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'Somebody is not telling the truth': Where Silent Sam stands a year after deal reversal

silent sam

Silent Sam was toppled by demonstrators on Aug. 20. DTH Media Corp, the parent company of The Daily Tar Heel filed suit against the Board of Governors Tuesday for allegedly violating the North Carolina open meetings law.

One year after Judge Allen Baddour reversed the $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement between the UNC System and Sons of Confederate Veterans, many questions remain. 

Baddour ruled to void the settlement at a hearing on Feb. 12, 2020, after a group of alumni — including many of the UNC Black Pioneers — and a student-faculty group represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law each filed an amicus brief in favor of overturning the settlement. 

Following the settlement of the DTH Media Corp. lawsuit against the UNC System and deposition of System representatives, many question the extent to which officials from UNC-Chapel Hill knew about the deal — and how the administration should be held accountable. 

Amicus brief outlines issues with SCV case

Mark Dorosin, attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the settlement would still be in place had student and faculty members not spoken out against the Board of Governors' dealings with a Confederate organization.

“It was a done deal,” he said. “It was only the advocacy of the students, faculty and staff that demanded some accountability for it and attempted to intervene in the lawsuit. That’s what it took to undo this collusive scheme.”

Dorosin said that after an unsuccessful effort to directly intervene in the case, his clients decided to file an amicus brief. The document claimed the SCV case had no standing, and the SCV had no legal claim to the monument. 

The brief discussed the pattern of Jim Crow-era Confederate monuments across the country. 

“It was part of a campaign by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to re-write the history of the Civil War as the so-called ‘Lost Cause’ of a just southern struggle, and slavery as benevolent and benign,” the brief said. 

Dorosin, his colleague Elizabeth Haddix and their clients also elaborated on the timeline of the SCV lawsuit and settlement in the brief:

  • On Nov. 27, 2019, the BOG’s Committee on University Governance met in a largely closed session just 45 minutes before the SCV’s Verified Complaint was filed, the brief said. 
  • Within the next seven minutes, the defendants’ acceptance of service, answer and the consent order signed by Baddour were all filed.
  • The Silent Sam monument and $2.5 million trust were transferred to Matthew S. McGonagle, trustee of the Monument Trust, later that same day.
  • Kevin Stone, commander of the North Carolina division of the SCV, wrote a letter calling the deal a victory for the pro-Confederate movement. This letter was leaked to the public a few days later, and mentioned several months of negotiations between the System and SCV prior to the settlement’s announcement. 

The brief alleges that the BOG and SCV created a pretense of civil action with one party pretending to sue the other in a prearranged agreement. Dorosin said there was no pretense for the University to pay the SCV either the earlier $74,999 or the $2.5 million trust.                                                             

Baddour’s ruling last year meant that all but the over $80,000 used to pay SCV lawyers’ fees was returned to the University, Dorosin said. 

Deposition poses new questions

Since the reversal of the $2.5 million settlement last year, the DTH Media Corp. v. University of North Carolina lawsuit — regarding an alleged BOG violation of North Carolina Open Meetings Law — has been settled. 

Earl Whipple, the former UNC System vice president of communications — who was replaced recently by Jane Stancill — testified in a deposition on Jan. 27 that he had no knowledge of any formal meetings of BOG members regarding the Silent Sam deal. 

An executive action from the chairperson tasked five BOG members with reviewing options for the monument. Whipple testified that these five members became signatories of the op-ed he authored for the News & Observer of Dec.16, 2019.

The UNC System said in a signed post-deposition statement that four individuals were involved in some settlement negotiations: UNC System lawyers Ripley Rand and Tom Shanahan, SCV lawyer Boyd Sturges and UNC-CH Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Clayton Somers. The deal was not voted on by the BOG as a full public body. 

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Chancellor Guskiewicz's role

The UNC-Chapel Hill chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a statement Thursday calling for Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz's resignation, following the revelations of the lawsuit settlement.

Then, in a Thursday night email, Guskiewicz said he was aware of negotiations "occurring through the UNC System" prior to the Nov. 27, 2019 settlement — but had no direct involvement in the deal. It has been his "unwavering priority" to permanently remove the statue from campus, he said.  

Dorosin said Guskiewicz's statement is troubling at best. The Chancellor, he said, had a responsibility to make his role public from the beginning. 

Gina Balamucki, a law student and signatory of the student-faculty amicus brief, said while she supports the AAUP's call for Guskiewicz's resignation, she also thinks there are positive actions the Chancellor can take while he's still in office. She recommends that the Chancellor have Silent Sam destroyed immediately, abolish UNC Police and commission a large-scale monument to honor the enslaved people who built UNC. 

UNC spokesperson Joanne Peters Denny said in an email that the disposition of Silent Sam is under the authority of the BOG and the UNC System.  

Looking forward

Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency under President Barack Obama and a UNC Black Pioneer, said if there was any equity or justice involved in the process, the facts agreed with reversing the settlement. 

And the recent diversity and inclusion efforts by the University, Watt said, cannot be negated. He said he is grateful, but there is more work to be done. 

“I’d like for the University to take steps to move forward by considering changing some of the names on the dormitories and buildings on campus and replacing them with people who I think would be more representative of a positive image for the University,” he said.  

In June, UNC's Board of Trustees voted to lift the 16-year moratorium on removing names from campus buildings. The Commission on History, Race and A Way Forward provides recommendations to the chancellor for building names to be removed. The commission's review process involves archival research and investigation of the actions of buildings' namesakes. 

Balamucki said that, until structural adjustments are made to combat systemic racism in the community, all University victories are relative. 

She said the University should offer stipends to Black students and fund affordable housing for Black Chapel Hill residents who have been pushed out by gentrification and student rentals. 

Many community members have called for the destruction of the Silent Sam monument. The whereabouts of the statue itself remain unknown. 

Balamucki said the fight against Silent Sam has never been only about the Silent Sam monument, but a fight against the legacy of white supremacy at UNC. The only reason she can think of that the System would make the SCV deal, she said, was to fund a white supremacist organization. 

BOG Chairperson Randy Ramsey said in a statement: As I’ve said before, the monument will not return to campus. We remain focused on the University’s core mission of educating students.” 

But Dorosin said he wants accountability. Whomever was involved with or oversaw the settlement on the BOG or UNC administration should resign or be removed, he said.  

“One thing is certain: somebody is not telling the truth,” Watt said. “I wish there was some way to get to the bottom of that.” 


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