year as far as funding and my level of belonging at this University.” 

In response, Guskiewicz said he and Blouin had a talk last week about the importance of cultural centers at UNC. He said they are working on a plan to ensure they can be funded and thrive, as well as working to raise private funds for them. 

“So, hang with us,” Guskiewicz said. “I’m asking you to. You're doing an incredible job there — I understand on limited resources, but we're committed to you.” 

Other topics 

The council also voted to pass a resolution in support of recommendations from the Committee on Appointments, Promotion and Tenure. Among them were a recommendation that the University should continue to offer faculty a tenure-clock extension due to COVID-19, and that those across campus be mindful of not placing additional demands on faculty as they deal with the pandemic. 

For the full list of recommendations, read more here

The next Faculty Council meeting will take place on Friday, March 19. 


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