Retiring in 2022, Sartarelli reflects on challenges, controversial issues, and the tragic loss of Mike Adams

UNCW's Chancellor Jose Sartarelli reflects on the tragic loss of Professor Mike Adams
Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 6:42 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - UNCW Chancellor Dr. Jose Sartarelli has announced plans to retire at the end of June 2022, completing seven years of leading the university. It will take place a few weeks before UNCW starts celebrating the school’s 75th anniversary with the Fall 2022 semester, and the chancellor said it would be an optimal time for a new leader to begin.

“I did think in terms of five years or so, and in great part because presidencies normally have lasted that long, five, six, seven years,” Dr. Sartarelli said when asked if he had always planned to step away in the 2022 timeframe. “So its going to be seven years by the time we’re finished next year. We’ve accomplished a lot of stuff. So whether I thought about it or not, I think seven years is probably a good amount of time.”

Since his arrival in 2015, the institution has seen growth in several areas, including undergrad and graduate school enrollment, applications, and programs. According to a university news release, UNCW has ‘received approval for 17 new baccalaureate- and graduate-level programs’ and earned the designation as a doctoral university. In an interview with WECT on Monday to look back at his time as chancellor, Dr. Sartarelli said his lengthy business background led him to realize the university needed to expand its offerings.

“Working for three global companies, I know that new product is critical,” Dr. Sartarelli said. “Here, it’s not new products it’s new programs. New programs are critical to invigorate the institution.”

The chancellor said adding new programs to the established curriculum at UNCW did not always elicit positive responses. Dr. Sartarelli once again leaned on his business background, gathering support and persuading others to accept the changes and move forward.

“If you find someone, a leader, who has not developed any, not enemy, but objection to some of their programs, you probably have someone that did not do very much,” he said. “If you want to change direction, if you want to become doctoral university, if you want to add engineering, if you want to process and add 20 new programs, if you want to grow the university, you want to bring in $450 million to build stuff, there’s going to be a lot of pushback.”

See video below for the full interview with Dr. Sartarelli.

Dr. Jose Sartarelli, who has announced plans to retire in June 2022, talks with WECT's Jon Evans about his tenure as UNCW Chancellor.

Dr. Sartarelli has pledged efforts to increase diversity on the UNCW campus. About six percent of the student population is Black, compared to the entire UNC System which has about 20 percent Black students (according to a presentation to the UNCW Board of Trustees in July). About four percent of the UNCW faculty is Black. The university has established $1 million for diversity scholarships, and $1.5 million commitment over five years to increase underrepresented populations on campus.

“That five percent or six percent of undergraduate students (of color), it’s been the same number for 44 years, since 1976,” he said. “The same number. So, it’s going to take a lot of work to do this But, it’s possible that we’re going to accomplish it. We’re over one thousand now, Black students. I was aiming about eleven hundred, we’re at 1024 now. So, we’re making great progress. We have to bring faculty, and we have to bring more students.”

Dr. Sartarelli received criticism in June 2020 for a statement he made during a meeting with a group of Black student leaders. According to a post on the UNCW Black Student Union Facebook page, the students discussed ways the university could show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. When it was suggested that the university could paint “Black Lives Matter” somewhere on campus, the post says Dr. Sartarelli responded by saying, ‘If you are asking me tomorrow to start painting and decorating the university with Black Lives Matter, that’s going to be very difficult because all lives matter’. He looked back at the statement during the interview.

“Yes, when I met with some of my students I did say ‘All lives matter’, and by the way, they do,” the chancellor said. “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. I came to this country because this is a free country where we could defend what we said, and we have freedom of expression and freedom of speech.”

Look for more of my interview with Dr. Jose Sartarelli later this week on WECT News and

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