North Carolina

‘Sheer cowardice’: Board of Governors member rejects UNC’s Silent Sam proposal

The proposal to return the Silent Sam Confederate monument to a new $5.3 million building at UNC-Chapel Hill is “sheer cowardice,” a member of the UNC system’s governing board said.

Thom Goolsby, a lawyer from Wilmington and former Republican legislator, released a video on YouTube on Tuesday, sharply critical of the Chapel Hill campus Board of Trustees’ proposal to construct a university history and education center to house the controversial statue.

“Neither the right nor the left is happy,” Goolsby said in the video. “If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to anyone.”

The 2015 state law on the protection of historic monuments requires that the statue should have been put back in its original position, Goolsby said, within 90 days of “the outside radicals tearing it down.”

He asked viewers of the video to call their state legislators to demand that they contact the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees to insist that the law be followed.

Silent Sam was pulled down by protesters Aug. 20. For the past few months, UNC-Chapel Hill trustees and Chancellor Carol Folt have been trying to come up with a new location for it. Their proposal, which is subject to approval by the UNC Board of Governors, includes the new building in the Odum Village area at the edge of UNC’s South campus, beyond a hospital parking structure. The new building would include state-of-the-art security and would cost about $800,000 a year to operate.

Hours after the proposal, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Chapel Hill to demonstrate against the idea of re-erecting the statue.

The proposal has unleashed an angry response on social media, with students and professors panning the idea and some alumni threatening to withhold donations. Critics have taken to calling the proposed new structure “a shrine to the Confederacy.”

Others have said that the center, if done appropriately, would help educate people about the university’s full history.

Among faculty, staff and students, a strong consensus had emerged that the statue should be relocated somewhere off campus. The proposal Monday would take the statue out of the center of campus and would erect it inside under tight security conditions. Folt and the trustees said state law tied their hands, even though they would have preferred an off-site location.

Goolsby said the law is not being correctly applied by UNC-Chapel Hill officials, “because of whatever agenda is being pushed forward.”

Silent Sam should be re-erected under the law, he said, and it should have already been done except that there are only two people in the nation who can repair the statue, and they’re not available until early 2019, Goolsby said in the video.

“We cannot stand for this outrage,” he said, adding that UNC police, Chapel Hill police and the UNC-Chapel Hill administration let the statue be torn down and now won’t put it back up.

It is unclear what other Board of Governors members think. Two members, Bob Rucho and Phil Byers, attended the trustees meeting Monday in Chapel Hill where the plan was unveiled, but did not make public comments about it.

The Board of Governors is expected to discuss the proposal Dec. 14 at a regularly scheduled meeting. If the board approves, Chapel Hill campus officials would have to seek the permission of the N.C. Historical Commission to move the statue to the indoor location. No funding has been identified for the project, though campus leaders say it could open in 2022.

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Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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