CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Carol Folt announced her resignation Monday as the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill amid the debate about the fate of the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument on campus.
Folt began her tenure in July 2013. She will step down after graduation in May, according to a letter she wrote to the UNC community.
Folt and UNC administrators have grappled with what to do with Silent Sam. Tensions about the monument recently reached a boiling point as part of a larger national conversation about the purpose of and need for Confederate monuments.
Protesters knocked Silent Sam over in August on the eve of the first day of classes and the statue has not returned to its original spot. But the base still stands.
Silent Sam is the nickname for the statue of a Confederate soldier, which was built at the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was dedicated in 1913 to remember the “sons of the university who died for their beloved Southland 1861-1865,” UNC’s website says.
Months of discussions with faculty and students led Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees to propose a new $5.3 million building to safely house Silent Sam, but that plan was rejected by the UNC Board of Governors in December.
The board gave administrators until March 15 to develop another recommendation.
Folt said in her letter that she authorized the removal of Silent Sam’s pedestal and commemorative plaques from the Confederate monument site.
“The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment,” Folt’s letter said. “No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe.”
Folt also said the monument controversy has caused too much disruption.
“Carolina’s leadership needs to return its full attention to helping our university achieve its vision and to live its values,” she said.
Leaders of the UNC Board of Trustees also issued a statement Monday saying they supported Folt’s decision to step down.
“She brought remarkable energy and deep passion to countless initiatives that have made Carolina stronger and poised to inspire future generations of students, faculty, staff and alumni,” the statement read.
The UNC Board of Governors chair Harry Smith issued a statement Monday night saying the board had no knowledge of Folt’s intention to resign or remove Silent Sam’s base before it was made public.
“We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action,” Smith said. “It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the Board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner.”
Smith said the board’s process and timeline for determining the best solution for the future of Silent Sam “remains unchanged.”
“The safety and security of the campus community and general public who visit the institution remains paramount,” Smith said.
Folt’s time at UNC
Folt, who arrived at UNC in 2013, arrived at the university in the midst of an academic scandal concerning student-athletes that began in 2011.
She admitted in 2014 the university had failed some of its students “for years” by allowing them to take classes that did not match its own academic standards
In 2016, UNC’s handling of sexual violence reports was scrutinized after then-sophomore Delaney Robinson went public about her alleged rape on campus by a football player, claiming prosecutors and the university have been slow to bring justice. This took place despite the school’s revised misconduct policy that went into effect in 2014.
On the administrative side, Folt said in her letter the school raised “nearly $500 million in scholarships and aid.” The university also raised more than $2 billion in its “Campaign for Carolina” fundraiser last summer, Folt’s letter said.
“I’ve decided that this is the right time for me to pass the leadership of our outstanding university, with all its momentum, to the next chancellor, and look ahead for my own ‘new and next,'” Folt said.