BOONE — The Appalachian State University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors has sent a letter to Chancellor Sheri Everts and members of the App State Board of Trustees in response to concerns related to the appointment of Provost Heather Norris.
Norris was named provost and executive vice chancellor at App State effective May 7 after being interim provost for more than a year.
AAUP’s mission is to “advance academic freedom, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good,” according to its mission statement.
The App State chapter of the AAUP raised four concerns of Norris’ appointment in a letter sent on May 18.
App State spokesperson Megan Hayes said Chancellor Everts’ May 7 announcement of Provost Norris’ appointment is the extent to which “the university will comment on this matter” when asked to respond to the letter.
The first point of concern raised by the AAUP chapter — which has 14 members with 10 of them voting to send the letter — was lack of transparency related to the hiring.
“This decision is contrary to the Feb. 10, 2020 email from Chancellor Everts announcing Dr. Norris’ interim appointment which says: ‘a national search for provost and executive vice chancellor will be established in Fall 2020,’” the letter stated.
Statements indicating a national search would take place appeared in local newspapers, including the Watauga Democrat.
“Despite these public pronouncements, and even though the university conducted multiple national searches for both faculty and administrators last year, there was no search,” the letter stated. “Indeed, no explanation for the subsequent decision not to conduct a national — or even a campus — search has been provided.”
Hayes said Everts was not required to conduct a national search for the position of provost and executive vice chancellor after Norris “successfully demonstrated outstanding leadership and service while serving in an interim capacity during the global pandemic.” She also said Norris was hired into her position as Dean of the Walker College of Business after a competitive national search.
According to App State’s policy under “General Search Requirements,” a search for an employee can be waived or not conducted for multiple reasons, which can be found at policy.appstate.edu/EHRA_Employees.
The letter’s second point of concern is related to broadly accepted national standards for hiring senior university administrators, including basic standards set out by AAUP.
According to the letter, the appointment contradicts the AAUP’s 1966 “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities”, which states: “The selection of academic deans and other chief academic officers should be the responsibility of the president with the advice of, and in consultation with, the appropriate faculty.”
The letter also states that a revised statement about “Faculty Participation in the Selection, Evaluation, and Retention of Administrators” emphasizes the necessity of faculty participation in the selection of academic administrators whose “duties (are) more directly dependent on faculty support.”
“Specifically, this statement says that for the selection of such positions — of which the position of provost is clearly an instance — ‘the composition of the search committee should reflect the primacy of the faculty interest’ and the ‘faculty component of the committee should be chosen by the faculty of the unit or by a representative body of the faculty,’” the letter stated.
The letter continued and stated that the “disregard of AAUP standards for shared governance” comes when those principles were reaffirmed with a special Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Governance, of which Norris and the chair of the App State Board of Trustees served.
The letter’s third point of concern relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. The letter states that the appointment of Norris bypasses the “university’s stated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in recruiting, hiring, promotion and retention efforts.”
Searches for faculty include a multi-step recruiting and hiring protocol that ensures a broad and diverse pool of applicants, according to the letter.
“Not proceeding with a search process that would have given a diverse range of candidates an opportunity to apply and show what skills they could bring to the provost position contradicts the administration’s stated diversity, equity, and inclusion goals,” the letter stated.
The letter’s final point raised concerns that Norris’s ability to succeed as a provost would be impeded due to an absence of a formal search.
“Formal searches for senior administrators typically include public presentations by candidates in which they outline their vision for the institution and their priorities for the position,” the letter stated. “Attendees may ask questions of candidates. The lack of a formal search has denied Norris this opportunity.”
The letter stated the Norris’s work as interim provost provided “a limited number of faculty and staff some opportunity to gauge her abilities as a senior administrator, her vision and priorities remain almost completely unknown to a majority of the faculty, staff and students of Appalachian.”
“This basic lack of knowledge about Norris poses a significant barrier to her effectiveness and success as provost,” the letter stated.
The AAUP chapter stated in the letter that it would host an open forum shortly after the fall 2021 semester begins to discuss Norris’s strategic vision as well as other matters that will impact “our academic mission.” The letter stated Norris will be invited to present her views of the provost position and her vision and priorities with a question and answer session following her presentation.
“Needless to say, were you to organize such an event, our forum would most likely not be necessary,” the letter stated. “Given the importance of these issues to the faculty, the campus and the public, we look forward to your response to the chapter’s concerns.”