WILMINGTON — UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli, the ninth person to helm the university since 1947, announced Friday he will retire from his position, effective next June.
A native of Brazil who worked for multiple global pharmaceutical companies before moving into higher education, Sartarelli became the UNCW chancellor in July 2015, after heading the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.
His official announcement came after Wilmington Business Journal first reported on his future exit Friday afternoon; a months-long process of selecting the university’s next top leader will now begin.
University sources said Sartarelli mentioned his intentions to leave UNCW to various administrators and others earlier in the year. One member of the board of trustees told Port City Daily the chancellor recently reached out to members to say the announcement was coming — there had been speculation about a potential exit — but the topic had not been discussed in any board meetings.
“He’s been dropping hints for a while,” said faculty senate president Nathan Grove, a chemistry professor. “He told me about six to eight weeks ago that he was planning to do this. The only question was timing.”
Grove said Sartarelli wanted the announcement to come after the University of North Carolina System — the state organization charged with overseeing N.C.’s 16 public universities — announced campus enrollment numbers for this fall. Under Sartarelli, UNCW has grown at record pace, faster than any other N.C. university since 2009. There are more than 18,000 students at UNCW this semester, according to preliminary enrollment data, an all-time high for the school. The university received approval for 17 new undergraduate and graduate-level programs under his watch. His salary as of last September was $391,589.
For public universities in the state, the process of choosing a chancellor is undertaken largely by the board of governors, the group of political appointees who lead the UNC System.
“I will be sad to see Chancellor Sartarelli retire because he has been an extraordinary leader for UNC Wilmington,” said board of governors chairman Randy Ramsey in a statement. “He has been a tireless advocate for the institution, and I can’t thank him enough for all he has done to ensure growth and success at UNCW.”
This will be the first chancellor search in N.C. operating under a new rule put forth by UNC System President Peter Hans. Hans, who helmed the community college system before being hired as the top official in N.C. higher education, gave himself the power to hand-select two individuals who will assuredly make it to the final stage of the selection process.
Stakeholders at UNCW, namely the board of trustees, will conduct interviews and create their own short list. Those names will be presented to Hans, joining the special selections of his own, who will then pick a name from the group. The board of governors then holds a vote on whether to confirm that candidate — the final step.
“Sartarelli said that announcing now will give the UNCW Board of Trustees, President Hans and the UNC System Board of Governors approximately nine months to conduct a national search for the next Chancellor,” according to the news release from the university. “He noted that the university will celebrate its 75th anniversary at the beginning of the fall 2022 semester, an optimal time for a leadership transition.”
Sartarelli’s announcement came shortly after Woody White, a Wilmington attorney and former New Hanover County Board of Commissioners member, resigned from the board of governors, “effective immediately.”
There was a movement among professors at the university that started in summer 2020 to reprimand Sartarelli for perceived missteps the chancellor made in response to the heightened tensions and conversations that followed the George Floyd murder. The controversy surrounding Mike Adams, who reportedly died by suicide last summer, was also the source of criticisms against the chancellor.
“I have had the privilege of working alongside dedicated Boards of Trustees, my leadership team, faculty, staff, students and countless alumni, donors and community partners to open new doors of opportunity for the university, the region and North Carolina,” the chancellor said in the news release. “I have no doubt that the university’s trajectory of success will continue to soar far into the future.”
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