UNC-Chapel Hill’s new interim chancellor wants the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument moved off campus – a position the interim UNC system President said Thursday he also shares.
At a press conference to welcome Kevin Guskiewicz as interim chancellor, interim UNC President Bill Roper went further than he ever has in opposing the statue’s return to campus.
“He is on record as saying that the monument should not be anywhere on the campus, and rather should be somewhere else,” Roper said of Guskiewicz’s position on the controversial monument.
“That’s my position as well and I’m comfortable with his position,” Roper said. “That’s one of the reasons that I thought he was the right person to lead UNC-Chapel Hill at this crucial time.”
Last month, Roper said he believed the monument should not be returned to its historic home at McCorkle Place, but did not rule out returning it to campus – the solution clearly favored by many of the UNC Board of Governors’ most vocal members.
Guskiewicz was named interim chancellor Wednesday. A faculty-member since 1995 and dean of the school’s College of Arts & Sciences since 2016, he is a neuroscientist and nationally recognized expert on sports related concussions. On Thursday, Guskiewicz confirmed he intends to be a candidate for the position. “I’m confident that we’ll do the right things that I hope would allow me to be a candidate in that search,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”
The Silent Sam controversy caused significant conflict between the UNC Board of Governors and Carol Folt, who resigned as chancellor last month. Folt’s exit followed that of UNC President Margaret Spellings, who also clashed with the board over the toppling of the monument last year and the question of its return to campus.
As interim chancellor, Guskiewicz will work with a task force of UNC Board of Governors members and the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to craft a plan for the statue’s future that is to be delivered to the full Board of Governors by March 15.
In December, Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said the board continues to interpret a 2015 state law as preventing the monument’s removal from campus. He said he could not say whether the board may talk to lawmakers in Raleigh about amending the law so that the monument could be moved off-campus.
“To move the statue off-campus would require a general statute change,” Smith said. “And the group will have to decide if that’s a path they want to go down.”
Two bills have been filed this session that would pave the way for the statue’s removal.
House Bill 10 would repeal the 2015 law that prevents the removal of such monuments except under very narrow and temporary circumstances.
House Bill 20 would leave the 2015 law in place but empower the UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor to remove the statue and transfer it to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for relocation to a cemetery for Confederate soldiers.
Both bills are sponsored by Democrats. The leaders of the Republican legislative majorities are on record as seeing no need to repeal the law and preferring the statue to remain on campus.
“We’ve already passed the law,” House Speaker Tim Moore said last month. “At this point it’s a matter of enforcement of the law, and if folks want to challenge that and have questions, that’s where the courts come in.”
The issue – which has already played a part in the departure of two UNC leaders – is likely to be the most contentious in the early days of Guskiewicz’s stint as interim chancellor. Roper has said he believes Guskiewicz will be in place for up to 18 months as the search is conducted for the school’s next long-term chancellor.