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UNC officials debate decision as Silent Sam deadline looms

UNC officials debate decision as Silent Sam deadline looms

November 15th, 2018 by The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) in National News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—The choices ahead are not simple for UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the university's Board of Trustees—wherever they suggest putting Silent Sam, some people will be unhappy.

The next two or three weeks, a plan will take shape for the "disposition and preservation" of the 105-year-old Confederate statue that was yanked down by protesters Aug. 20. The original deadline set by the UNC system's Board of Governors for a recommendation from Folt and the trustees was to be Nov. 15.

The new deadline will be Dec. 3, university officials say, which will give the UNC system Board of Governors time to study the proposal before its next meeting on Dec. 14. Campus officials asked for more time to do research on the options they're considering.

The decision has turned out to be more complex than expected earlier, UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said Friday, even though the delay will keep people on pins and needles.

Smith said he wanted to give the campus a little more time to come up with "a thorough, detailed, well-thought-out proposal."

Several trustees said the process has required significant analysis of the logistics, cost and security of various options for the statue.

Haywood Cochrane, chairman of the trustees, said the board wants to hear analysis from safety and security professionals. "There's nothing more important than keeping our campus safe," he said.

A recent survey of faculty and staff at the College of Arts & Sciences showed that 37 percent want to relocate the statue off campus to a museum or historic site and 26 percent said Silent Sam should be displayed somewhere else on campus. Another 23 percent want to take the statue out of public view with no commitment to future display, while 7 percent want to permanently withdraw it from public view. Only 3 percent said the statue should be restored to its former location.

The survey, conducted in September by College of Arts & Sciences Dean Kevin Guskiewicz was sent to 2,060 faculty and staff; 19 percent responded.

The most popular response—to install Silent Sam in a museum—included suggestions about which sites would be most fitting. Among them: the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte; the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh; the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and Bennett Place in Durham, the site of the troop surrender of the Civil War.

Such a move would likely require a change in the 2015 state law that prevents the relocation or alteration of historic objects of remembrance. It's unclear whether lawmakers would go along with that.

According to an Oct. 17 letter to Folt, Guskiewicz suggested that Bennett Place, a significant Civil War landmark, was the most appropriate destination for Silent Sam. The letter and survey results were posted online.

"While we recognize that this issue is complicated, the monument has become a distraction that stands to jeopardize our continued status as one of the nation's premier public research universities," Guskiewicz wrote.

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