Friday, February 3, 2023

UNCW Faculty Senate President: No-confidence vote for Chancellor Sartarelli still ‘on the table’

A sign supporting the Black Lives Matter movement on the entrance to Bear Hall on UNCW campus; the sign has since been removed. (Port City Daily photo / Contributed)

WILMINGTON — The head of the UNCW Faculty Senate said in an email to fellow senators that a vote of no-confidence against Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli was “still on the table” if the Faculty Senate does not see him taking ‘positive steps’ on a number of issues, including his lack of support for Black Lives Matter on campus and “problematic and inconsistent” communication.

Issues with the Chancellor’s failure to properly communicate with faculty are apparently severe enough — and “well beyond” being handled internally — to warrant the intervention of an outside firm that handles “reputation and trust repair,” according to the email.

On Thursday, June 18, Professor Nathan Grove sent an email to colleagues, addressing theses issues. Grove, who is the President of the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) Faculty Senate, noted that a formal meeting was planned at the end of the month to gauge whether progress was being made.

The major issue was frustration and anger from faculty members over Chancellor Sartarelli’s comments during an online student forum earlier this month. During the meeting, Sartarelli was asked if UNCW could visibly support the Black Lives Matter campaign on campus; Sartarelli responded that this would ‘difficult’ because, in his words, “All lives matter.”

Related: Student leadership ‘disappointed,’ ‘shook’ over UNCW Chancellor’s use of ‘All Lives Matter’ in response to black students’ concerns

“We discussed the Chancellor’s remarks to the students of the Black Student Union where he indicated that ‘all lives matter’ when the students inquired about painting Black Lives Matter on campus. We are in unanimous agreement that this statement was inappropriate,” Grove wrote.

Grove noted that the Chancellor was ‘working through’ a list of requests from the Black Student Union and other groups, but reiterated “there is no excuse for the statement.” Elsewhere in his email, Grove noted that “there appears to be momentum building for the full Senate to make a statement of support for Black Lives Matter and our student groups,” and that the Faculty Senate leadership “wholeheartedly support that idea.”

Another issue was the Chancellor communication — or lack thereof.

“We asked about the problematic and inconsistent communication from the Chancellor and recommended that we hire an outside firm for reputation and trust repair given that the issues we face as a community are well beyond our internal capacity to address. [The Chancellor] responded that he was in the process of exploring this avenue and had some specific examples of firms he is considering,” Grove wrote.

The Chancellor wasn’t the only top administrator to earn the Faculty Senate’s ire.

“We also noted the absence of leadership from the Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion during a time when that office should be at the forefront of our response,” Grove wrote.

Grove also touched on the ongoing controversy over Professor Mike Adams, whose recent social media posts have resulted in calls for his termination from fellow faculty members and criminology faculty and grad students around the country — as well as roughly 85,000 online petitioners.

Related: As pressure mounts on multiple fronts, is UNCW’s Mike Adams still untouchable?

While it’s not yet clear what action the Faculty Senate will take (or what impact it would actually have on Adams’ tenure at UNCW), Grove noted that officials “sensed that there was no equivocating or protecting occurring.  

Grove concluded his recap of recent events by noting that Faculty Senate leaders had “emphasized to the Chancellor that a vote of no confidence is still on the table if we do not see positive steps forward in the days and weeks ahead.”  Such a vote would note remove Sartarelli but would put pressure on the UNC System to reevaluate the Chancellor’s performance.

In closing, Grove wrote that an ‘ad hoc committee’ had been formed to address these issues. Grove acknowledged that such committees are the “academic equivalent of ‘thoughts and prayers'” — that is, well-meaning but not effective at addressing a real problem.

“I want to be clear: the intent of this committee is to take action. This is not time for another report – we know many of the problems and barriers that our Black students, faculty, and staff face.  We have an unique opportunity to harness the energy of the moment and turn it towards making real, concrete change and you have my commitment that I will do everything I can to not squander this opportunity,” Grove wrote.

Note: Prof. Grove responded to a request for comment to say he had nothing to add beyond what was in his email, which appears in full below.

Dear Colleagues,

Good evening.  Please bear with me for what will be a longer than usual email.  Yesterday morning, I sent you an email on behalf of Senate Steering that began with a note that the Faculty Senate meeting that was proposed for the afternoon of June 18 was being postponed.  It continued by very briefly outlining a meeting that Steering had with Chancellor Sartarelli and General Counsel John Scherer and highlighting the creation of an ad hoc committee with Staff Senate.  Since that statement was released, I have received a number of emails from concerned faculty, and I want to take this opportunity to address those.  

First and foremost, I made a mistake.  At the time it seemed reasonable for Steering to not go into detail about our conversation with Chancellor Sartarelli and John Scherer given the confidential nature of a portion of it, but it is clear that you deserved more.  I want to offer my apologies to all of you for the lack of clarity and transparency.  I want to include a bit more context surrounding our conversation below that may help make our thought process surrounding the meeting postponement clearer.

  1. The proposed Senate meeting for this afternoon was to discuss Professor Adams and to determine if Senate wished to issue a formal statement about his remarks and behaviors.  Based on information that the Chancellor and General Counsel shared, Steering no longer felt that a meeting was necessary.  At the same time, we also collectively sensed that there was no equivocating or protecting occurring.  
  1. We discussed the Chancellor’s remarks to the students of the Black Student Union where he indicated that “all lives matter” when the students inquired about painting Black Lives Matter on campus.  We are in unanimous agreement that this statement was inappropriate.  The Chancellor received a list of requests from that group and others, and he indicated that he is working through those requests to begin to address them.  Again, there is no excuse for the statement. He met with the student group today and we expect to hear an update from both the Chancellor and students to understand the action steps that are taking place. This will assist us in supporting our student groups.
  1. We asked about the problematic and inconsistent communication from the Chancellor and recommended that we hire an outside firm for reputation and trust repair given that the issues we face as a community are well beyond our internal capacity to address.  He responded that he was in the process of exploring this avenue and had some specific examples of firms he is considering.
  1. We also noted the absence of leadership from the Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion during a time when that office should be at the forefront of our response.
  1. Finally, we emphasized to the Chancellor that a vote of no confidence is still on the table if we do not see positive steps forward in the days and weeks ahead. 

So, where do we go from here?  First, I am calling a meeting of the Faculty Senate for Tuesday, June 30, 2020 at 2:00 pm.  An agenda and motions will follow by Tuesday, June 23.  There appears to be momentum building for the full Senate to make a statement of support for Black Lives Matter and our student groups.  We wholeheartedly support that idea, and I encourage any Senator interested in working on such a statement to contact me. I will pull together a group of us to work on it over the next few days.  

At our last meeting, I promised that we would have another open faculty meeting during the summer to provide a venue for faculty to ask questions and comment on plans for fall reopening.  We will still have that meeting once guidance is finalized, but Steering is currently working on a second meeting for faculty to talk openly about the issues facing our campus, region, and nation.  This will take place at some point during the week of July 6.  Once details are finalized, I will share that with all of you.  Third, Steering has already scheduled a series of weekly meetings with Chancellor Sartarelli and incoming Provost Winebrake so we can talk about establishing concrete timelines and goals and making sure those are met.  We are also exploring avenues for directly engaging with our students to find ways of better supporting them.   

Finally, in collaboration with Staff Senate, Faculty Senate has formed an ad hoc committee.  While the staff composition is still being finalized, the faculty portion of the committee includes Kristin Bolton, Emmanuel (Manny) Harris, Wilson Okello, Candace Thompson, and I.  I too have seen the memes saying that the academic equivalent of “thoughts and prayers” is the formation of a committee.  I want to be clear: the intent of this committee is to take action.  This is not time for another report – we know many of the problems and barriers that our Black students, faculty, and staff face.  We have an unique opportunity to harness the energy of the moment and turn it towards making real, concrete change and you have my commitment that I will do everything I can to not squander this opportunity.  

Please know that Senate leadership is working hard to do the right thing, and we appreciate all of your feedback.  We are human, and we will make mistakes as we navigate through this turbulent time.  We will do a better job of communicating with all of you during these summer months.  Thank you for calling us out as it makes us a stronger body.  

Nathan


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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