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Majority of UNC Board Criticizes Handling of Confederate Statue at Chapel Hill

Fifteen members of the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors have written a letter to the board’s chair, Lou Bissette, and the system’s president, Margaret Spellings, expressing dissatisfaction with how they have handled controversy over a Confederate statue on the flagship Chapel Hill campus, reports The News & Observer. Specifically, the letter criticizes a request that Mr. Bissette, Ms. Spellings, and the Chapel Hill chancellor, Carol Folt, sent to Gov. Roy Cooper about the statue, known as Silent Sam.

In that letter, sent on August 22, the officials ask the governor if he would convene the North Carolina Historical Commission to decide if the statue can be removed from the campus. A protest over the statue was planned for the following day, and the university’s administrators sought to avoid violent confrontations. Mr. Cooper, a Democrat, told the university that the statue could be removed if campus safety was at immediate risk.

To formulate the request to Mr. Cooper, Mr. Bissette, Ms. Spellings, and Ms. Folt met with the Board of Governors’ committee chairs, representing seven out of the board’s 28 members. Some members who weren’t consulted wrote in the new letter to Mr. Bissette and Ms. Spellings: “The letter exuded a weakness and hand-wringing that does not accurately reflect the board’s opinion about how the potential of campus unrest should be treated.” The board members also said that, if consulted, they would not have allowed the first letter to be sent to Governor Cooper. The board is predominantly made up of Republicans.

The letter also said that Mr. Bissette, Ms. Spellings, and Ms. Folt’s actions had heightened “the potential for unrest and violence.” They wrote that Mr. Bissette, Ms. Spellings, and Ms. Folt had “sought our advice and counsel first — as we believe it is your duty to do.” According to The News & Observer, Mr. Bissette and Ms. Spellings responded to the letter by saying they had been acting quickly in the interests of student safety.

The board members’ letter follows months of polarized debate over whether Confederate monuments like Silent Sam should be removed, which began after a white-supremacist gunmen in 2015 murdered nine parishioners at a black church in Charleston, S.C., and was renewed by the violence last month in Charlottesville, Va.

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