WILMINGTON — Outside a Seahawk-branded trolley car, University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans shared an embrace with UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.
They had just left the shellfish research hatchery, and Hans was preparing to leave Wilmington. His visit to UNCW was his first as leader of North Carolina’s higher education landscape. Along with a small entourage, he engaged with different campus groups on Tuesday and toured the Center for Marine Science (CMS).
The CMS is one of UNCW’s crown jewels, with a fleet of professors working on state, national and international research projects. The Myrtle Grove campus houses space for at least six private companies, and operations include coastal monitoring, drug discovery and biotechnology, among others. As of last August, the center was working with $25 million in extramural grant funding.
One month ago Sartarelli told professors during a faculty senate meeting that Hans would soon be in town. He was responding to a question about the lack of raises for faculty and staff in recent years.
Sartarelli said he was working with Hans on boosting funding for the university. Retaining professors and providing competitive compensation for faculty and staff are university priorities. Sartarelli said that two years ago, 7% of UNCW professors were making less than four-fifths of the market median, but the number had since increased to 12%.
“I have started talking to the president on a special, quote-unquote, increase,” Sartarelli said during the February meeting. “And this special increase would be in line with our ascension to R-2.”
The chancellor was referring to the reclassification of UNCW as a “doctoral university” in 2018, a nod to the university having awarded more than 20 “research/scholarship” doctoral degrees in a year and expending more than $5 million on research. (UNCW accomplished the latter over 10 years ago).
Stuart Borrett, associate provost for research, said the designation was about the university’s ability to generate knowledge.
“What that classification really recognizes is the growth of research,” Borrett said, “research and innovation at the university, as well as graduate education.”
When UNC-Charlotte and East Carolina University achieved the same feat in recent memory, they were granted millions more in additional state funds, the chancellor told professors.
The university has a further wishlist. According to board of trustees secretary Mark Lanier, securing consistent enrollment growth funding is top of mind, along with building reserve funding and entrance into the N.C. Promise Tuition Plan.
UNCW is growing at a faster rate than any other university in the UNC System, and that metric is tied to state funding: UNCW received $7.9 million in fiscal year 2019 of growth funds, and $9.8 million last year.
“It is enrollment growth that will tremendously benefit UNC-Wilmington, because this campus is growing faster on a percentage basis than any other one in the UNC System,” Hans said.
For fiscal year 2021 the university has requested $12.1 million. Enrollment growth funding was made non-recurring in 2020, leaving no guarantees about future allocations after a year in which the university broke enrollment records and landed at #95 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top 100 universities.
Sartarelli said he expected campus-wide salary adjustments on the horizon, and that he brought the matter to Hans’ attention “literally in every conversation that we have.”
“It’s a very disappointing effort many times,” he told professors, adding that other chancellors also broached faculty and staff raises with Hans on the weekly call between the UNC System leader and the 16 university executives.
“If we were able to convince them to do it, I would use enrollment growth to convince them when it comes,” the chancellor said.
Hans came to Wilmington one month after the chancellor told faculty about the headway made on salary increases.
“Certainly, UNCW’s aspirations mean a lot to me,” Hans told Port City Daily after the tour. “They mean a lot to this region. They mean a lot to the state and beyond.”
He said the UNC System was also pursuing an “ambitious capital request” focused on the repair and renovation of existing buildings. This would include UNCW’s Randall Library, which was last renovated in 1986 when the university enrolled 5,000 students. Now the student tally approaches 18,000.
“It’s been three years since our faculty and staff had a permanent salary increase,” Hans said.
Sartarelli arrived at the Center for Marine Science near the end of Hans’ tour. Earlier in the day he and other administrators presented a 72-slide PowerPoint to the faculty senate about action items in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion. Months ago the faculty senate called on Sartarelli to return to them with the report, after a group of professors instigated an effort to publicly fault him for his leadership.
After Hans left, he walked with CMS director Lynn Leonard — a member of the exclusive group of UNCW researchers who individually bring in more than $10 million in sponsored funding — toward a dock near the Intracoastal Waterway.
Lanier hopes additional funding associated with the boost in research stature will come in a “future budget request.”
Hans said proper compensation for faculty and staff was overdue, and that he and Sartarelli are in the midst of discussing additional funds. Funding for ECU and UNCC on the same grounds set a precedent, Lanier said.
“I feel optimistic about our legislative agenda,” Hans said.“We’re lobbying the governor and the legislature to recognize the incredibly hard work that our faculty and staff have been doing throughout the pandemic, before, and they’ll continue doing it afterwards.”
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