UNC-Chapel Hill has faced a turbulent series of events in the past few weeks. On Monday, Jan. 14, Chancellor Carol Folt released a statement announcing her resignation, originally scheduled for the end of the school year, and ordering the removal of the remaining parts of the Silent Sam Confederate memorial. That night, the statue’s base and plaques were removed from the original site. The following day, the UNC Board of Governors (BOG) held an emergency meeting to accept Folt’s resignation and decided to set a new resignation date for Jan. 31.
Despite the highly suspicious timing of the BOG’s meeting, both Folt and the BOG have asserted that the decision to move the timeline up was not a punishment for the monument’s removal. Speaking to the press after the meeting, BOG Chairman Harry Smith stated that the decision was made according to “what we think is the very best for the institution,” citing a desire to “move to a healing process” as soon as possible.
However, if this was not a punitive measure, it’s difficult to see what purpose the BOG could have had in removing Folt before her desired resignation date. The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees (BOT), which serves as an advising body to both the BOG and the chancellor, issued a statement alongside Folt’s in support of her decision and her original timeline.
The current UNC System interim president, Bill Roper, will choose the interim chancellor, who will serve in Folt’s capacity until a new chancellor is named. This poses uncertainty for students at UNC-CH, who may experience disruptions both as the interim chancellor takes over and whenever the next chancellor is hired. By contrast, Folt’s original timeline would have minimized any disruption by placing much of the chaos after students’ grades were posted and graduations were conducted.
Adding to this, the BOG is currently searching for a replacement for UNC System President Margaret Spellings, who announced her resignation on Oct. 26, 2018. Spellings will officially step down on Mar.1, but Roper has already taken over some of her functions, such as appointing Folt’s temporary replacement. Spellings also clashed with the BOG at times over Silent Sam, but she likewise insisted that these disagreements were not a factor in her departure.
The BOG must now work simultaneously to fill two extremely high-level positions in the UNC System, meaning its attention will be thoroughly occupied by the search. This could potentially impact its capacity to respond to other pressing issues affecting the university system, such as implementing the proposed changes to Title IX.
In light of these impending issues, it’s unfathomable why the BOG would choose to accelerate Folt’s resignation barring serious dissatisfaction with her decision to remove the statue’s base.
At issue in the ongoing deliberations over the future of Silent Sam is a 2015 law, which places restrictions on what institutions like UNC-CH are allowed to do with such monuments. However, as far back as 2017, Gov. Roy Cooper said that it was legal to relocate the monument for concerns of safety in response to a letter by Folt, Spellings, the BOG and the BOT.
Folt’s decision to remove the statue was at worst legally ambiguous, and regardless, it was made by the chancellor for the clear purpose of student safety. By contrast, the BOG's subsequent decision to move up Folt’s resignation for no discernable reason jeopardizes the orderly functioning of university administration and the board itself.
There is no clear legal or administrative reason for the board to have moved Folt’s resignation date. Barring some later disclosure of a reason for doing so, it seems the board has placed its own political desires ahead of the well-being of students and faculty at UNC-CH. The BOG should be an independent body free from political pressures, but such transparently political actions undermine this ideal and serve only to detract from the education of all students in the UNC System.
This unsigned editorial is the opinion of Technician’s editorial board and is the responsibility of the editor-in-chief.