Updated: Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt will be resigning at the end of the month — earlier than initially expected. The UNC Board of Governors accepted her resignation in a closed-door session Tuesday afternoon. Her resignation is effective Jan. 31, despite Folt’s plans to stay on through the rest of the semester.
That comes less than a day after Folt announced her resignation and her desire to remove the remnants of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam.” In her letter to students and faculty Monday afternoon, Folt had said she would step down as chancellor following spring graduation at the end of the academic year. And when Folt was asked during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning if she thought she’d be fired or forced to resign sooner than that, she indicated that she didn’t want that to happen.
“Well, I certainly hope that I’ll have a chance to do what I set out to do,” Folt responded. “I think we’ve got a lot of momentum going. I think we’ve got a lot yet still to accomplish and I felt like, you know, I’m doing what I need to do.”
It’s not yet clear why the board has decided to cut Folt’s tenure short. There had been long-standing tension on UNC's campus over “Silent Sam” — the century-old monument commemorating a Confederate soldier.
The statue was toppled by protesters in August, but the concrete base and commemorative plaque had remained until early Tuesday morning. Reports say that the last of the monument was removed by 2:40 a.m.
Folt said the removal was a matter of public safety.
“As chancellor, the safety of the UNC-Chapel Hill community is my clear, unequivocal and non-negotiable responsibility,” Folt said. “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.”
When asked by reporters Tuesday why she scheduled the removal for the middle of the night, Folt described the timing as "best practice" based on "public safety."
"We’ve got hospitals, we’ve got churches, we’ve got day care centers, just within, you know, a two-minute walk of that monument," Folt said. "And you start bringing in cranes and moving things around at night, you try to do that when there aren’t going to be disruptive activities, and you're going to be able to keep the place very safe."
But board members were angered by Folt's swift action. Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said the chancellor should not have ordered the removal of the statue's base in the middle of the night.
"It’s a bit stunning based on how this has gone, that UNC-Chapel Hill felt it needed to take this kind of draconian action, and I think that’s what it is," Smith said. "When you start scheduling cranes at night, and key and critical stakeholders aren’t involved, it’s just unfortunate."
Smith also said board members felt it was better to change leadership sooner, but denied that moving up Folt's resignation date was punitive.
"Our focus is and always will be what’s in the best interest of the institution, and we felt strongly it was time to go ahead and make a change and allow the institution to move forward, and so that’s why we compressed the timeline," Smith said.