Written by Jim Holmes, Darrell Allison, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho who are members of the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors.
Charlotte Observer / News & Observer
December 16, 2019
After protesters toppled the “Silent Sam” statue on Aug. 20, 2018, the Board of Governors directed the UNC-Chapel Hill Trustees and Chancellor Folt to develop a lawful solution that protects public safety, preserves the monument and its history, and allows the University to focus on its core educational mission.
UNC-Chapel Hill proposed to construct an on-campus facility to house the monument. However, multiple public safety experts believed that UNC-Chapel Hill faced a continued high risk of violence, civil disorder, and property damage if the monument returned to campus.
The Board of Governors tasked us to work with UNC-Chapel Hill to review other options that would accomplish all of the board’s directives.
We learned that the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) organization was prepared to pursue legal action that could mean the return of the monument to campus. However, the SCV indicated it was open to the placement of the monument elsewhere in return for funding the transportation, repair, maintenance, security, and public display of the monument. Original cost estimates from the SCV exceeded $5 million, plus annual recurring operating expenses.
The state’s monuments law prevents the removal of a public statue but there is an exemption for private ownership. The SCV arranged to acquire all property rights of the monument from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). We reached an agreement with the SCV to settle the threatened litigation with the following terms:
- The SCV owns the monument;
- The monument will be transferred to the SCV;
- The UNC System and the Board of Governors will fund a separate charitable trust administered by a neutral, independent trustee in the amount of $2.5 million; the funds will come from interest on the university endowment fund, not tax dollars or tuition and fees.
- The separate charitable trust is to be used only for the preservation of the monument, as determined by the trustee; and
- The monument cannot be located in any of the 14 counties currently containing a UNC System constituent institution.
We also agreed that the SCV would sign a separate agreement limiting its ability to display flags and banners on university campuses, in exchange for a payment of $74,999. This agreement addressed the possibility that the consent order might not be approved, in which case the SCV agreed that it would not sponsor events on any of our campuses for five years.
The Attorney General’s Office confirmed that there was no legal impediment to the UNC System and its Board of Governors agreeing to the proposed settlement, and that it had the authority to consent to the judgment proposed.
We presented the proposed settlement to the board’s Governance Committee, since the authority to settle this matter is within its authority outlined in Section 200.5 of the UNC Policy Manual. Twenty members of the Board of Governors participated in the meeting. Only one committee member voted against this settlement. A superior court judge approved the consent order, the SCV took possession of the monument and the UNC System transferred $2.5 million to the charitable trust from interest accumulated in the UNC-Chapel Hill endowment.
We were given the responsibility to resolve a deeply divisive and personal issue. While we have heard from citizens from across this state who have expressed their gratitude for our efforts of finding a solution to this issue, we also acknowledge that others strongly disagree with the board’s decision to approve a settlement. Compromise was a necessity.
However, we remain convinced that our approach offered a lawful and lasting path that ensures the monument never returns to campus. We believe this agreement not only protects and reduces the risk of violence and physical harm to students, faculty, and staff if the monument had returned to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, but also ensures the same for our 16 other campuses in the UNC System.