North Carolina’s flagship public university plans to remove the pedestal where a now-toppled Confederate statue once stood from a main campus quad, its chancellor said Monday.
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt also announced that she will step down at the end of the school year.
Folt said she was concerned about safety at the site that continues to draw protesters for and against the statue known as “Silent Sam,” but she gave no timetable for taking away the massive pedestal and bronze memorial plaques. The items would go into storage while their fate is decided.
Leaders of the statewide university system have given themselves until March to come up with a plan for the fate of the statue, which also been stored since it was toppled last August by protesters who say it was a racist symbol.
“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,” Folt said. “No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe.”
As the public face of the university, Folt had been criticized both by those who wanted the statue gone for good, and those who said state law required it to be restored to where it had stood in McCorkle Place since 1913. The announcement of her departure comes weeks after the rejection of a plan, which Folt helped craft, to build a new $5 million history center on campus to house Silent Sam. Folt’s announcement also comes shortly after the departure of the president of the statewide university system, Margaret Spellings, who had also frequently drawn protesters’ barbs.
The statewide Board of Governors rejected that plan in December and announced that it would go “back to the drawing board” and make a new decision on the statue by March. Folt acknowledged in December that the plan to build the history center “didn’t satisfy anyone.”
Folt, who came to UNC in 2013 from Dartmouth College, said Monday that she was proud of work she’d overseen on the school’s Campaign for Carolina fundraising drive that had raised more than $2 billion as of last summer, or about half of its ambitious goal. “As I have reflected on all of this, I’ve decided that this is the right time for me to pass the leadership of our outstanding university, with all its momentum, to the next chancellor,” she wrote Monday.
But Folt’s tenure also saw UNC sued by a transgender employee over the state’s so-called bathroom bill, as well as debate over Silent Sam that grew more heated in the months after a deadly white nationalist rally in Virginia in 2017.
Some trustees for the Chapel Hill campus issued a statement saying they supported Folt’s decision to remove the base of the statue and thanking her for her service.
“We thank Chancellor Folt for working tirelessly to elevate our University each and every day to serve the people of North Carolina and beyond,” said the statement signed by three trustees and issued by the university.
Board chairman Haywood Cochrane, whose name wasn’t on the statement, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the Board of Governors — which will have the final say over the statue — went into an emergency meeting shortly before Folt’s announcement, saying little other than they were discussing personnel and legal matters. They remained in closed session after Folt’s announcement.
“Silent Sam” was torn down in August by protesters who decried its origins, including a racist speech by a former Confederate when it was dedicated.
In early December, Folt and the Chapel Hill campus trustees proposed a site for the new history center about a mile from the main quad where the statue previously stood, saying they had to balance safety concerns with a strict 2015 state historical law on Confederate monuments. At the time, Folt and several trustees said they would prefer moving the statue off campus entirely, but were restricted by the monuments law that allows relocation only in narrow circumstances. But the announcement of that plan drew hundreds of anti-statue protesters to the site of the pedestal hours later.
More demonstrations near the pedestal had occurred as recently as Sunday.
Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, Allen G. Breed in Wake Forest and Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem contributed to this report.