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UNC Board Of Governors To Vote On 'Silent Sam' Plan Today

Silent Sam Confederate monument
Jasmin Herrera

We'll have a better idea today of what will happen to Silent Sam. 

The UNC Board of Governors will consider a plan to move the Confederate statue to a new history building at the edge of Chapel Hill's campus. That decision would cost 5.3 million dollars.

The plan has drawn the ire of those who want the statue moved off campus and those who want it to stay. Protesters tore the statue down in August.

WUNC's Lisa Philip has been covering the ongoing controversy. She joined WFAE's Morning Edition host Lisa Worf to discuss.

Worf: When Chapel Hill's Board of Trustees approved this proposal, the chancellor and several trustees said they'd rather relocate it off campus. Why did the board feel they needed to go with this proposal? 

Philip: They really emphasized that this was a question of legality. They repeatedly cited a 2015 state law protecting monuments which requires if a monument is to be relocated, it has to be put back in a place of similar prominence [and] honor. University officials felt bound by that law or at least they've repeatedly said so. So really the solution that they came up with was one that satisfied the requirements of that law from the board's perspective as well as protecting the public's safety. According to the board, they sought the opinions of security officials who said the statue couldn't really go back where it was because of the protests it was drawing. What they recommended was a single-use building. That's how they landed on this five million dollar university history and education center. 

Worf: Would the building be built specifically for Silent Sam then? 

Philip: I think university officials would say it's not specifically for Silent Sam, although it appears to be the case because you know it doesn't exist and the idea has kind of surfaced in this ongoing controversy. So the plan is to put other artifacts of university history and contextualize them. In 2015, the trustees started a process of kind of looking at the university's history including some of the troubling aspects of its history and finding ways to contextualize them. The trustees sort of framed the center as a part of that ongoing process. 

Worf: Who would pay the 5.3 million dollars to get it built? 

Philip: That's not really clear yet. The money hasn't been raised yet and Chancellor Carol Folt has said that they're probably going to have to ask the state legislature for the funding, but it's not clear who will be paying for the five million dollar building.

Worf: Many students and faculty members have called it a racist and cowardly proposal and equated it with a shrine. Now, graduate students who teach at the school have threatened to strike. What impact would that have? 

Philip: Well the strike has definitely, if nothing else, has drawn a lot of attention to the university. Dozens of student athletes have signed on to their support. There are also dozens of faculty from across the country who have signed on to supporting the strike. And this strike involves graduate teaching assistants who are pledging to withhold grades until the trustees withdraw the plan.

Worf: Students who are about to graduate, would this affect them as well?

Philip: So what I've heard from organizers and from some of the TAs participating in the strike is that if students required these grades to graduate for example this semester or they need the grades for visa applications to keep their immigration status, that TAs are submitting those grades because they don't want to cause unnecessary harm to students who have a lot hinging on their grades this semester. 

Worf: Has there been any backlash to the strike or you know any talk of firing the grad students by administrators? 

Philip: So administrators have sent out, I've seen at least one e-mail sent to graduate students, saying that it will result in serious consequences because, allegedly, this is a violation of the teacher's instructional duties. I've heard rumors flying around about threats of firing and for example scholarships being revoked and even the graduate students places in the university being taken away. So the grad students are definitely putting a lot on the line by taking part in this in this collective action.

Worf: What do those who want to keep silent Sam in place say about the proposal?

Philip: Probably the most prominent voice that's come out against the proposal because it's moving Silent Sam and instead of putting Silent Sam back where it was the member of the board of governors Thom Goolsby who released a YouTube video basically calling the plan cowardly. He also referred back to the 2015 state law. He said that requires the statue to be put back where it was and that it should have been done in 90 days. People are calling it cowardly. It's this idea that university officials are kind of giving in to this disruption to law and order.

Worf: Have there been any other members of the board of governors who have indicated how they may vote on this? 

Philip: They've been very hush-hush about what will happen with the vote. I think it will be fascinating to see what happens today. I'm predicting that a lot of the discussion around the proposal will happen in closed session. This board has used closed sessions quite a bit, especially for controversial topics like this one.