2015 in review: UNCW, CFCC see changes in top leadership

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Dr. Jose Sartarelli. Photo courtesy UNCW.
Dr. Jose Sartarelli. Photo courtesy UNCW.

The expected entrance of a new campus leader–and the sudden exit of another–topped the list of changes at UNC-Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College, respectively, in 2015.

For UNCW, this year marked the long-awaited arrival of a permanent replacement for Chancellor Gary Miller, who left the university in June 2014 to head up the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Former Michigan state senator and retired college president Dr. William Sederburg was pegged as interim chancellor.

Since Sederburg had made it clear from the start he did not want the job long-term, UNCW’s Board of Trustees embarked on a search for a chancellor, a search that began in 2014 and ended in April with the announcement the UNC system’s board of governors had picked Dr. Zito Sartarelli–global officer and dean of West Virginia University’s (WVU’s) College of Business and Economics–to take the helm.

He hit the ground running in July, launching into the creation of a strategic plan to guide UNCW’s future, with a focus on job placement and global education.

One of his first actions as chancellor was to reinstate the university’s defunct track and field program. Sederburg decided in January to cut the team, on the recommendation of athletic director Jimmy Bass, as a cost-savings measure.

Sartarelli made the decision, a little over a month into his job, to bring track and field back after supporters successfully met their $250,000 fundraising goal.

“Track and field is an important sport, very important. In fact, if you think of ancient Greece, that was the very beginning…And we have had a good tradition in it. We have very engaged students from all over the state and from outside the state and we felt every effort should be made to keep it,” he said in July.

Sartarelli acknowledged Save UNCW Track’s hard work, and said it would not be fair to honor their efforts with a short-term solution.

“I saw a lot of verve and a lot of commitment. And they came through and met the goals. I think it would be unwise at that point to say, ‘Well, thank you very much and we’ll keep it for another year and it’s discontinued.’ It’d make no sense,” he said. “So, we’re going to be working very hard with our community, and also our sponsors and donors and parents to continue the program and fix the track at the appropriate time.”

While UNCW officials planned for a new head, for CFCC, 2015 began with the sudden resignation of its leader since 2012, Dr. Ted Spring. No reason was given for Spring’s departure.

A month later, District Attorney Ben David came forward to acknowledge his request to broaden an ongoing investigation by state auditors into possible financial irregularities at Cape Fear Community College.

David said his office only became involved in the investigation, which is being handled by the N.C. Office of the Auditor, to request that the scope of the investigation be broadened to “include new allegations that came to light” regarding Spring. He did not disclose the nature of the allegations in his letter to Warner, nor did he comment on them to the media.

Then, in March, Spring rescinded his resignation and demanded reinstatement to his post in a letter to the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees, claiming he had been forced to step down. Spring’s attorney, Gary Shipman, alleged trustees told Spring in a closed meeting on Jan. 22 that they did not plan to renew his contract in November, and that if he did not resign, the board would return to open session and vote to fire him.

Dr. Amanda Lee. Photo courtesy CFCC.
Dr. Amanda Lee. Photo courtesy CFCC.

When trustees refused to return him to his post, Spring filed suit against the board on March 31, claiming a breach of contract and deprivation of civil rights occurred when he was forced out. It was a lawsuit that mirrored one filed by Spring in 2003 against the president of Shelton State Community College in Alabama. He was awarded $2.5 million in back pay and damages.

While the suit continues in federal court, in July, an investigative audit into spending at CFCC found that the former president misappropriated funds during his tenure. According to the results of the audit–which reviewed personnel documents, employee testimony and Spring’s electronic devices– the former president gave raises and promotions to employees without board approval, used discretionary money for personal expenditures and was reimbursed more for mileage than he actually spent out-of-pocket.

Spring’s attorney fired back, claiming the investigation was flawed and politically biased. The Office of the State Auditor promptly refuted those claims.

In the midst of the turmoil, CFCC had to move forward for students and staff. Trustees named vice president Dr. Amanda Lee as interim president soon after Spring’s resignation. After a nationwide search, Lee was hired on as Spring’s permanent replacement in June. In August, the board approved a three-year contract for Lee, who began her career with CFCC in 2003 as an instructor before moving through the administrative ranks.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.