UNC's Board of Governors rejects $5.3 million plan for Silent Sam amidst grading strike

<p>Photo from a protest at the statue before it was pulled down by protesters</p>

Photo from a protest at the statue before it was pulled down by protesters

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the saga of Silent Sam continues.  

Earlier this month, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees recommended the Board of Governors return "Silent Sam"—a confederate statue that was toppled in a protest late August—to campus, sparking protests the same day. Protesters urged teaching assistants and and faculty members to withhold final grades. According to the News and Observer, nearly 2,200 grades were held up by the teaching assistant strike.

More than 80 teaching assistants and faculty members pledged to withhold final grades until the Board of Governors abandoned the proposal to return the confederate statue.

“As educators, we have an obligation to continue the work of dismantling systemic racism in our schools, on our college campuses, and in our democratic society,” more than 300 UNC faculty wrote in an open letter addressed to the parents and guardians of UNC students. The letter notes that not all signees are participating in the grade submission protest.

The plan presented to the BOG included the construction of a $5.3 million single-use building to house Silent Sam and contextualize the University’s history, as well as a new “mobile force platoon” to increase security across the campus. 

After a week and a half of tense limbo, the Board of Governors rejected the recommended proposal, ending the grading strike. The BOG voted to appoint a committee of five of its members to work with Folt and the Board of Trustees to construct a new plan for the statue. 

Although the faculty-signed open letter insists that Silent Sam "has no place" on campus, permanent removal may not be possible. BOG Chairman Harry Smith noted that removing the statue from campus would require a change in a 2015 state law that prevents the removal of “objects of remembrance" on public property.

The grading strike drew support from all over the country, even from faculty at its biggest basketball rival. 

More than 140 faculty and staff members at Duke University signed a petition in support of their peers at UNC. Julian Carr, whose name was recently removed from an East Campus building, was known for his speech at the dedication of Silent Sam in which he bragged about beating a black woman. 

"No professor or grader takes the withholding of grades lightly, and to do so reflects the urgency and depth of their concern that the voices of historically marginalized communities on campus are being neglected and even silenced,” the Duke petition read. 

In an email to The Chronicle, Nathan Kalman-Lamb, lecturing fellow of Thompson Writing Program and one of the first signers of the petition, addressed the concern of inconvenience caused by the strike.

“Although I always feel for students inconvenienced by any kind of labor action or civil disobedience, the fact is that in this case the inconvenience of delayed grades pales in comparison to the daily horror that has been experienced by decades of Black students forced to confront a monument celebrating their dehumanization at the heart of their university,” Kalman-Lamb wrote.


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