UNC-Wilmington faculty vote to censure chancellor

UNCW Chancellor Jose Sarterelli

The UNC-Wilmington Faculty Senate took the rare step Tuesday of voting to censure Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.

The censure, approved by the faculty governing body  in a 51-20 vote, charges that Sartarelli has “egregiously failed” in his obligation to support the school’s values of diversity, community engagement and integrity, and has “violated the trust of the UNCW faculty, lessened their esteem for the Office of the Chancellor, and dishonored the UNCW community.”

The conflict between faculty and administration stems from a series of on-campus tensions over racial issues, including the school taking down Black Lives Matter banners hung by faculty after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd and the mass demand for reform that followed. In September the school implemented a new, more restrictive sign policy that required pre-approval for any signs or banners, even if they are hung by faculty.

Sarterelli also stirred controversy earlier in the summer when asked by students to make a public statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s going to be hard for me to do that,” Sarterelli replied. “Because I believe all lives matter.”

But tension over racial issues have been building at the UNCW campus for years.

In July the school paid Mike Adams, a professor with a long history of well publicized racially offensive behavior, $500,000 to retire early. The move came after decades of controversies and legal battles between Adams and the school. After years of inaction on Adams insulting students, fellow faculty members and the administration, many in the community  — including at least one trustee — called for Adams to be fired. Instead, the university made and the UNC Board of Governors approved a large settlement with the professor. Shortly thereafter, Adams shot and killed himself in his home.

The censure passed by the senate Tuesday specifically cited the Black Lives Matter controversy and the chancellor’s “lack of leadership on the matter of Diversity and Inclusion prior to student and public demands to do so during the Summer of 2020.”

Sarterelli responded to criticisms late last month in a public statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts at the school. As Policy Watch has reported, race and diversity issues have been a continuing problem across the UNC System.

After Tuesday’s censure, Sartarelli released another public statement:

“As Chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, my focus is centered on our students and advancing our mission, vision and values in partnership with all faculty and staff. Establishing a campus commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is a continual process. How we learn from and live with our history matters. I understand the urgency required and hope all of us (Chancellor, administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and the community) can build a better Seahawk future together. At their previous meeting, the Faculty Senate requested a Chancellor’s report in March 2021 about the university’s efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. I am proud of the progress we have been making over the past five years, especially since June, and shared an advanced copy of such a report the first week of December. I look forward to leading UNCW as we continue to pursue this important work in the new year.

The UNCW faculty censure carries no concrete consequence for Sartarelli. The UNC Board of Governors holds the power to hire, fire and formally discipline chancellors. So far, the board has not publicly addressed faculty or students concerns over Sartarelli. But the censure could lead to discussion of the issues at a higher level.

In August the Appalachian State University Faculty Senate passed a “no confidence” resolution on the leadership of Chancellor Sheri Everts. UNC System administration has defended Everts’ decision to no longer meet with faculty leaders or attend meetings of the faculty’s governing body.

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