News: CJ Exclusives

Silent Sam ‘strike’ by instructors crosses a line, BOG’s Kotis says

Marty Kotis of the UNC Board of Governors in November 2018. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)
Marty Kotis of the UNC Board of Governors in November 2018. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)

At least 79 teacher assistants and instructors at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are threatening to withhold grades unless their demands in the Silent Sam controversy are met, local activists say.

A proposal by the university’s Board of Trustees to rehouse Silent Sam in a $5.3 million historical center has been met with protests from students and community activists, but a proposed strike crosses a line, UNC System Board of Governors member Marty Kotis told Carolina Journal.

“When people start saying you have to believe something or we’re not going to release your grades unless this is done, they’re putting their personal agendas ahead of the students,” Kotis said.

Kotis has called for swift action against potential strikers, including their dismissal if they indeed withhold grades.

The Board of Trustees met Monday, Dec. 3, to approve a plan to move the Confederate statue to a historical center to be built on Odum Village, where apartments for graduate students and students with children once stood. The apartments have since been demolished and the property is empty.

Now, the school wants to build a a center for history and education to house not only Silent Sam but other artifacts related to the school’s long history. The center would cost $5.3 million to build, have an annual operating cost of $800,000, and feature a state-of-the-art security system.

Reactions to the proposal were swift. Activists and protesters called the proposed center a “shrine” to the Confederacy. Others argued the university should return the statue to McCorkle Place, where it once stood before protestors tore it down Aug. 19. It was then placed in storage.

UNC BOG member Thom Goolsby released a video Dec. 4 calling for the statue’s return to its pedestal. The board member called the BOT’s plan cowardly.

Protesters gathered that night in opposition. Soon after, activists announced a group of teacher assistants and faculty members have joined a grade strike and promised to withhold more than 2,000 grades unless their demands are met.

The revised list of demands were posted to the activists’ website Dec. 6:

  • The Board of Trustees should withdraw the proposal to build a $5.3 million indoor location to house Silent Sam and to create a 40-person mobile force costing at least $2 million per year. Instead, the statue should remain off campus and the BOG should hold listening sessions in good faith with the community.
  • Silent Sam should never return to the campus in any form nor shall a center to its history be built.
  • The BOT should disclose the changes made to campus policing and withdraw the proposed security escalations.
  • Instead of spending money on rehousing Silent Sam and funding a mobile police force, the university should direct money to building maintenance, increased wages for graduate and campus workers, abolition of fees for all graduate workers, dental insurance for graduate workers, and reduced parking fees for all workers.

If the first demand is met, the participating TAs and instructors would release the grades to the university. Unless all demands are met, the group will continue to protest during the next semester.

Robert Blouin, UNC-Chapel Hill executive vice chancellor and provost, sent a letter to the deans of the school Dec. 6 saying the proposed grade strike is out of bounds and violates the university’s instructional responsibilities.

“Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner,” Blouin wrote. “It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten their eligibility.”

In the letter, Blouin said he has heard complaints that some instructors have asked their students to take a stand on the strike.

“Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law,” Blouin wrote.

Kotis said the university should fire anyone participating in the grade strike. Not only that, he said they should be ineligible for rehire anywhere in the UNC System.

“When you let an 80 people decide how the flagship university in the system or the entire system is run, that’s not democracy. That is extortion. That is terrorism,” Kotis said.

While Kotis believes people are free to protest peacefully, he contends the actions of some protesters and outside agitators have necessitated a strong response.

The UNC BOG will discuss the BOT’s proposal at the Dec. 14 meeting.

“The buck should stop with the UNC Board of Governors and the question will be if the Board of Governors has the guts to set clear boundaries for reasonable behavior of students and visitors to campus,” Kotis said. “And if we don’t and we’re unwilling to do that, then we’re cowards.”

  • Theresa B.

    YOU have no right to do this to all those students who may need them to graduate, move on to another college or just because they worked their butts off from it!!! You are holding the campus and students hostage because you are some self-righteous blowhards.Just who do you think you are???? Shame on you! Shame on anyone who gives into your political agenda to scrub the campus of history that can be used for a teaching moment! Your not educators your are the towns people who came with burning torches for the believe witches.

  • Mark Brody

    When are the other adults, like Marty Kotis, running and overseeing the University system going to speak out. The job of the University is to educate, what better education for students than to experience the concept their professors getting fired for disobeying the rules.

    • bob cratchette

      they probably have tenure and can’t be touched.

      • ironclad

        Anyone can be fired under the right circumstances tenure or not. If they violate the law or deliberately violate stated policy.

        • bob cratchette

          true but the tenure makes that almost impossible. i am not saying it is right nut tenure has saved many teachers from getting the axe that deserved it.

  • mimi

    How about if we just hold your pay for awhile !! Dont threaten us !!

    • civilwar 12

      Terminate them!

  • goat34

    The anti monument morons are always saying they belong in a museum. Well they’re putting it in a museum. Shut up and give those students their grades!!! The men that that monument represent are 10 times better people than you protestors will EVER be!!!! They went into a war against an invading army knowing they probably wouldn’t return alive! You whiny brats can’t even handle rejection without retreating to your safe space!!!!!

  • Betty Nance Humphreys

    I thought teachers and educators were EMPLOYEES! WHAT A WASTE OF FIVE MILLION DOLLARS put Sam back where he belongs. ARREST anyone who damages this statue. I would like to see a bunch of these EMPLOYEES FIRED!!!. IF THEY DON’T RELEASE GRADES, DON’T RELEASE THEIR SALARIES!!!!!!!!!

  • Curmudgeon2k

    Fire them, you gutless wonders!

  • Bubba Gump

    Can the instructors, tenure or not. Erasing history is a bad plan as you tend to forget what happened and are more likely to repeat the same mistake. Not that all of the past is anything to be proud of but this is an amazing country and how it came to be.

  • bob cratchette

    ait and see they will cave to the protesters.

  • civilwar 12

    Everyone one of the teachers should be terminated just for the threat!

  • Enjoy your unemployment, losers.

  • galndixie

    First, those grades don’t belong to the university, the professors, or the teaching assistants. They are the personal property of the students who earned them. They cannot legally withhold them, for any reason, and especially not one so ridiculous as this. Second, if you’re so dissatisfied teaching in the South, where Southern History and Southern Traditions and Southern Heritage abound, drag your hiney up North or out West and stay there, where the folks are of like ignorant mind as you.

  • Chuck Rand

    Fire anyone that even threatens to withhold grades. Revoke any scholarships they have. Do not give them any letter of recommendation.

  • Charlie Lunsford

    When I was approx. 13 years old, my Daddy made a statement one day that I wasn’t sure I understood. He said an educated idiot is the worst kind. Thanks to these educated idiots at UNC I now totally understand.

  • Tony Manero

    What these protesting morons don’t get is, the 5.3 million center is a cowardly way out by the BOT. No way this gets underway anytime soon, and the plan is to slow walk this until 2020 when they hope the Democrats take over the legislature and they can repeal the law that forbids the removal of the statute.

    But TAs threaten to hold grades hostage to their political agenda? Idiots. This cannot be tolerated. Fire them all. They’ll be plenty to take their place.

  • ProudlyUnaffiliated

    It is quite nice that now we have a high-quality “fire at will” list of enemy faculty who hates us and our history. Now, put Silent Sam back on its original pedestal where it belongs. Install camera surveillance which will assist in any potential future prosecutions and evictions from the university and maybe a small wall or chain around it also makes sense. Silent Sam is a statue of honor and must be preserved at UNC in its original location for eternity as such– lunatics and losers be damned.