As the UNC Board of Governors awaits recommendations from a
task force on the final disposition of the Confederate monument known as Silent
Sam, the system’s new interim president says he does not personally favor
returning the statue to its former location on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Although I was not a supporter of the way the monument was
taken down in August, my personal position is we should not be putting the monument
back on McCorkle Place,” interim President Bill Roper said during a press
conference at the board’s meeting today at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Board of Governors previously rejected a recommendation
made by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees in December to create a $5.3
million “history and education center” to house Silent Sam and create a “mobile
force platoon” to respond to student unrest across the 17-campus system. The Board
of Governors appointed a five-member task force to work with leaders at
UNC-Chapel Hill and bring back a new set of recommendations by March 15. Despite
the Board of Governor’s previously rejecting the proposal, Roper said today
that the task force would “look carefully at the report” and “make sure that it
is the right path forward.” He added that he would be “supportive of that
effort.”

Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith said the action of
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Folt, who is leaving her post on Jan. 31, to remove
the remnants of Silent Sam earlier this month, will not affect the Board of
Governor’s ultimate decision on the matter. He also said that despite shared
disappointment with the manner in Silent Sam was toppled by protesters last
August, board members “were very cautious not to get into retaliatory
decision-making.”

Folt’s order to remove the remnants disrupted a
collaborative process, he said.

“So we had a lot of different runways that we were looking
at, which I won’t get into today,” said Smith, a businessman from Beaufort
County. “I think that was a little bit of my frustration that I struggle with a
little bit because I was on my heels personally when that happened. One of the
biggest concerns that I had was that the actions that were taken would harm the
result that we may have gotten if we allow the process to completely weigh out.

“From my perspective now, I think this governing body would
rise above those emotions, and still focus on just what’s right, but the
concern is that the way it happened would create a backwards to all the work we’ve
done,” he added. “I think we’re going to continue to work forward with the path
we’ve got and focus on doing just what’s right.”

The Board of Governors voted on Friday to publicly release an “after-action report” completed by the Parker Poe law firm on the Aug. 20 toppling of Silent Sam. Josh Ellis, the associate vice president for media relations for the university system, said the report will be distributed once the university’s lawyers have the opportunity to look it over.

Marty Kotis, a board member from Greensboro, applauded the motion, and said he hopes the university will also release police body-camera video to shed light on what took place the night the statue came down. A draft version of the report was leaked to WBTV News in Charlotte. According to the story published by WBTV, the report states that officers surrounding the statue withdrew as protesters began to throw frozen water bottles, eggs and other things. This reporter’s note include the notation “projectiles thrown” during the three-minute window between the protesters’ return to the statue and the officers withdrawal, although it’s unclear whether the phrase reflects a first-hand observation or an overheard comment by an officer.

“That information came from I think our security people,”
Smith said. “I wasn’t there. I think we’ve gotten first-hand feedback on that.
Again, I would just encourage people to read the report. I think it’s got a lot
of information.”

Lindsay Ayling, a graduate student involved in the struggle
against Silent Sam, accused Kotis of making “defamatory remarks” in his
characterization of UNC-Chapel Hill students.

UNC-Chapel Hill student Lindsay Ayling addresses UNC Board of Governors members, including Marty Kotis (right). (photo by Jordan Green)

“You’ve described Silent Sam students as ‘terrorists’ and
claimed we threw cans at neo-Confederates,” Ayling told Kotis. “This is a flat-out
lie. What we were actually doing was hosting a potluck and food drive.”

Kotis stood by his comment about terrorism.

“The ‘terrorist’ comment was regarding the graduate
assistants that were supposedly going to withhold grades from students in an
effort to force the administration to do something,” Kotis said after the
meeting. “And I said, ‘That’s akin to terrorism.’ And the reason I said it’s
terrorism is terrorism by its very definition is where you have let’s say one
side of a force or a military force and another side — when they fight that’s a
war. When you have terrorism, you have a side like the IRA that is taking an
action against someone that’s a noncombatant — the students in this case — and
committing what I would call violence against them because it’s withholding
grades that can jeopardize military commissions. It can affect graduate school.
It could affect their job. It could affect their financial aid.”

But Kotis partially walked back previous claims made about cans being thrown at protests that he made to a News & Observer reporter in December and again on Twitter earlier this month.

“I would have my suspicions about people bringing cans to an
event like that,” he said. “Maybe it was just a purely innocent coincidence,
but they could be used as projectiles. I guess we’ll never know what their
intent was because the police took them away from them. If they were just
collecting the food I’m not sure they would be too worried about having it
locked up during the protest.”

Last month, Kotis’ fellow governors approved a motion he
made to direct the board’s governance committee to set sanctions including
suspension, termination and expulsion for students, faculty and staff that
engage in unlawful activity, including assault on law enforcement officers,
disobeying law enforcement officers, rioting and resisting arrest.  

Margaret Hassel, the attorney general for the undergraduate
honor court at UNC-Chapel Hill, described the resolution as a “transparent”
attempt to target antiracist protesters on campus, and said conscientious
future prosecutors would be honor-bound to disobey the proposed rules should they
be adopted.

“The university should be ashamed and repentant for its
history of racism and slavery, and the temptation to punish people who shine a
bright light on that shame is predictable, but it’s not excusable,” Hassel said.
“This resolution doesn’t spring from a commitment to creating a safe campus. I
can’t find a record of any similar vigor in quashing alcohol abuse, sexual
violence or other forms of harm or chaos. However, I hope that you, like I,
want Carolina to have a safe campus, one that puts honor and integrity first.
And I hope sincerely that this resolution was a misstep and not a signal — a
signal that you care more about crushing people who speak up for the
descendants of enslaved people who built the campus around Silent Sam than you
do about understanding why honor required that the statue come down.

“You’re going to ask my successors to enforce your rules,”
Hassel concluded. “If your rules prevent us from listening and understanding
and considering each case, then my successors who disobey your rules are going
to be the ones who have honor.”

Speakers during the public comment session, which was
attended by only a handful of the 28 board members, ran heavily against Silent
Sam.

One of only two people who spoke in support of the monument was Lamar Pender.

“This illegal, immoral act performed at the behest of a temporary
employee of the university in the state of North Carolina had no right to have
done such — a despicable act in removing any part of the University of North
Carolina or anything on the grounds,” Ward said, adding that the statue and its
pedestal should be returned to its previous location at McCorkle Place.

Margaret Maurer, a graduate student and teacher assistant
who was present for the toppling of Silent Sam, said if board members had
listened to students they would understand how the monument had put them in
harm’s way.

“Protesters, including myself, have been threatened and harassed
at the base of that statue for years,” Maurer said. We’ve received harassment
and death threats online, including threats from white supremacists with ties
to recent mass shootings. It should go without saying that protesters of color
have faced the worst of this violence and harassment.”

Maurer recounted an experience she shared earlier with Triad City Beat in which she said two Silent Sam supporters attempted to knock her over on the evening when the statue was toppled. She said they laid hands on her shoulder and chest, resulting in bruising and difficulty moving her shoulder for two weeks, adding that police officers on the scene refused to take a statement or question the men.

“My students are afraid — my students of color, my Jewish students, my LGBTQ+ students,” Maurer said. And their fear is rational. “This statue is a lightning rod for violent white supremacists, and it has been since Julian Carr dedicated it as a monument to Anglo-Saxon supremacy. This statue was shameful then, and it is shameful now. I am here today because I am scared for the lives of my students. So, let me be perfectly clear: If you bring this statue back to our campus, this legacy will be your shame. This violence will be your shame.”

This article was updated on Feb. 1, 2019 at 9:26 p.m. It should be noted that this reporters contemporaneous notes from the toppling of Silent Sam corroborate the statement in the Parker Poe report that projectiles were thrown prior to officers withdrawing from the statue.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

🗲 Join The Society 🗲