The divisive Confederate monument known as Silent Sam must remain on the University of North Carolina's campus but should not be returned to the site where it was toppled by protesters earlier this year, the school's leaders recommended Monday.
The statue should be placed in a new secure building, an education and history center to be built on campus for that purpose, Chancellor Carol Folt suggested.
Folt and some trustees said university officials would have preferred to remove the monument from campus, but state law does not allow that.
The news immediately sparked plans by student and community groups to protest, objecting to what some called a $5 million shrine to white supremacy.
The site where the statue stood for more than 100 years, a prominent entrance to campus, should become a commemorative space that shares information about the 225-year history of the public university, the board of trustees decided. School officials will work to provide more context about history throughout campus — including recognizing the role of enslaved people. The board approved the plan Monday.
Savannah Putnam, the UNC student body president, said she could not support putting a Confederate monument anywhere on campus and voted against the plan.
The recommendation goes to the statewide University of North Carolina Board of Governors for approval. If that panel agrees, it would request permission from the North Carolina Historical Commission to move the monument.
The Board of Governors could also request permission from the historical commission to alter the area where the pedestal now stands. That commemorative space might include a semicircular wall with plaques celebrating important aspects of the university's history.
Trustee William Keyes said the charge from the statewide Board of Governors to the university is too narrow, and that it leaves out moral and ethical considerations. The monument was erected at a time when white racists were asserting their dominance over black people, he said, and honors students who fought in a war to protect slavery. He voted to support the plan, given the restrictions on the board, but said his statement was necessary given the unmitigated evils of slavery.
Flash point for protests
The monument had been a flash point for protests about race and history long before it fell, and demonstrations and debate continued at the site after the bronze statue was whisked away to a secure and hidden location.
A state law limited what could be done with the monument. A directive from the statewide board ensured its preservation. And officials had to balance public safety, freedom of speech and strong feelings about whether the statue symbolized a racist past or the valor of students who fought in the Civil War.
University officials got more than 5,000 messages from members of the public and reached out to major campus groups including students, faculty and staff for suggestions.
Folt said that public safety was a primary motivation and that a panel of security experts strongly recommended putting the monument in its own building, with high-tech security and a buffer zone.
The estimated cost of the University History and Education Center is $5.3 million. Officials anticipated an annual $800,000 operating cost for the building, with possible completion in 2022.
Some students marveled that a state flagship school would erect a Confederate monument in 2022.
The Faculty Council had asked university officials to remove Silent Sam from campus last year, and voted in October to request the statue and its base be permanently removed. "Returning the statue to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus would reaffirm the values of white supremacy that motivated its original installation," they wrote in an October resolution, and would "undermine the moral and physical security of all members of our community."
People on campus will be furious if the monument is returned to campus, said Frank Baumgartner, a professor of political science. "I hope the Board of Governors, when they see the price tag for the on-campus location, plus the outrage, will try to get the law changed," to allow them to move the statue to a history museum in Raleigh. "There's a much more reasonable solution to this."