Opinion: Quick Takes

UNC-Chapel Hill Faculty Council looking for more say over fate of Silent Sam

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The UNC-Chapel Hill faculty wants a seat at the table for discussions over the fate of Silent Sam.

The Faculty Council last month approved a resolution for a faculty committee dedicated to providing input to university administration about what to do with the Confederate statue.

“Faculty Council shall establish a committee of faculty who represent the diverse expertise and concerns of faculty in matters pertinent to the history and impacts of the statue,” the resolution reads.

The Faculty Council will meet again Friday, Jan. 11, to ratify a draft resolution approved by the Faculty Executive Committee earlier this week. The Faculty Executive Committee met Monday, Jan. 7, to propose the makeup of the panel.   

The resolution calls for the university administration to include the committee in all planning for the disposition of the statue and any other related developments. In a Dec. 17 message to the campus, Chancellor Carol Folt said she intends to work closely with the Faculty Council and the committee it’s creating.

“It’s an effort by the faculty to try to ensure that the faculty has a seat at the table in the actual discussions — the important discussions — that are going on about the decision making,” Eric Muller, a member of the Faculty Council and law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, said.

Ever since protesters toppled Silent Sam Aug.19, the university has struggled to determine what to do with the controversial monument. Dec. 3, the UNC Board of Trustees approved a proposal from Folt to return Silent Sam to campus. Under the proposal, a $5.3-million historical center would be built to house the statue and feature a state-of-the-art security system.

“I think this is a very difficult political environment,” said Leslie Parise, faculty chair of the Faculty Council.

Parise said the office of faculty governance ran a dozen sessions to get faculty ideas on Silent Sam. The ideas were presented to Folt, but ended up in the appendix accompanying the recommended proposal sent to the UNC Board of Governors on Dec. 3.

The planned committee aims to give faculty more of a voice regarding what happens to the statue.

“The process has been completely shrouded in secrecy,” Muller said. “There has been no public deliberation or discussion at all by either the Board of Trustees or by the Board of Governors.”

On Dec. 14, the Board of Governors rejected the proposal from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees to rehouse Silent Sam in the proposed historical center. A new BOG taskforce was created to help UNC-Chapel Hill officials devise a new plan by March 15.

The discussion over the proposal was private, because, as BOG officials said, the discussion involved legal matters and warranted an exception to the open meetings law.

It remains to be seen if the faculty will have more say this time.

“My hope is that this committee won’t be one that’s only heard once or that’s asked to come in and just advise from a distance, but rather a committee of people who are actively participating, are engaged, and are at the table for discussions on an ongoing basis,” said Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, a public health professor and Faculty Council member.