LUMBERTON — Kellie Blue, a Robeson County assistant manager and member of the UNC Board of Governors, joined 14 other governors in sharply criticizing UNC President Margaret Spellings and board Chairman Lou Bissette for the way they handled issues last month surrounding the Silent Sam Confederate statue.
In a letter signed by the majority of the 28-member board, Spellings, Bissette and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt were told that all governors should have been consulted before they wrote to Gov. Roy Cooper and asked for state help with security at a large protest held Aug. 22 at the monument on UNC’s campus. University leaders also asked the governor to have the N.C. Historical Commission determine what to do with the statue.
Blue told The Robesonian on Friday that the letter sent to university leaders has been misinterpreted.
“This was not radical,” she said. “This was just an effort to adopt and maintain responsible practices to improve and enhance efficiency within the university system and its 17 campuses.”
“Wholly unacceptable” is how Blue and the other 14 governors described the unilateral decision by Spellings and Bissette to send the letter to Cooper without the entire board first reviewing and approving its content. The letter had been reviewed and approved by the board’s committee chairs.
According to the letter emailed to the UNC leaders, the letter sent to the governor “… exuded a weakness and hand wringing that does not accurately reflect the Board’s opinion about how the potential of campus unrest should be treated.”
University leaders did not issue a strong enough statement to please Blue and the others who signed the letter.
“We would have preferred a strong statement from each of you to the chancellors, with the expectation that the chancellors, in turn, would communicate the message to their campuses, that while our campuses have long been a hospitable forum and meeting place for the peaceful dissemination of contrasting views, lawlessness, vandalism, and violence will not be tolerated and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” the board’s letter stated, according to The News & Observer in Raleigh.
The 15 board members, mostly Republicans, also complained of what they called Cooper’s “political manipulation of the situation.” The Democratic governor’s actions, they said, “escalated the potential for unrest and violence.”
According to the News & Observer, Cooper had responded to university leaders Spellings, Folt, Bissette and UNC-Chapel Hill Trustee Chair Haywood Cochrane by telling them that they could remove the statue under a public safety exception included in the state’s 2015 law that prevents historic monuments from being moved or altered. That interpretation of the law, however, differed from that of university lawyers who contend that the university did not have the authority to take down the statue.
Spellings and Bissette responded to the letter by explaining they were acting in the best interest of students’ safety following deadly events in Charlottesville, Va., the The News & Observer reported. University leaders said that when they learned about a growing threat to the Chapel Hill campus and the Silent Sam statue, they met with the board’s seven committee chairs and discussed the situation. Getting advice and counseling through the committee process was the correct thing to do, they said.
The letter from the board’s majority also mentioned a lack of information sent to the board concerning the Aug. 19 killing of a 5-year-old boy at UNC’s married student housing, in a case of domestic violence, the Raleigh newspaper reported. Also the letter reportedly stated that board members have not been adequately apprised of ongoing financial challenges at Elizabeth City State University.