BOONE — As Appalachian State University is nearing six weeks until its scheduled return of students for face-to-face learning, faculty and staff continue to voice concerns about how the fall semester will operate.

Chancellor Sheri Everts and interim Provost Heather Norris released a joint letter on July 2 to address questions and concerns from faculty and staff. The letter states that the responsibility of reopening “the equivalent of a small city” and the impact on the surrounding community weighs heavily on administrators. The letter also stated that that the university understands that it cannot always foresee the consequences of its actions, but that it is working with every available resource to mitigate dangers.

“While health and safety are our top priorities, as the largest employer in the region, we cannot ignore that moving to all online instruction will most certainly have detrimental economic and emotional impacts on the lives of our students, employees and citizens of the town of Boone and the surrounding region,” the letter stated. “Considering these factors does not mean we are prioritizing money over lives — not to consider them would be irresponsible.”

The university’s Faculty Senate hosted a June 6 special meeting attended by more than 300 people. Faculty were able to ask questions related to COVID-19, such as fall 2020 class schedule planning, health concerns and university operations. At the start of the meeting, Chair Michael Behrent stated that the university community has to be realistic about the tradeoff it faces while also recognizing how frustrated faculty have been.

“On the one hand, we are concerned about our health and that of our staff, colleagues and students,” Behrent said. “On the other hand, we do face some serious financial obstacles. In some instances these goals are pitted against one another. We can denounce the situation that created this tradeoff, but it’s impact on us is no less real.”

Andrew Koricich, associate professor of higher education, talked of a similar choice — between a loss of money and a loss of morale. He indicated that moving as many operations online as possible would create a significant financial impact for the university, but that reopening the campus would have permanent and severe impacts on the morale of faculty and staff.

“The only reason the institution flourishes in the face of stagnant appropriations is because the people who work here give their all to make this place great,” Koricich said. “Putting employees and their families at greater risk during this pandemic will quickly erode the morale and goodwill necessary to keep Appalachian on its current trajectory.”

The letter explained that the state of North Carolina is projecting a 10 percent reduction in revenue, and App State is predicting it will experience a $15 million shortfall in state appropriations for the coming fiscal year. Additionally, the university stated that it could see a negative impact on enrollment. For every 1,000 fewer students enrolled at App State, the letter said administrators calculate a corresponding loss of approximately $20 million.

“Let us be clear — human lives mean infinitely more to us than financial solvency, but to not consider our financial position would be grossly negligent,” the letter stated.

Everts and Norris stated in the letter that people commonly ask why the university continues to have athletic programs and construction projects carry on when facing financial difficulties.

The letter states that money that is in trusts for athletics, construction and other uses are legally bound to be used in those ways. Additionally, decisions about sports cuts are based on loss of revenue, not supporting athletics, according to the letter.

“While it is undeniable that Athletics generates revenue for the institution in measurable ways, including paying tuition and fees, Athletics is managing their budget shortfalls with serious measures, including employee furloughs. Every student-athlete scholarship is paid to the university by Athletics through fundraising, and student-athletes who are on partial or no scholarship pay the difference or full tuition.”

Jill Ehnenn, a professor and the assistant chair of the Department of English, asked Norris if the university would go forward with face-to-face instruction if the state continues to be in Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan. Norris said that if that were the case, it would be a University of North Carolina system and Cooper decision on how to move forward, but that she couldn’t see how the university could fully reopen at that point.

Renee Gamble, a staff member in the Department of History, raised concerns during the July 6 meeting about what plans may be in place if a reasonable percentage of faculty or office staff on campus contract the virus and aren’t able to be replaced quickly. Gamble was also curious about what she should do if someone enters her office without a mask. Similar concerns of how faculty should enforce the university’s mask policy in classrooms were shared during the June 22 Faculty Senate meeting.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown said that student conduct violations for those who don’t abide by the mask policy can be reported at tinyurl.com/ydgezgyz. A violation could lead to disciplinary sanctions, such as a suspension, depending on the situation, he said.

According to the letter, App State’s Student Affairs office is in the process of creating education and training modules and public health campaigns to reinforce messages of safe behavior when it comes to COVID-19 safety measures. Brown stated during the meeting that the university is also engaging in a survey to gauge student compliance with face coverings and other parameters.

The university also has plans to utilize peer-to-peer opportunities, clubs and service organizations, residence halls education and training to aid in safety education as well.

“We know from the evidence-based sexual assault prevention, drug and alcohol abuse prevention and suicide prevention work we do that these methods are not a guarantee, but we also know they make a difference in student behavior,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, the use of face coverings is becoming politicized, so we must work together to elevate this public health measure as a community expectation, rather than a personal statement.”

The letter explained that deans and department chairs have asked faculty about their teaching preferences for the fall, with revisions in May and June to reflect current preferences. Since that time, administrators have analyzed simulations of what classroom capacities could be like, what space is available on campus for classrooms — including administrative space — and what course delivery options could be available (face-to-face, fully online, hybrid).

“While we worked on this balance, we did not want to have most of our classes online, so we looked at percentages but did not set a firm benchmark, as that would not have been fair or practical,” the letter stated. “As an institution, we excel at face-to-face learning, and it’s ideally what our students and many of our faculty prefer.”

Additionally, the letter explains that some programs present different risk issues and require different strategies for preventing infection, such as singing courses, classes in which students play wind instruments or physical education classes that require direct contact with others. April Flanders, a professor in the Department of Art, said her department has not been given clear instructions on how to clean shared equipment — such as kilns or looms.

The letter stated that Academic Affairs leaders planned to meet on July 2 to discuss the special accommodations process with department chairs. Everts and Norris stated that they recognize there may have to be a shift to online instruction again “at any time” if the state experiences progression of the COVID-19 virus.

The Faculty Senate entered into a closed session for roughly two and a half hours after the open part of the meeting. During the executive session, the group passed a statement asking each faculty senator to poll their departments on the department’s confidence in the administration’s planning for fall 2020. The results of the poll are to be shared at another special meeting on July 20.

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(4) comments

yosefisdying@gmail.com

The administration flat out lied in that letter.The letter states "Appalachian is committed to maintaining best practices at all times", but they have no testing and tracing program like other universities.

The letter states “Provost represents faculty on the Chancellor's Cabinet", but the Provost has shown herself to be the Chancellor’s puppet that was installed after a vacation together to the Middle East.

The letter states "Over the last two weeks, each college completed and submitted its preferred course schedules, which we reviewed and approved", but actually the administration took scheduling from departments to hold it hostage and rejected faculty schedules and forced faculty to teach in-person.

The letter states that "We must focus on the areas we can control,” but they choose to have NO testing and tracing program.

The letter states "moving to all online instruction will most certainly have detrimental economic and emotional impacts on the lives of our students, employees and citizens of the Town of Boone and the surrounding region," but is completely silent on the very real the detrimental health and emotional impacts on students, employees and residents when you bring 20k students from outside the area, mostly urban areas with much higher infection rates?

The letter states "We know the impact and implications (of reopening) are tremendous," but clearly the economic impacts take priority.

The letter states "we are working with every available resource to mitigate the dangers we face," but we really aren’t because we have no testing and tracing program.

The letter states "We are keenly aware that it is critical to manage the number of positive cases," but it’s not critical enough to have a testing and tracing program.

The letter states "to date it is unknown whether entry testing on a broad scale would reduce transmission of the virus more than the use of other infection control measures," but this is nonsense because it implies a false choice between testing and other measures. Other campuses are doing BOTH and more. This type of dishonest deflection of issues is why this leadership is so incredibly horrible.

The letter states "The CDC does, however, state, “in areas with moderate to substantial community transmission where resources allow, local health officials and IHEs may consider testing some or all asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff who have no known exposure," which suggests testing because the students are coming from areas of moderate to substantial transmission!! Are they seriously applying Boone infection rates to the incoming students instead of recognizing the problem they are bringing to Boone?? Incompetent.

The letter states "we saw $13.6 million in COVID-19 expenses" which is more misleading information. The issue is the net loss due to COVID-19, not the expenses!! There were savings and there was a bailout via CARES act. On balance the net loss was zero!

The letter states "For every 1,000 fewer students enrolled at Appalachian, we can calculate a corresponding loss of approximately $20 million," so I wonder where the $40 million went as we’ve increased enrollment by 2000 over the past few years. Not to academics.

The letter states that "Faculty have been routinely engaged, through the Faculty Senate budget committee, in budget discussions throughout the spring and summer," but it doesn’t share that showing up (or not as in Chancellor’s case) is not the same as listening and collaborating.

The letter states "Let us be clear- human lives mean infinitely more to us than financial solvency” but not more than having a testing and tracing program like other universities.

The letter states the "Decisions about sports cuts are based on loss of revenue," but this is another lie. If the decision to cut sports was about saving $, why would you only cut men's tennis but not women's tennis and avoid the need to spend millions on the planned tennis facility. Why would you cut indoor track when these athletics and coaches are already on campus for outdoor track? Cutting these three sports only saved $1million. This was not about saving money.

The letter states "While it is undeniable that Athletics generates revenue for the institution in measurable ways," it ignores the undeniable generation of costs to the university. The costs of athletics far outweigh the revenues from athletics. As reported by the NCAA, Appalachain’s athletics program loses more than $23 million every year. This operating loss is bailed out by student fees, institutional support and taxpayer money.

The letter states that "Athletics does not run a deficit budget. They run a balanced budget each year,” but this is a lie. Athletics generates about $13 million in revenue from their operations. They spend about $36 million on their operations. That means their operations loses about $24 million every year! This operating deficit is covered by a subsidy from students, parents, university funds, and taxpayers. This is a fact! Reported by USAToday and the Knight Commission on Collegiate Athletics, using data from the NCAA. They do NOT stand on their own. They stand on the backs of others to pay their bills. Their propaganda and misinformation is why they need to go away.

They have no shame, no integrity and no ability to be functional in their positions. This list of nonsensical statements from them is just the tip of the iceberg. This nonsense has been going on for years. Appalachian is going in the toilet because of them and the BOT.

thechaosaysmuuuu

Well said!!

billspizza2016@gmail.com

so basically they did a lot of talking and decided nothing. Our COVID cases will skyrocket if they bring 20,000+ students back here in August, putting all the full time residents at risk.

thechaosaysmuuuu

So there are some key pieces of missing information here:

1. The Chancellor was missing. Again. Derelict in her duties, as is the norm. Hiding from faculty as she normally does. I’m not convinced that she’s not just a hologram, as she only seems to exist ethereally, sending out her pathetic email communiques every couple weeks from her bullet-proof fortress of solitude.

2. The letter mentions that Athletics is covered via trust money. Forte continues to claim that Athletics can “stand on its own feet.” What neither mentions, and what this article glosses over, is that STUDENTS directly subsidize Athletics to the tune of nearly $20 million per year. It comes out to just over $1,000/per student/academic year. About 25% of this money goes directly to paying off debt incurred through the construction of Athletics facilities.

3. THIS IS NOT TRUST MONEY, THIS IS NOT “STANDING ON YOUR OWN TWO FEET.” THIS IS PASSING THE BUCK TO STUDENTS. Forcing them to pay for facilities that, many of whom, will NEVER use, and who have NOT been polled on whether or not they wish to be spending so much of their money on (often borrowed via loans!).

4. The administration is straight-up lying about this, and y’all are printing it as if it were gospel. Could we please see the data that Athletics is a money maker? (spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist, as for MOST university athletics programs, because athletics is a complete money pit.)

5. The administration continues to dodge questions. We’re still waiting to hear about their response to Art Pope now on the BOG. A question posed DIRECTLY to the Provost by 3 different people, then repeated again by Behrent once it became clear this question was being dodged. It still has gone unanswered.

6. JJ Brown must be delusional. He continues to repeat “student conduct issue” over and over and over again. Not once, even after being asked directly MULTIPLE times over multiple meetings has he given even a shred of a response in terms of what staff/faculty are to do in the moment when a student is not following proper procedure (ex: showing up to class with no mask). Simply saying “put it in the syllabus” is one of the most laughable and downright insane things I have ever heard.

7. Finally, this is for the Watauga Democrat directly:

8. Why don’t you all just print the email from the administration? Considering that it makes up nearly half this article, it seems like you could have simply linked the letter and spent more time going into detail on how faculty and staff are feeling the present situation. The administration gets all the time and publicity and ability to share their message that they desire. Staff and faculty do not, we’re lucky if we get even 1-2 meetings a year with the Chancellor. The reporting on these issues in recent months has been VERY slanted towards giving even more of a free platform for the administration.

THEY DON’T NEED YOUR HELP. FACULTY, STAFF AND STUDENTS DO!

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