UNC faculty members, in letter to parents, support Silent Sam strike

by WorldTribune Staff, December 16, 2018

The University of North Carolina board of governors on Dec. 14 rejected a plan to house the Silent Sam Confederate statue in a proposed $5.3 million history center on the Chapel Hill campus.

Citing concerns over public safety and the use of state funds for the project, the board of governors voted to form a committee to work with Chancellor Carol Folt and the Chapel Hill board of trustees to come up with a new plan by March 2019.

The Silent Sam statue was erected on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in 1913.

The decision came at the end of a contentious week in which an open letter to students’ parents and guardians, signed by more than 200 University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty members, asked for support for striking graduate student instructors and the permanent removal of the Silent Sam statue from campus.

The statue, which was erected in 1913, was toppled from its pedestal by activists and protesters in August.

A strike involving about 80 teaching assistants and instructors began last week and could result in the withholding of final grades for more than 2,200 students, the Raleigh News & Observer reported on Dec. 12.

Keeping the statue on campus, the letter says, may violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act guarantee of a discrimination-free educational environment.

“By failing to remove Silent Sam from our campus, university leaders are making it impossible for us to do our jobs,” the letter said. “They are forcing us to sacrifice Black students and others on our campus who feel intimidated in the face of explicit symbols of hate every single day.”

The letter urged parents to “contact university leaders, including Folt, Provost Bob Blouin, and Chairman of the Board Haywood Cochrane Jr. to make your views known and request that Silent Sam and other Confederate statues not be allowed on our campus.”

The UNC system’s Board of Governors was scheduled to meet on Dec. 14 to consider a plan to move the Silent Sam statue to a proposed $5.3 million university history center.

Other demands must be met to stop the protests, according to a post on the website SilenceSam.com, including more details about a national security panel’s recommendations for enhancing UNC police capabilities and withdrawing a plan to increase student fees to pay for building maintenance.

The North Carolina Historical Commission also must approve moving the statue. Folt said the new center could be built, possibly with state money, by 2022, the News & Observer report said.

UNC officials warned instructors who withhold grades could face “serious consequences” and also warned them against using their classroom role to recruit student support for the strike.

In an online column posted on Dec. 12, Jay Schalin of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal called for UNC to expel instructors who withhold grades and fire faculty who disrupt the campus in support of a strike. The instructors are blackmailing the university, Schalin argued, and UNC officials should “call their bluff.”

“When you not only disrupt your employer’s operations but deny the rights of clients (students) to what they have paid for and earned, then of course you should be sent packing,” Schalin wrote. “The public universities should not be some special sanctuary where no repercussions are ever felt no matter how you behave.”

Schalin added: “I think you’re either going to have to display Silent Sam somewhere on campus and anger the unruly mob, or take him off campus and anger the great majority of the people,” he said. “In this case, I’m saying let’s anger the unruly mob. It’s time they learn that being violent doesn’t work.”

UNC faculty said in the letter that educators have an obligation to continue “dismantling systemic racism in our schools, on our college campuses, and in our democratic society.”

Folt said officials will discuss using private funds to reinstall the monument elsewhere.

“Clearly it won’t be easy,” she said. “But we will continue to work as hard as we can to find the best solution so that our community and our state can thrive.”

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