UNC-Chapel Hill teaching assistants strike over plan for Silent Sam statue
- Dozens of teaching assistants and instructors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are on strike following the release of a plan by the UNC Board of Trustees to relocate the Silent Sam Confederate statue to a proposed $5.3 million on-campus facility, The News & Observer reported on Friday.
- As part of their strike, the teaching assistants and instructors say they will withhold about 2,200 grades until the plan is withdrawn and listening sessions with the campus community are held.
- The UNC Faculty Council has also weighed in, asking university leaders to forgo the current plan and involve a council-appointed faculty committee in the discussion over the statue's future. At a council meeting on Friday, several attendees called for the statue to be moved off-campus.
Pressure to relocate Silent Sam came to a head at the start of the academic year, when protestors pulled down the statue that has become a lightning rod for debate in recent years. UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and several trustees have said they'd like to relocate the statue off-campus but are standing behind a 2015 state historic preservation law that requires such monuments to be returned to a similar place of significance, if not their original location.
Cost and context are at issue in the trustees' plan. During Friday's faculty council meeting, Folt said the history center was meant to capture "all the stories" surrounding the debate over Silent Sam, which was erected in 1913 to commemorate students who were killed while fighting for the Confederacy. However, critics of the trustees' plan say the standalone center will further memorialize the statue's racist roots and draw white nationalists to campus.
Beyond its multi-million dollar construction expenses, the history center would be fitted with "state-of-the-art security measures" with annual operating expenses of $800,000, according to the trustees' plan. The report notes the plan, "while requiring additional investments in safety and security and being more expensive than an off-campus option, allows [UNC] to contextualize the Artifacts," and that such a center has been in the works since 2015.
Consultants that helped the trustees develop the plan also recommended the creation of a 40-person "mobile force platoon" to help manage protests across the 17-campus system. The platoon would cost $2 million annually with $500,000 in equipment costs.
The report points out that "the nature of college campus protests have changed dramatically" in recent years. It notes that campus police departments must "effectively preserve public safety and maintain order" on campus, where "few limitations on public gatherings exist and crowd control tactics generally employed by law enforcement are fraught with sensitivities over any use of force by police."
Discussions over the need to balance safety and security with free speech concerns amid protests on campus is not limited to UNC. But who foots the bill is often disputed.
Last week, the University of California, Berkeley settled a free speed lawsuit with the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America's Foundation, which alleged the university discriminated against conservative speakers. As part of the settlement, the university is prohibited from charging security fees over concerns that the ideas expressed at an event will "provoke disturbances."
The UNC System Board of Governors will consider the plan for Silent Sam at its Dec. 14 meeting, and the N.C. Historical Commission must also approve the proposal.
- The News and Observer UNC faculty seek voice in Silent Sam’s future as teaching assistants’ strike grows
Follow Hallie Busta on Twitter