Frequently asked questions about current campus issues

  1. Confederate Monument, Legal Authority and Campus Safety Concerns
  2. Outside Speakers, First Amendment and Facilities Use Policy
  3. Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History
  4. Center for Civil Rights
  5. Diversity and Inclusivity Initiatives Following Town Hall Dialogue

1. Confederate Monument, Legal Authority and Campus Safety Concerns

What state law prevents the University from removing the Confederate Monument?
In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law (North Carolina General Statute 100-2.1) that prohibits state agencies (including  University of North Carolina system campuses and  UNC-Chapel Hill) from permanently removing any “object of remembrance.” Because the Confederate Monument (Silent Sam) is a state-owned monument and defined as an object of remembrance, it’s subject to that law.

Who has the legal authority to approve removing or relocating the Confederate Monument?
The North Carolina Historical Commission is the only entity the law identifies as having the authority to authorize relocating such monuments. The law says, “a monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the State may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.”

Further, the law says, anobject of remembrance located on public property may not be permanently removed and may only be relocated. … An object of remembrance that is permanently relocated shall be relocated to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated.

Since North Carolina General Statute 100-2.1 is new, there are no known established protocols that govern how the commission may engage on these issues. However, since the law identifies the commission as the only entity with authority to relocate monuments, President Spellings, Chancellor Folt, and the chairs of the UNC system’s Board of Governors (BOG) and UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees (BOT) concluded that the historical commission should consider what steps should be taken consistent with the law.

Read the key passages of North Carolina General Statute 100-2.1

Who appoints members of the North Carolina Historical Commission?
The governor appoints commission members to staggered six-year terms and designates the chair. By statute, the commission meets at least twice a year and may hold special meetings at the call of the chair or upon the written request of at least four members.

What action can the commission take?

Under the law, the commission doesn’t have the authority to remove an object of remembrance like the Confederate Monument. Instead, the law allows the commission to relocate an object of remembrance “to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated.” As a result, there are limitations on what the commission can do.

Has the commission met to take up any of these issues?

The commission convened in a regularly scheduled public meeting in Raleigh on September 22 to consider agenda items that included relocating “objects of remembrance” under the 2015 state law. The secretary of the North Carolina Department of Administration petitioned the commission to relocate three state monuments from the state capitol grounds. The commission voted to appoint a committee to gather legal and historical research on the relocation issue for consideration at its April 2018 meeting.

What does the law’s reference to an unsafe or dangerous condition mean?
The law includes an exception that allows for an object of remembrance to be removed if a building inspector or similar official has determined that the physical condition of an object of remembrance creates a risk to the monument or people viewing it. (A building inspector would need to find clear and compelling evidence that the Confederate Monument is in such disrepair that it poses a threat to public safety. As it currently stands, the monument is structurally sound.)

Because the physical condition of the monument itself doesn’t pose a threat to public safety – rather, the public safety concern in this case is the potential for the monument to become a focal point for violent protest prompted by outside groups – this exception doesn’t apply to the Confederate Monument.

What is meant by public safety? And how has the University addressed public safety concerns?

In the context of debate about the Confederate Monument, “public safety” refers to two distinct topics:

  • First, the state law in question defines “public safety” as potential harm to people caused by damage to or structural problems with the monument itself. The University has not identified any issues of this nature.
  • Second, Chancellor Folt, law enforcement officials, and others have referred to “public safety” when expressing concerns about violence that could take place around the statue, especially following the protests in Charlottesville. This aspect of public safety is not addressed by the state law, but is of the utmost concern to the University.

Chancellor Folt often has emphasized that the safety and well-being of the campus community – particularly after Charlottesville – are her most important priorities. While state law severely constrains what the University can do about the Confederate Monument, the administration has implemented additional safety and security protocols, as well as escalated threat monitoring, to ensure it’s doing everything possible to protect the campus community from similar violence. Historically, the campus community has a long tradition of peaceful protests and respectful debate. Public safety officials and administrators are most concerned about outside groups.

How has the University communicated those safety concerns to state leaders?
In an August 21 letter to the North Carolina governor, President Spellings, Chancellor Folt, and the chairs of the BOG (Lou Bissette) and BOT (Haywood Cochrane) asked Governor Cooper “to take appropriate action to help avoid violence and address the significant safety risks” posed by the existence of the Confederate Monument. The letter said, “Chancellor Folt has notified us that the law enforcement staff at UNC-Chapel Hill believe it is only a matter of time before an attempt is made to pull down Silent Sam in much the same manner we saw in Durham. Based on our interactions with State and local law enforcement, including the State Bureau of Investigation, an attempt may occur at any time.”

The letter expressed concern about the likelihood that a protest “would draw large numbers of people, including many outside groups. … (C)ampus and law enforcement are concerned that a student or other bystander could be seriously injured in any confrontation at the site.”

Because UNC-Chapel Hill is the only UNC campus with a Confederate statue, the letter noted, it has been placed in a “uniquely visible and precarious position.”

What did the governor say in response to the University’s letter?
Governor Cooper’s response didn’t address the University’s request that he take steps to convene the North Carolina Historical Commission. He wrote, “If our University leaders believe there is real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures. In circumstances like this one, the law clearly gives the authority to ‘building inspector[s] or similar officials’ to take steps in the interest of avoiding ‘threats to public safety.’”

Governor Cooper gave no reasoning or legal basis to support his opinion. He didn’t specify which “immediate measures” should be taken, nor did he acknowledge that the law defines “public safety” in a way that isn’t applicable to this situation. (As noted above, the state law in question defines “public safety” as potential harm to people caused by damage to or structural problems with the monument itself. The University has not identified any issues of this nature.)

Legal authorities at the General Assembly, BOG, UNC General Administration, and campus disagree with the governor’s interpretation and his instructions to the University to take an action that’s in direct conflict with a state law and a matter of serious, ongoing legal debate.

Has the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees taken a position on the monument issue?
The current chair and three former chairs of the BOT issued a joint statement on August 25 agreeing with the University’s legal interpretation, and again stating that the University and the chancellor do not have the legal authority to move or remove the monument.

BOT leaders cited guidance from the UNC system’s BOG chair “agreeing … we have not been given the green light by anyone with authority to relocate the statue. Any suggestion that we have unilateral authority is inaccurate. Any legal options available to us will be guided by discussions with the Board of Governors. Above all, regardless of the circumstance, the Chancellor has a responsibility to the people of North Carolina to uphold all state laws.”

Does the law give the University the authority to remove or relocate monuments due to any other concerns, such as ethical, moral, or historical accuracy?

No. Under state law, no one can remove, relocate, or alter the monument for any reason other than the ones specifically covered in the statute.

Are there others laws or policies governing its removal or relocation?
While not state law, there are other factors that affect the University’s ability to take action on related issues. For example, in 2015, after a full year of campus dialogue and discussion, the BOT voted to direct the chancellor to develop new curation and education initiatives about campus history, rename Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall, and place a 16-year freeze on renaming historic buildings, monuments, memorials, and landscapes to provide adequate time for the new education efforts to take root. (See Section 3 below for details).

2. Outside Speakers, First Amendment and Facilities Policy Use

What are the University’s responsibilities to protect free speech rights?
The University is governed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the North Carolina Restore Free Speech Act, enacted by the General Assembly in 2017, and the campus Facilities Use Policy, originally established in the 1960s and regularly updated.

The First Amendment limits the University’s ability to restrict the freedom of speech, even if the content is offensive or hateful. UNC-Chapel Hill cannot prohibit speakers from coming to campus just because community members may disagree with their content or opinion. The University can set limits on a speaker’s appearance that aren’t related to speech content. Those limits include setting reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. Those rights also include not allowing speech to occur in a manner that disrupts classrooms, research labs, and offices.

Neither the First Amendment nor the North Carolina Restore Free Speech Act requires the University to put anyone’s safety at risk when the campus has identified a serious threat of imminent harm to students, faculty, and staff. It’s the safety risk – not the speaker’s viewpoint – that would be the sole basis for a decision to decline a request. For more information on First Amendment protections, outside speakers and safety-related issues, click here.

Why aren’t people allowed to put up tents and temporarily reside on University grounds?
The University’s Facilities Use Policy exists to protect the health and safety of students, the campus community, and the environment. The policy says “no temporary structures whatsoever shall be erected or placed on lawn space beneath the drip lines of trees.” Given the dense tree canopy on McCorkle Place, tents or other temporary structures are prohibited. The University has received many requests from students over the years to erect similar structures for a number of different reasons. The campus must respond consistently to ensure the safety of the campus community and to maintain sanitation and preserve the landscape.

Why did the chancellor decline the request of the National Policy Institute to book space for its President Richard Spencer?
The chancellor declined the request due to serious concerns about campus safety after consulting with UNC Police and local and state law enforcement agencies about the risks such an event could bring to the campus.

How will the University handle other requests from outside speakers?
When the University receives requests to rent campus spaces from outside speakers, the administration will review those consistently based on the appropriate facility use policies. The University has a long history of welcoming speakers with a wide range of viewpoints; there is no process to review the remarks of outside speakers. However, the administration reserves the right to decline or cancel any event if officials determine it poses serious safety risks and imposes an imminent threat of violence to campus.

3. Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History

How is the University approaching contextualizing campus history?
The University is committed to telling the full and accurate story of more than two centuries of campus history as the nation’s first public university chartered in 1789. The BOT, the chancellor, and the administration have taken several major steps forward in making progress toward that goal over the past two-and-a-half years.

In May 2015, the BOT adopted a comprehensive approach to telling the full story of Carolina’s history. Trustees voted to develop new curation and education initiatives and directed the chancellor to undertake a comprehensive approach to that effort; renamed Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall; and placed a 16-year freeze on renaming historic buildings, monuments, memorials, and landscapes to allow time for education efforts to take root.

Those votes came after trustees invested more than a year consulting and engaging in constructive dialogue the administration helped facilitate with student groups, including passionate student activists who had expressed long-standing concerns Carolina hadn’t told the complete story of campus history. The board also sought input from faculty and staff, alumni, and national public history experts.

Why did the trustees rename Saunders Hall?
In renaming Saunders Hall as Carolina Hall, the trustees corrected an error their research found previous trustees made in 1920 by citing William Saunders’ leadership role as “head of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina” as a qualification for the building name honor. He was an alumnus, a trustee, and the former North Carolina Secretary of State. During Saunders’ era, the KKK was a violent, terrorist organization that was illegal in the United States.

In removing Saunders’ name, trustees followed a policy on renaming campus buildings, which allows revoking an honoree’s name if continuing to use it would “compromise the public trust, dishonor the University’s standards, or otherwise be contrary to the best interests of the University.”

How was the history task force created?
When trustees voted to rename Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall, they directed the chancellor to undertake a comprehensive approach to curating and teaching a full and accurate history of UNC-Chapel Hill. The objective is to ensure that everyone – students, prospective students, faculty, staff and community – has the opportunity to “learn about Carolina’s history, values, and contributions to society.”

To carry out the board’s directive, Chancellor Folt appointed co-chairs for a Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History in September 2015 and charged them with making recommendations to her and the trustees about how best to comprehensively curate and teach a full and accurate campus history. Among the first projects the chancellor assigned were developing historical interpretations of Carolina Hall and McCorkle Place, the site of the first buildings and the historic heart of campus. She instructed the task force to seek broad participation from the campus, alumni, and community members.

“An honest and thoughtful account of Carolina’s history will encourage people to reflect on how race, class, and privilege have shaped the University and the nation,” Chancellor Folt wrote to the campus in announcing the task force. “In telling our full history, we have the chance to educate our students and community, and to respectfully engage in difficult dialogues that encompass varying perspectives. In this way, we can truly honor our tradition of excellence and make Carolina ever stronger for the future.”

What’s the Carolina Hall exhibit?
The task force’s initial project was to create a permanent exhibit inside the entrance to Carolina Hall and launch a companion website in November 2016 to teach about a critical era in the history of North Carolina, the region, and the University. The exhibit is free and open to the public weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Signs on Polk Place advertise the exhibit and website. The chancellor and task force strongly encourage all students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members to visit both the physical exhibit and online exhibit. For more information and a story that features a video about the exhibit launch, click here.

What’s the status of the curation plans for McCorkle Place?
Since completing the Carolina Hall exhibit, task force members have been actively working for more than nine months on conducting research and developing a comprehensive interpretive strategy for McCorkle Place that will include recommendations for a mix of physical and virtual curation techniques with temporary and permanent art projects.

The task force is drafting new signs to welcome people to and explain the origins of McCorkle Place, where the University opened its doors to students in 1795. Other signs will focus on the Confederate Monument and the Unsung Founders Memorial, including how they were erected within the context of their respective historical moments.

All of these signs will direct people to digital content that provides more information about McCorkle Place, and eventually more stories about the University’s founding and development. Examples of such stories include the history of the Native peoples who lived in this part of North Carolina before European colonization, the landowners who donated their property to establish the University, early student life, the history of women on campus, the birth of the research university, and the legacy of public service to North Carolina, the nation, and the world. As with the Carolina Hall exhibit, McCorkle Place curation will explore the history of slavery, civil rights, race, class, and privilege in the University’s history.

To make part of this history tied to McCorkle Place more accessible today, the task force already has added excerpts to its website from three popular Priceless Gems tours offered by the UNC Visitors’ Center:  “Black and Blue: A History of African Americans at UNC,”Digging in Our Heels: The Herstory of Women at Carolina,” and “The Native Narrative Tour: A History of the American Indian Presence at UNC.” These excerpts can also be downloaded to a desktop computer or a mobile device.

What other projects are planned?
In conjunction with the plans for McCorkle Place, the task force has spent several months actively working to address physical issues around the Unsung Founders Memorial. Students had the idea for this monument, and raised money to commission a renowned sculptor to create it as a senior class gift in 2002. Dedicated in 2005, the monument honors the many enslaved and free people of color who helped build the University. The task force is working with a landscape architect and Facilities Services staff to develop ideas to help stabilize the monument, explain its purpose, and enhance the site to make it more reverential.

How does the task force’s work fit in with University priorities?
The Carolina Hall exhibit and the other work accomplished to date is the beginning of a major commitment by the University to contextualize the history of the campus. The task force’s work supports the University’s new strategic framework – “The Blueprint for Next” – endorsed by the BOT in January 2017 to guide future decision-making. One of the framework’s core strategies, “Of the Public, for the Public,” harkens to Carolina’s historic role in service to the state and its people. Goals supporting that strategy include honestly and thoughtfully encouraging people to respectfully engage in difficult dialogues.

4. Center for Civil Rights

What final action did the Board of Governors take on the Center for Civil Rights?
In September 2017, the UNC BOG approved an amendment to the UNC Policy Manual that restricts the right of any center and institute to engage in litigation. The approved policy amendment is described here. The Center for Civil Rights in the School of Law is the only entity at UNC-Chapel Hill to which the amendment applied, and it will have a significant impact on the center’s ability to contribute to the legal education and training of students.

UNC General Administration devoted a webpage to this topic, available here, that reflects discussions, reports submitted by UNC-Chapel Hill, and input at a public comment session held in May that focused on litigation associated with the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Civil Rights and N.C. Central University’s law school.

What was UNC-Chapel Hill’s position?
The chancellor and her administration strongly supported the important work and mission of the Center for Civil Rights and its efforts to protect the civil rights of North Carolinians. The chancellor and a panel she appointed responded to BOG committee requests for detailed

information about the implications of the policy change eventually approved on the future of the center and the law school. The chancellor’s letter and the panel’s report and exhibits are available here, here, and here. The panel was chaired by Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt, also president of the North Carolina State Bar. Other members were Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean; Martin Brinkley, law school dean; Ted Shaw, the Julius Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and director of the Center for Civil Rights; and former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert Edmunds.

How is the administration responding to the final decision?
In a statement issued September 8 shortly after the BOG vote, Chancellor Folt said she was disappointed in the BOG’s decision. Her full response is posted here and follows:

“I am disappointed in the vote of the UNC Board of Governors today regarding the Center for Civil Rights. I believe that the University and the people who testified on behalf of the Center made a compelling case about why the Center is so important to the people of our state. I am proud of the Center, its history and all who worked so hard to answer the board’s questions and provide important facts about how the Center serves the needs of our citizens.

“We now must determine a path forward for the Center and reconfirm our commitment to educating the next generation of civil rights lawyers and providing assistance to the poor and disadvantaged in North Carolina. I will work with other University leaders, stakeholders and the school of law to explore all options and develop a course of action that allows us to continue this vitally important work while adhering to the new policy adopted by the Board of Governors today.  The School of Law is one of not only the University’s strongest assets, but it is one of our state’s, training generations of students who continue on in service to the state, the nation and the world.  That tradition of excellence and service is the core of the school’s identity and it defines our greater purpose.”

5. Diversity and Inclusivity Initiatives Following Town Hall Dialogue

Why did the University host a campus town hall in 2015?
The chancellor and the administration place a major focus on supporting diversity and inclusion in their fullest forms across the campus and keeping a Carolina education accessible and affordable for deserving students.

Since November 2015, those efforts have been focused in part on following up with the University community on constructive dialogue begun at a campus-wide town hall on race and inclusion in Memorial Hall. That event responded to concerns by some students who believed the University had the authority several weeks earlier to prohibit two outside Confederate heritage groups from holding a rally in McCorkle Place at the Confederate Monument. The purpose of the town hall was to work harder on the issues that hampered the University’s ability to be the inclusive, inspiring, and safe campus the community aspires to be.

What steps did the University take following the town hall?
In January 2016, the chancellor, along with University leadership, shared the first of several updates with the campus community about race, equity, and inclusion initiatives, including education training for trustees, deans, and Chancellor’s Cabinet members; expanded mental health and wellness services to better serve all students; work on the Carolina Hall exhibit by the history task force (see above); and endorsements from Faculty Council and student groups for Thrive@Carolina, a campus wide effort to foster success and degree completion for all students.

By April 2016, the administration had held several significant meetings with students representing various constituencies that helped in gathering feedback, learning more about the wants and needs of the campus community, and sharing progress along with future plans.

Those results, shared in a campus message from the chancellor and University leaders, included securing dedicated space for black students to gather in the Upendo Lounge; completion of the leadership training for trustees and administrators on conscious and unconscious bias; development of a new welcoming communication strategy for incoming first-generation college students to connect them with campus resources; starting a steering committee focused on renaming scholarships, fellowships and programming to honor alumni, faculty, or staff members whose stories should be more widely told; and developing a new tour for visitors to better orient newcomers to the University’s full history.

How has the University continued to promote diversity and inclusivity initiatives?

Since the town hall and progress achieved during the 2015-2016 academic year, the University has continued to integrate and launch new and related programs to help make Carolina the kind of community where all feel welcomed, respected, and free to pursue their goals and dreams.

Following are a few examples:

  • At University Day in October 2016, Chancellor Folt and Vice Provost Steve Farmer announced the renaming of existing grants and fellowships to honor 21 courageous alumni, faculty, and staff who represent important “firsts” in campus history. Those honored included the first woman graduate, the first American Indian to be admitted, the first black undergraduates, and the first alumnus to give his life in military service to the United States. Chancellor Folt was inspired to launch this initiative after a suggestion made by a student at the town hall on race and inclusion. She asked Farmer to chair a special naming committee to develop a process and recommend the honorees.
  • The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation awarded the University the 2017 Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence, which recognizes success in enrolling low-income students and supporting them through graduation. UNC-Chapel Hill became the first public university to receive the foundation’s $1 million award. The foundation lauded the University’s efforts to admit and graduate high-achieving, low-income students through efforts like the nationally recognized Carolina Covenant program.
  • Effective August 1, Rumay Alexander was named associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, the University’s chief diversity officer. She was interim chief diversity officer for the past year and special assistant to the chancellor since January 2016. Alexander already had been working closely with Vice Chancellor of Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia A. Washington and senior leaders to refine and comprehensively connect the University’s diversity framework. That work falls under the unit Alexander now leads called the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion.
  • One focus of that office’s programming is to promote constructive conversation. Examples include the Carolina Conversations series, which encourages open and respectful dialogue, and the annual Diversity THINKposium, which takes a non-conventional approach to working with faculty and staff to address diversity, inspire action, and facilitate the solution-making process.

This year’s Carolina Conversations series began September 6 with a session highlighting  “The First Amendment and Free Speech at UNC.”

The 2017 THINKposium’s public session will be held September 20 and focus on “Exploring Our Stories.” The event is free, but required advance registration with a deadline that has expired. For more information, click here.

Published Sept. 13, 2017. Updated Sept. 22, 2017.