University News

Message from Chancellor Carol L. Folt and Provost Robert A. Blouin on plan for historical contextualization

Our unique legacy demands that we be truthful and continue to examine and reckon with our past with our present and future – if we are to be the diverse and just community that is fitting for America’s first public university.

An overall photo of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus at sunset.

Dear Carolina Community:

Our community and nation have struggled for a long time with deeply rooted issues of race, inclusion, opportunity, pride and memory associated with America’s history. These driving societal and historical forces will be essential to creating a truthful and full historical contextualization both of our University and the Confederate Monument.

We write you today to describe the four-part plan voted by the Board of Trustees this morning. We believe the plan meets the University of North Carolina Board of Governors (BOG) charge – “to propose a plan for disposition and preservation of the Confederate Monument that is consistent with current law, protects public safety, preserves the monument and its history, and allows the University to focus on its core mission of education, research, economic stimulation and creating the next generation of leaders.”

There are four parts to the plan:

  • Part 1: Relocating the monument. We used detailed studies of public safety and security (with a panel of national security consultants), campus and broader community input, feasibility, and cost to evaluate over 20 options, focusing on those that best met the charge to be legal and safe.

Based on all we learned, our preference for the safest option that both preserves the statue and allows for its contextualization and public access would be to locate the artifacts to a secure off-campus site, such as but not limited to the North Carolina Museum of History. While we realize that relocation to an off-campus location such as a museum does not comply with current law, our public safety concerns make it important for us to continue discussions concerning this avenue, even while moving forward with developing and seeking approval for an on-campus site.

These concerns also ruled out any plan to return the monument to its base, relocate it anywhere outdoors on campus or place it in Wilson Library.

Our recommendation for the best legal option, which will now go to the BOG, is to create a University History and Education Center, which would house the artifacts (i.e., the bronze statue and commemorative tablets) together with other historical artifacts, display spaces, classroom space and an auditorium with interactive technology.

The Center would be in a new, free-standing building with state-of-the-art security and outstanding programming located in Odum Village, an easily accessible campus area slated for growth in the near term under our campus master plan. This site most closely fits both the recommendations from the safety panel and the criteria established for relocation by the current monument law.

  • Part 2: Continuing and expanding efforts to add historical contextualization to campus. The Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History has led this effort for three years. Many phases including restoring the Unsung Founders Memorial, fully contextualizing McCorkle Place, and creating digital historical materials and new tours are underway.
  • Part 3: Establishing a University History and Education Center. This Center is critical to our plan. It also has been a long-standing goal of ours and will satisfy the resolution passed by the UNC Board of Trustees in 2015 by creating a “public space to house a permanent collection of UNC’s history.” We will use the Center to help teach our full history to our students and the public.
  • Part 4: Creating a new McCorkle Place Gateway.While not yet fully developed, this component of the plan calls for the creation of a commemorative space for reflection on our past, present and future. It will serve as the gateway to our campus, and will be located in the area currently occupied by the base of the monument.

Our plan for an on-campus relocation will require approval from the North Carolina Historical Commission to comply with state law. We are requesting the BOG’s authorization to apply for approval at the Commission’s next meeting. Until its final location is established, we are recommending that the artifacts be stored in a secure place.

We are grateful for the time, effort and feelings shared with us by so many during this process. We received extensive and heartfelt input from students, faculty, staff and the general public, including approximately 5,000 email responses. Other input came from workshops, forums, surveys and meetings led by faculty, students and staff. The majority of people who gave us feedback want the monument permanently removed, or moved to another location either off campus or within a contextualized setting on campus.

As a public state university, we must always do our best to be responsive to the wider community – both on- and off-campus. We understand that not everyone will be pleased with our plan. But we hope that both on campus and in the wider community, we can come together to make this work. This is essential so we can return our full attention to our mission of education and discovery for the public good.

We have a long and important history to tell, and the Center will offer us an excellent opportunity to tell it all. We are the only public university to have experienced our nation’s history from the start – war, slavery, Jim Crow laws, suffrage, civil unrest, as well as hope, freedom, emancipation, civil rights, opportunity, access, learning, and great discoveries fostered here. All of these subjects will be covered in the proposed Center. Our unique legacy demands that we be truthful and continue to examine and reckon with our past with our present and future – if we are to be the diverse and just community that is fitting for America’s first public university.

In closing, we thank again the many individuals who led efforts to garner feedback, including the Faculty Executive Committee, the Student Advisory Committee to the Chancellor and the leadership of the Employee Forum. While we understand that some people wanted to be more directly involved in the plan, this process was fast and as thorough as we could make it. We read every word, listened to every comment, and appreciate the extent to which so many on our campus care about this important issue.

We are especially grateful to the Board of Trustees for their service and commitment to our University and their dedication to developing a plan in partnership with the senior leaders of the University and the community. We are also grateful to the BOG for giving us this critically important pathway forward.

The recommendation is now in the hands of the Board of Governors. We will await their guidance on our next steps. We recognize that this plan will take many months to implement as we deal with legal, financial and security challenges. Developing the Center and the Gateway will require input and leadership from our faculty and community.

We look forward to working with you on that major undertaking ahead.

Respectfully,

Carol L. Folt
Chancellor

Robert A. Blouin
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost