UNC Chancellor to Resign at End of Term Amid Confederate Statue Crisis

‘As the last act of a desperate woman on her way out, she has effectively erased the contribution and sacrifice of these brave veterans…’

Silent Sam

Silent Sam/IMAGE: ABC 11 via Youtube

(Jane Stancill, Tammy Grubb, and Julia Wall, The News & Observer – Raleigh, N.C.) The start of the fall semester at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, was marked with turmoil. Its close, by protest and even greater unrest amid the ongoing crisis over “Silent Sam.”

Now its spring semester is opening with the surprise fallout: the resignation of Chancellor Carol Folt and the removal of the base from a Confederate statue that has riven the UNC community and added fuel to the nationwide cultural warfare over how to commemorate our history.

In late August, a mob of protesters gathered, the day before classes were to start, and tore down the venerated, century-old Confederate sentinel, once a symbol of reconciliation and national unity.

A proposal to house the statue in a different location on campus saw graduate-level teaching assistants protest by refusing to submit grades at the end of the semester. Ultimately, those plans were scrapped, and the statue’s final fate remains undetermined.

Folt, however, announced late Monday that she was leaving at the end of the semester and that she had ordered the removal of the pedestal that once held the Silent Sam monument from its public location on the campus’s McCorkle Place.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday, the base was lifted by heavy equipment onto a flatbed truck to be taken away.

“As chancellor, the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility,” she wrote. “The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment. No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe.”

Her announcement came while an emergency conference call meeting of the UNC Board of Governors was being held to discuss “personnel and legal matters.” The meeting was still under way when Folt’s message went out.

Following more than three hours behind closed doors, the board adjourned. Chairman Harry Smith issued a statement saying the board was not privy to Folt’s announcement before it was made public.

“We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action,” Smith’s statement said. “It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the Board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner.”

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Carol Folt/IMAGE: YouTube

Folt has led the Chapel Hill campus since July of 2013, and there was no indication she was planning to leave.

Three trustees on the UNC campus board issued a statement supporting Folt’s decision to remove the monument’s base.

“The chancellor has ultimate authority over campus public safety, and we agree Chancellor Folt is acting properly to preserve campus security,” wrote Vice Chair Chuck Duckett, Secretary Julia Grumbles and the former chair, Lowry Caudill. “Nothing is more important than keeping our campus community and visitors as safe as possible.”

The trustees thanked Folt for her service and her “remarkable energy and deep passion” that made the university “stronger and poised to inspire future generations of students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

However, the move was sharply criticized by members of the state’s Sons of Confederate Veterans, which said in a statement that it was “disgusted by the extent to which Chancellor Folt and the University of North Carolina will go to break our state’s laws and ignore the will of the people.”

The NCSCV called on UNC’s boards of governors and trustees to immediately terminate her rather than wait until the end of the semester.

“As the last act of a desperate woman on her way out, she has effectively erased the contribution and sacrifice of these brave veterans and the tribute paid to them by subsequent generations,” said the statement.

“Folt’s legacy at UNC, which primarily consists of academic athletic scandals and a generally declining quality of scholarship, will now include race-baiting, historical revisionism, and illegal acts.”

On campus Monday night, about two dozen students and activists gathered at the pedestal for a brief celebration. They planned what they call a victory party for 8 p.m. Tuesday at Chapel Hill’s Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street.

Graduate student Lindsey Ayling said when she heard the news, she started crying because decades of anti-racist protests on the campus had finally paid off.

“Silent Sam only came down because a group of activists fought to remove this symbol,” Ayling said.

But she was critical that Folt, by delaying action until now, had left some in the community to face “brutality from police and from white supremacists.”

Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.

©2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.