BOONE — Appalachian State University’s Faculty Senate is forming an ad hoc committee to research the meaning behind shared governance among faculty and administrators, as well as the history of the practice at the university.
Faculty senators Oct. 19 charged the committee with identifying best practices of shared governance and evaluating practices at the university. Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent said he hopes the committee finds an actual definition of shared governance with an added benefit of improving the relationship between faculty and administrators.
Faculty Senator Mike Hambourger —an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry — said he think all parties believe in the idea of shared governance, but have different understandings of what that means.
The resolution follows a few months of faculty senators expressing concern about a perceived lack of engagement with the group from administrators and App State’s Board of Trustees. Interim Provost Heather Norris, through a statement delivered by Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Jacqui Bergman, said she was pleased that Faculty Senate was embarking on a study of shared governance.
“It is my sincere hope that through this work that we will together develop a healthier, more productive meeting process that will build and sustain shared governance and collegial relationships for years to come,” Norris said in her statement.
App State Board of Trustees Chair Scott Lampe and member Carole Wilson each spoke during the Oct. 19 meeting. Their presence follows a Sept. 25 meeting in which 21 faculty members flooded the emails of trustees members to express concern about a lack of shared governance. Lampe told the faculty senators that he wanted to open a dialogue with the group to at least get a conversation started. He then went through a list of questions he had received from the Faculty Senate regarding topics such as the handling of operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the enrollment size of the university and university budgets and finances.
Lampe said that everything the university has done since the beginning of the pandemic has been to try to make the best of a bad situation.
“We are past the point of perfect answers,” Lampe said. “There are no good answers; there are no totally right answers. There are choices, and each of those choices have positive and negative ramifications.”
Lampe said the two pressing issues for App State has been the amount of in-person classes versus online courses, and how many students are living on campus versus those living off campus. According to Lampe, of the university’s approximate 20,000 students, roughly 5,000 live in residence halls and the larger majority generally live in apartments in the Boone area.
“Our options are limited by the decisions that these adults make about where to live and how to conduct themselves that are outside of the purview of what the university can do,” Lampe said.
Lampe also said that he has seen no evidence that if the university had chosen to have classes 100 percent online, that a good number of the students living off campus would not have came to Boone. He added that there has not been any virus transmission in classrooms, and that he’s been disappointed in the amount of in-person classes the university is holding. Lampe had hoped 70-80 percent of classes would have been in person.
“We’ve gone in the opposite direction,” Lampe said. “There’s more and more online classes being delivered day to day from a combination of students who have gone home for various reasons or don’t want to go to class for various reasons, and faculty members at the same time. There’s been a shift you all are probably aware of and may have even participated in toward more online.”
Faculty Senator Pete Soule — a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning — said he would like to see evidence that students would have still came to Boone if classes were all online. He also asked what evidence supported the claim that no COVID-19 transmission was happening in classrooms. Lampe said the classroom transmission information had been told to him, and he was under the impression that it was a determination that was made by AppHealthCare during contact tracing procedures.
When it comes to the fall 2020 student enrollment of 20,023, Lampe said the growth is positive for the university for its reputation and budget requests it makes in Raleigh. He said that since North Carolina uses an enrollment growth formula to determine budgets, the quickest and most straightforward way to increase the university’s academic budget is to have growth.
“I don’t see a scenario where this university does not grow,” Lampe said. “Having said that, I also don’t see a scenario where it grows at anywhere close to the rate that the state as a whole and the university system has grown. North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country.”
Additionally, Lampe commented that the University of North Carolina system, App State Board of Trustees and App State Faculty Senate each have a budget committee — all of whom have an opinion about what the budget priorities should be.
On behalf of Norris, Bergman said the university’s spring planning group has prepared recommendations for spring class scheduling and how to further enhance student and faculty engagement. The group conducted a survey with faculty and students and plans to present a summary and recommendations — such as how to collaboratively work with students on self care and mental wellbeing — to administrators soon.