Sartarelli retires following seven years as chancellor

Hannah Markov, Opinion Editor

On Friday, April 22, Chancellor Sartarelli delivered his final address and 28th report to the UNCW Board of Trustees at their quarterly meeting. The chancellor’s retirement in June will end his nearly seven years of employment at the university, during which UNCW experienced the highest rate of growth in the UNC system. Sartarelli’s time as chancellor has been marked by both academic and economic successes as well as social backlash and controversy.

A photo of Chancellor Sartarelli. (Courtesy of UNCW)

Sartarelli began his presentation by honoring people who helped build UNCW into the university that it is now, and then detailing the aforementioned growth. Over the past seven years, $772 million was brought into UNCW in total. $615 million was brought in for students, $60 million was brought in for enrollment growth and $97 million was gained for the campaign for UNCW. He also mentioned that he anticipated 20,000 students to be enrolled by 2025, whereas the university currently stands at about 18,000, the largest it has ever been. This was one of Sartarelli’s greatest accomplishments as chancellor, alongside his expansion of UNCW’s engineering program. Following growth statistics, Sartarelli launched into an overview of New Hanover’s predicted development and future. He explained that by 2050, the region could have one million residents, and that it is currently #3 in the county in the amount of U-Hauls coming in. Sartarelli then brought up Project Grace, Project Gateway and several other redevelopment projects in the Wilmington area, as well as the rail realignment project and the development of the westside of the Cape Fear River, which is set to have a new bridge.

The board of trustees meeting at the Chancellor’s final report. (Hannah Markov)

“I think Chancellor Sartarelli doesn’t get enough credit,” said Andrew Mascia, former president of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity. “He led us through multiple hurricanes and a pandemic, staying true to UNCW’s values through it all. Hurricane Florence hit UNCW and Wilmington as a whole very hard and he still got us back in the classrooms as soon as it was safe to do so. I do think he means well but I think his fault is maybe in the way he expresses himself sometimes, which is why some students do not like him as a leader.”

Sartarelli also discussed the student opinions of UNCW, mentioning that while 60% of white students feel a sense of belonging, only 8% of Black students feel a sense of belonging. He explained that although his time at the university is ending, he hopes that in the future, the number of minority students and staff will increase. Prior to ending the presentation, Sartarelli also noted that he is not a proponent of either the SAT or ACT.

Sartarelli faced controversy in late 2020 for an “all lives matter” statement he made during a town hall meeting as a response to Black students’ concerns. A petition circulated around the university calling for his resignation, gaining over 3,000 signatures, and the UNCW Faculty Senate voted to censure him. 

“Yes, when I met with some of my students I did say ‘All lives matter’, and by the way, they do,” Sartarelli said in an interview with WECT6 News. “But it so happens that at this particular moment, Black lives matter even more. But the truth of the matter is I’ve got students of all persuasions, they all matter to me. They’re very important. But by just saying that statement, they went to the internet and said, ‘Five thousand students voted that he should be dismissed.’ This is the negation of what Americanism is for me.”

Although Sartarelli later wrote that “the Black experience unequivocally must be the focus of efforts to increase the safety and well-being of our students and community”, many Black students at the university failed to believe his words, as they didn’t match with the tone and opinions he expressed at the town hall meeting.

“When the school does things like this and doesn’t show that it cares about its black students then other black students aren’t going to want to come,” Tabatha Radaker, a student attendee of the town hall said in an interview with WECT6 News. “I think there’s a direct correlation with the two and the numbers aren’t going to grow until something changes with the culture of the school.”

The building dedication for the Chancellor. (Hannah Markov)

Many also believe that the chancellor should listen to the student body and their concerns, rather than imposing personal views on sensitive subjects.

It is incredibly crucial that students feel heard and understood despite personal opinions, and I think it is worthwhile to take cues from the student body when advocacy issues come up,” rising student body president Hannah-Valentina Horowitz said. “Certain statements that he has made have caused pain amongst students at UNCW (understandably so) so I do believe there should be more of a personal evaluation before speaking on certain issues.”

Not all students agreed. Some, particularly those aligned with more politically conservative views, believed that the staff senate’s censorship was unfair and that different actions could’ve been taken.

“I personally think that it showed an unfair double standard,” Mascia said. “While some topics may be controversial, the Seahawk Respect Compact stresses being tolerant of others’ beliefs. UNCW and college in general should truly be a free exchange of beliefs. We take away the value of college when we disallow that. He is a person, too, and is allowed to have his personal opinions on these matters.”

One common belief, however, is that the student body and university as a whole is ready for a change. With UNCW celebrating its 75th anniversary this coming fall semester, many say that now is the perfect time for a change in leadership.

“This year, when I reflected on my earliest days at the university, beginning July 1, 2015, and glanced ahead to next fall, when UNCW will celebrate its 75th anniversary, I realized that the timing is right for the leadership of this great university to transition from me to a new Chancellor,” Sartarelli said in his retirement announcement. “I am immensely proud to have served UNCW during such a pivotal time in history, and I want to thank the Seahawk community for making this great university so special.”