Trustees adopt comprehensive approach to curating and teaching campus history

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees today adopted a comprehensive approach to telling the full story of Carolina’s 221-year-old history.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees today adopted a comprehensive approach to telling the full story of Carolina’s 221-year-old history. In three resolutions, the board voted to develop new curation and education initiatives, rename Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall, and place a 16-year freeze on renaming historic buildings to provide adequate time for the new efforts to take root.

“Today’s decisions make an unequivocal statement about Carolina’s values and the importance of continuing to cultivate an inclusive and positive educational atmosphere for our campus,” said Dr. Lowry Caudill, chair of the Board of Trustees. “We want to prepare our students to be effective leaders with an understanding of history, but also with an eye to the future. These efforts to curate the campus and teach the past with greater context will present future generations with a more accurate, complete and accessible understanding of Carolina’s history.”

The trustees invested more than a year consulting and engaging in constructive dialogue with student groups, faculty, staff, alumni, historians and national experts on curation regarding the difficult issue of race and place – which continue to confront universities across America – and their inextricable place in UNC-Chapel Hill’s history.

In 1920, University trustees named Saunders Hall to recognize William L. Saunders, an alumnus and trustee from 1874 to 1891. They cited his service as North Carolina’s Secretary of State from 1879 to 1891, his record as a compiler and editor of the Colonial records that became the foundation of the current State Archives of North Carolina, and his leadership of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The KKK was a violent, terrorist organization that was illegal in the United States during Saunders’ era. He was compelled to appear before a Congressional hearing in 1871 to answer for his reputed involvement in the KKK, but he refused to testify, pleading his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.

Current trustees said they believed the University’s leadership made an error in citing Saunders’ role in the KKK as one qualification for the building name honor.

In removing Saunders’ name, trustees followed UNC-Chapel Hill’s existing policy on renaming campus buildings, which allows revoking an honoree’s name if continuing to use it would “compromise the public trust, dishonor the University’s standards, or otherwise be contrary to the best interests of the University.”

In selecting the new building name, the trustees concluded the best way to reinforce the larger concept of community was to add “Carolina” to the existing “Hall.” The board’s resolution called for installing a plaque in Carolina Hall that states, “We honor and remember all those who have suffered injustices at the hands of those who would deny them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

After evaluating input from hundreds of interviews and a March committee meeting featuring student, faculty and alumni speakers, trustees were guided by seven principles for potential solutions: grounded in evidence and research; focused on teaching and learning; careful not to impose today’s social norms on the past; not hide unpleasant aspects of campus history; practical and implementable; evergreen and sustainable for future students, faculty and staff; and have clear responsibility for execution and ongoing support.

“As we plan the curation and educational initiatives, we will be guided by the same care and thoughtful deliberation exemplified by our trustees,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt, who added that she and her leadership team support the freeze on future name changes because it is the best way to see the educational imperatives flourish.

Among the educational enhancements the University will consider are creating a permanent area on campus to tell the rich and diverse history of UNC-Chapel Hill. The new centralized focus would create a more complete, compelling and powerful storytelling center and make it easier to quickly learn about and reflect upon the full measure of Carolina’s history.

The University also will explore improving websites such as “The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History” (http://museum.unc.edu/), as well as supplementing campus tours that place history in context with an evolving America moving from a painful transformation from slavery through the struggle for civil rights. Folt also will evaluate options for creating an online orientation program or non-credit course.

Caudill and Folt credited Trustees Alston Gardner and Chuck Duckett, chair and co-chair of the board’s University Affairs Committee, respectively, for their dedication and well-researched approach to such an important issue for the University. They also acknowledged the full board’s thoughtful and deliberate consideration reflected with each member’s votes on the resolutions.

“I appreciate all of the efforts Chancellor Folt and her leadership team have made to ensure we fully understood why these issues are so important on campus,” Caudill said. “We also want to thank the hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni who shared their strong views at our meetings and via comments sent to our board website. That feedback helped the trustees a great deal.”

“Throughout this process, we have learned valuable lessons from our University’s past,” Folt said. “Now it’s time to live in this particular moment by creating an educational program that will honor our traditions of excellence, enlighten our campus community and make Carolina even stronger in the future.”