Chapel Hill is still stunned.
Folks here woke up on Tuesday a couple weeks ago to see the base of the Silent Sam monument gone, thanks to the surprising and decisive action of UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt. She ordered removal of the base at the same time she announced her retirement to be effective at the end of the school year.
The UNC-System’s Board of Governors responded, also decisively, but not in time to halt the removal action ordered by Folt. The board punished Folt for her surprising action by moving up the effective date of her departure to Jan. 31.
Like the Bible’s Samson who, when he knew he was a doomed captive of the Philistines, pulled down the temple of Baal on top of everybody, Folt acted only when she knew her game was over. Like Samson, Folt then acted swiftly. The monument’s base was gone within hours.
Folt has long believed that Silent Sam and the statue’s memorial base were detrimental to the campus community. However, state laws regarding the movement of historic monuments and directives of the Board of Governors tied her hands.
Until last week.
Now, Bill Roper, the new UNC system interim president, has the job of recruiting an interim chancellor to step into Folt’s shoes. That person must try to bridge the gap between a campus community that hopes the Silent Sam monument is gone forever and the Board of Governors and the legislative leaders who insist on its return in some fashion.
In ordinary times, an interim chancellor would be selected from the campus’s currently serving senior leadership or a pool of retired or former chancellors. Chapel Hill is blessed with a strong corps of such people, including the following:
Bob Blouin, since 2017 he has served as the executive vice chancellor and provost of the university. Previously he was the long-serving and successful dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
Kevin Guskiewicz, since 2016 he has been the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences that has more than 16,000 undergraduate students and 2,500 graduate students and encompasses more than 70 academic departments, curricula, programs, centers and institutes. A nationally known expert on sport-related concussions, Guskiewicz could bring a valuable perspective to the head knocking that is bound to be part of the interim chancellor’s work.
Dr. Shelton Earp, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, a post that he previously held for many years, distinguished himself as a scientist, administrator and fundraiser.
Bernadette Gray-Little, a retired academic administrator most recently serving as chancellor of the University of Kansas, where she was the first African-American and female to serve in that position. Prior to going to Kansas, she held senior leadership positions at UNC-CH, including executive associate provost and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She is living in Chapel Hill and Roper has already recruited her to serve on his transition team.
William O. McCoy, who during 1999 and 2000, after the death of Chancellor Michael Hooker, served as interim chancellor. Previously, he was vice president for finance for the UNC system.
Former Chancellor James Moeser served from 2000 to 2008. Subsequently, he served as interim chancellor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He lives in Chapel Hill with his wife Susan and is active in the community and on the campus.
In ordinary times, at least one of these would be willing to step up to serve as interim chancellor and count it an honor to be able to help.
But these are not ordinary times, and such people would be reluctant to step in the middle of a stretching conflict between campus and board that tortured Folt. And the fractured Board of Governors may insist that Roper recruit a new face, one who will not be as decisive as Folt was in her departure.
D.G. Martin is host of North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on WUNC-TV.