January 15, 2019; CNN
It appears the “Silent Sam” saga is finally coming to an end—at least for now.
In August of 2018, protestors tore down the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) campus. The chancellor, Carol Folt, wrote an open letter denouncing the vandalism, and she and the UNC Board of Trustees were given until November 15th to determine a safe, legal, and alternative location for Silent Sam. On December 3rd, it was announced that administrators were proposing a new $5.3 million building to safely house the monument. That proposal was rejected. Two weeks ago, Folt, who had been chancellor at UNC since 2013, approved the removal of what’s left of the statue from the UNC campus, along with announcing her resignation. What a whirlwind of events!
When NPQ brought this story to you a few months ago, we discussed how “good leadership in a civil context requires consensus building, but sometimes history requires something different from us.” We wondered if Chancellor Folt would continue to “lean in and highlight the importance of this decision by suspending her own consensus-building ways in favor of actually equalizing voice in an unequal environment.”
It appears she chose to do something different, but at the cost of her job. While reconciliation is on the verge of taking place on UNC’s campus, Chancellor Folt is left to pack up her office and her legacy. While some may believe she was forced to resign, the decision appears to have been her choice.
The UNC Board of Governors’ chairman, Harry Smith, issued a statement saying the board had no knowledge of Folt’s resignation or decision to remove the statue’s remains. He states, “We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action. It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner.”
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Why would Folt make such a bold decision? Perhaps she knew all along what needed to be done, and she was tired of playing politics. As someone who was seen “as wanting to please all sides,” she decided to play an unexpected side and live true to the perceived message in the open letter she wrote when the statue was vandalized.
Folt decided to listen to the voices of those impacted, instead of those who fund her salary. She made a choice to stand with those who have been trying to be heard for months. She made a choice to stand with African Americans, who are still a minority on the UNC campus. She made a choice to decrease the subtle racial hostility on UNC Campus. She made the quintessential leadership decision.
In announcing her decision to remove the statue, Folt added that, “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, No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe.”
Chairman Harry Smith remains convinced that “the board’s process and timeline for determining the best solution for the future of Silent Sam ‘remains unchanged.’” So, although Folt made the decision to have the remnants removed, that does not necessarily mean they will remain that way. The Board has until March 15th to make the final decision. Smith observes, “The safety and security of the campus community and general public who visit the institution remains paramount.”
Given that, what other solution could they come up with?—Diandria Barber