Dear Carolina Community,
I wanted to write to you directly about the role my leadership team and I played in the efforts of the UNC System and Board of Governors during 2019 to resolve the final disposition of the Confederate Monument, known as Silent Sam. I understand that some of you may still have questions following the UNC System’s Feb. 1 legal settlement with the Daily Tar Heel. I want to clarify my role and help our campus continue to move forward.
I am writing to you today not only as Chancellor, but also as a faculty member who has been part of this campus community for over 25 years and who knows the values we collectively share as Tar Heels. We value transparency, honesty, trust and inclusion. I share these values with you.
Let me start by reviewing where we have been as a community since 2018 when the monument was toppled. As dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, I supported the campus community’s strong assertion that the monument should not return to our campus. And, on the day I was named interim chancellor two years ago, I joined former UNC System Interim President Bill Roper in stating unequivocally that the monument should never return to our campus.
After an attempt by University leadership at that time to find an alternative path forward with respect to the disposition of the monument, the UNC System and BOG assumed full and complete authority to determine the fate of the monument in December 2018. That authority remains in place to this day.
Shortly after, members of the BOG requested Clayton Somers, our Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs, to work directly with them on their efforts to find a solution. Once I became interim chancellor and while Clayton was on this assignment for members of the BOG, he provided me with general broad updates regarding the progress of this project. Initially, the discussions appeared to involve potential legislative actions. During the fall of 2019, I understood discussions were shifting toward the potential for a resolution that could result in the permanent removal of the monument from our campus. While I did not participate in the negotiations regarding any settlement, as I have previously stated, I was aware discussions were occurring through the UNC System, and I learned that the specific terms of the settlement were nearing completion shortly before Thanksgiving.
I understood and accepted the UNC System and BOG’s authority to decide what to do with the monument and to negotiate, approve and implement the terms of the settlement. The hard truth is that the threat of the monument returning to campus was very real. Let me be clear, my unwavering priority was to permanently remove the monument from campus, and I believe the System Office and the five BOG members heard that loud and clear from our campus community as well.
As I’ve said before, I was grateful that the BOG acted to accomplish our goal of keeping the monument off of our campus. But as I said in my Dec. 11, 2019 letter to former Interim President Roper, it was clear that the settlement had many elements that were unacceptable to members of our campus community. In that letter I shared our collective concerns (both my own personal concerns and the concerns I heard from our campus community).
Although the settlement proffered by the UNC System and BOG in November 2019 did not remain in place, I believe it was arranged by people who worked hard to find a solution and whose ultimate intention was to restore the safety of our campus and local community. I am glad that the monument is not presently on our campus and I am committed to working to ensure that it does not return to our campus.
For those of you with additional questions, I encourage you to read the UNC System’s Feb. 1 legal settlement with the Daily Tar Heel. That document provides a full narrative detailing the facts about the deal which was accepted by both parties to that particular lawsuit and entered into the legal record. That settlement is now part of our University’s history and it provides a full accounting of what transpired with respect to the settlement of the final disposition of the monument throughout 2019.
I wish to take a moment to reflect on the progress my leadership team, many campus leaders and our Board of Trustees have made this past year. There has been a concerted effort to engage the campus community on issues related to history, race, campus safety and belonging. I’m proud of the fact that in the spring of 2019, we formed the Campus Safety Commission to assess the campus climate and rebuild trust between our campus police and the community. Throughout the fall of 2019, we worked on the framework for the Commission on History, Race and A Way Forward, which was launched in January 2020. And, in July 2020 our Board of Trustees reversed the 16-year moratorium on building name removals, resulting in four names being removed from our campus landscape.
In the months since December 2019, much has also happened in our nation. I have met with many diverse groups and have listened to their learned experiences regarding the challenges they have faced and inequities they encounter today. As a campus, we must reaffirm our commitment to “Build Our Community Together” — the first initiative of Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. Our research, teaching and service mission requires us to bring these aspirations to life. Together with many leaders on our campus, I am committed to continue this important collective journey together.
Kevin M. Guskiewicz