Friday, February 3, 2023

UNCW Faculty Senate to consider no confidence vote against chancellor

After months of increasing tensions between UNCW faculty and leadership, select professors have requested to introduce a motion that expresses a lack of confidence in Chancellor Jose Sartarelli. (Port City Daily photo/Preston Lennon)

WILMINGTON — A group of 20 professors with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington are seeking to hold a special meeting of the UNCW Faculty Senate, in order to consider a motion that expresses “our lack of confidence in Chancellor Sartarelli and his leadership of UNCW.” 

The motion, formally submitted by professors Stephen Meinhold and Marta Sánchez, will be discussed in a Tuesday meeting of the Faculty Senate Steering Committee — a small counsel at the helm of UNCW’s faculty governance. The motion expresses doubt in Sartarelli’s ability to effectively recruit and retain “high-quality, diverse students, faculty and staff,” and faults Sartarelli for failing “to demonstrate a clear commitment to the principles of equality, justice, and diversity in the public statements of the university.” 

Related: UNCW chancellor takes heat from faculty in contentious Zoom meeting

Faculty Senate President Nathan Grove confirmed he received the motion in an email from other professors and the matter would be discussed in a Tuesday meeting. Moving forward, a special meeting of the faculty senate will be set, at which point the motion would be voted on.

“I’m going to do my absolute best to make sure this process is open, that faculty have the time they are going to need to talk amongst themselves to make an informed decision about such an important issue, and that it’s transparent to everyone,” Grove said. “I want discussions to happen openly.”

Since calls to hire and fire chancellors of N.C. universities rest with the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors, which oversees 16 public universities across the state, this motion could largely be a symbolic gesture. Grove said logistics will be ironed out on Tuesday as to how many votes the motion would require to pass. Including Grove and the chancellor, there are 82 members of the UNCW Faculty Senate. In all, the university employs slightly more than 1,000 total faculty members, according to its website.

Faculty have long petitioned the university to address minority representation in the workforce and student body. As of last summer, Black students at UNCW have historically made up less than 5% of the population. Though across the UNC system, Black students make up around 21% of enrollment. Black residents make up about 14% of New Hanover County’s population and about 22% of North Carolina’s population.  This disproportionate representation is one subject of a federal lawsuit filed against the university by an employee, which was recently settled.

According to faculty senate bylaws, special meetings of the senate can be called by the senate president, the chancellor, with a written request from 10 faculty senators, or a written request from 20 general faculty members. 

Those seeking to introduce this motion have opted for the last route. Though at least 20 faculty have indicated their support for calling a special meeting, some have emphasized they are not necessarily seeking to have the motion affirmed in a vote, but they simply want the issue raised. 

Meinhold and Sánchez could not be reached for comment, and the university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Grove said it is crucial for the path forward to be accompanied by some deep thinking. For him and other leaders, the outcome of a vote of no confidence, which would be held in a special meeting at a later date, could set the tone for the faculty’s relationship with the administration moving forward. 

Matters of diversity and inclusion have long been a source of tension between professors and the administration. In June, Grove wrote to faculty that a vote of no confidence against Sartarelli was “still on the table,” if the chancellor did not make improvements to university communications and other items. At that time, Mike Adams, the controversial professor who committed suicide in late July, was a primary cause of division within the university community. 

In the following months, UNCW administration announced a number of action items related to diversity and inclusion that were primed for implementation, including more funding for diversity scholarships and adding an Africana Studies major to the curriculum. Divisions grew two weeks ago during a Zoom meeting, in which Sartarelli reportedly blamed faculty for the university’s failings in diverse recruitment.

A policy that limited the ability of faculty and students to place banners and signs on campus has also been a tension point in recent weeks. When UNCW announced many banners placed around campus would be relocated, and most new banners would require pre-approval, the chancellor was accused of using the policy to target the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I hope to see the freedom of expression issue addressed by the university,” said UNCW professor Clyde Edgerton, who supported the request for a special meeting. “University departments should be able at their own level, to decide what kind of banners to fly.” 

Faculty at Appalachian State launched a no-confidence vote against Chancellor Sheri Everts in August — accusing her of mishandling the university’s reopening and neglecting faculty concerns — though Everts’ performance was thereafter affirmed by the university’s board of trustees. 

“I hope any process will increase the chances of UNCW engaging with its history of the racial and cultural history of Wilmington,” Edgerton said. “And moving toward policies that fully respect all human beings.” 

Two UNCW professors submitted this motion to Faculty Senate President Nathan Grove, who will set a date for a special meeting in order for the entire senate to vote on the motion.

Send tips and comments to Preston Lennon at preston@localdailymedia.com or (910) 478-6511

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