Some readers may have noticed that six months have passed since I wrote a column criticizing the whacky leftist administration at my university, UNC-Wilmington. I am happy to report the reason for the silence is that the wacky leftist administrators are now gone. In addition to that, on July 1st of this year our university got its first out of the closet conservative chancellor. You heard that right. UNC-Wilmington is now under the leadership of a conservative chancellor. And he makes no effort to hide it.
Jose “Zito” Sartarelli is just the man we have been looking for. Unlike me, he doesn’t end his sentences in prepositions. More importantly, he has business experience. He has it from the private sector and also from the within the academy – as dean of a large business school. This is very good news because we’ve tried putting social science and humanities professors in charge of universities and colleges. It doesn’t work. Their only qualification is their ideology. We need practical problem solvers, not ideologues. And we’ve got one now.
Some of us wondered how long it would take for Sartarelli to make a positive impact on our university. It took exactly minus ten minutes. Although he was not supposed to take office until 8 a.m. on July 1st, I got my first email from him at 7:50 a.m. It was sent with an attached letter informing me that an organization I advise (the SAE Fraternity) was being reinstated on campus after years of being banned. It was an important letter because the case had important First Amendment implications.
Our previous chancellor Bill Sederburg made no bones about the fact that the reinstatement of SAE was being held up because of racist (though constitutionally protected) speech by members of another SAE chapter in Oklahoma. In other words, our chancellor thought it was not enough to punish people for uttering constitutionally protected racist opinions in Oklahoma. They had to punish other people in North Carolina who did not ever express such opinions – simply because they happened to be in the same national organization.
Bill Sederburg also openly admitted to keeping SAE off campus in part because of my past criticism of the university. He could not directly punish me for my speech because I had defeated the university in federal court. So he decided the administration would punish students for selecting me as their advisor. And he actually admitted it in a major national news publication. As a result of his actions, there was yet another First Amendment lawsuit in the making in late June.
Fortunately, Sartarelli stepped in and saved the day. It took minus ten minutes on the job for him to correct the problem and avoid a potential suit by SAE. Only a man from the business world would show up early for work and start making good decisions before his job officially started at 8 a.m. Success doesn’t sleep late. It is the antithesis of the tenured mindset.
Just four weeks later, Sartarelli made another courageous move that enhanced the campus climate for free speech. Prior to Sartarelli’s arrival, the director of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) was exposed for violating the Southworth decision, which governs the distribution of student activity fees. She had been consistently using university resources to promote the activities of the NARAL student group while denying similar requests from opposition student groups. Southworth said that such viewpoint non-neutrality in funding student groups violates the First Amendment. The situation needed to be addressed, not ignored.
Thankfully, the Sartarelli administration promptly asked for her resignation. When she refused she was terminated. Better still, the WRC was demoted from a university wide center to an office within the College of Arts and Sciences. It had been years since a UNCW administrator had been held accountable for violating the First Amendment. There was reason for optimism. But not everyone was happy.
Predictably, several hundred angry feminists (pardon the redundancy) decided to start a petition in protest. Some even said the director’s termination violated the First Amendment. Of course, it takes a PhD to be that stupid. Simply put, there is no First Amendment right to violate the First Amendment. So the protest just fizzled.
By the end of the summer, and just weeks into the Sartarelli administration, we had a third major victory for free speech. A student had previously been charged with “disorderly conduct” simply for including a single profanity in an email to a university administrator. He was on the verge of facing an expulsion hearing so he wrote to me for help. I wrote to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. They promptly wrote a letter to UNCW and copied Sartarelli.
Within 10 days, FIRE received a reply from UNCW. They had dropped all charges against the student. Better still, UNCW promised to review the “disorderly conduct” policy to see whether it violated the First Amendment. Clearly, our university had entered a new era of responsiveness to our concerns about free speech on campus.
For years, spineless pseudo-conservatives have complained to me for writing constantly about my battles with the administration. They said it was futile and that I should write more about national issues – as if the coopting of our universities and the shredding of the Constitution were not a national issue. These chronic complainers simply lack vision and a sense of the intrinsic value of perseverance. Had things not turned out this way, the battle still would have been just.
As of this writing, I consider my 13-year war with the university to be over. At the dawn of a new year, I am ready to commit to working with my former adversaries, not against them. In fact, I will be penning four letters to the new chancellor this spring – each one containing a proposal meant to fundamentally change our campus for the better.
I will publish these letters with the hope that others will follow our lead.