Appalachian State University logo

Appalachian State University logo

BOONE — App State faculty met virtually for the monthly faculty senate meeting on Nov. 8.

Provost Heather Norris’ report at the meeting highlighted reasons why App State is nationally and regionally ranked for its academic programs, while reports from other senate members addressed the university’s performance in health and safety, sustainability and racial equity.

New River Light and Power general manager Edmond Miller began Monday’s meeting with a presentation on a new program that will allow NRLP to purchase clean hydroelectric energy on behalf of customers beginning in January 2022.

The program, made possible by NRLP’s new wholesale power agreement with Carolina Power Partners, allows customers to pay a $5 monthly premium to offset 30 percent of their energy consumption with green energy, Miller said.

Miller said a survey conducted by NRLP showed that 2,500-4,000 NRLP customers were willing to pay the premium for a renewable energy source.

“I’m pretty sure they meant they wanted to buy renewables to somehow change the trajectory of climate change, to release less carbon,” Michael Hambourger, an associate professor in App State’s chemistry department said. “All this is is repackaging existing electricity.”

Former senator Brian Burke’s presentation highlighted similar ambiguities in the senate’s 2019 Climate Neutrality Resolution. Burke said the process by which the senate has developed a plan for carbon neutrality is exclusive and does not engage faculty, students and staff in a substantial way.

He invited two students to speak on behalf of the senate’s Campus Planning Committee. Sarah Sandreuter, a senior and member of ClimACT, called for greater collaboration between faculty and students on climate action.

Senate members later approved a motion to have identifying details redacted from a report detailing the issues faculty and staff of color face on campus. They moved to have the redacted report distributed to the Faculty Senate and the welfare and morale committee by Nov. 15.

Tammy Wahpeconiah, a professor in App State’s English department and member of the university’s inclusive excellence team, led a working group for faculty and staff of color that compiled the report.

A separate working group was established for LGBTQ+ faculty and staff. Wahpeconiah was not permitted to release the report publicly, but said during the meeting that the report names instances of microaggressions and tokenization, tenure denial and an overall toxic working environment.

She said these instances have made her and her colleagues time at the university “untenable.” Three of the four members in her working group have retired or resigned prematurely, and she will retire at the end of the semester.

“We were made aware that in the past five years a number of faculty and staff of color have either resigned or retired because of specific issues dealing with their experiences on this campus,” Wahpeconiah said. “As a matter of fact, out of the working group three out of four of us either resigned or retired. I’m retiring at the end of the semester.”

Wahpeconiah sent the report to the director of App State’s Inclusive Excellence Team, Brandy Bryson, who then shared the report with upper administration. Wahpeconiah said the team received no response. She took it upon herself to send the report to Faculty Senate Chair, Louis Gallien.

Norris said findings from the team’s will be shared in the spring as part of the school’s “comprehensive strategic diversity initiatives.”

“I am in regular meetings with Jamie Parson, our Interim Chief Diversity Officer, who has many exciting projects underway, and, like you, I appreciate the monthly updates that she is sending to campus,” Norris said during the meeting. “In her most recent message to campus (on October 27), she shared: ‘There are several … working groups that came together this summer to develop recommendations for how we can work together to better serve underrepresented populations on campus. I plan to share the compiled results of these recommendations this spring as part of our comprehensive strategic diversity initiatives.’”

App State spokesperson Megan Hayes said the survey referenced at the Faculty Senate meeting was sent to a small group with the purpose of determining the need for affinity groups on campus, and it did not meet the standards of a campus climate survey.

“Current data show that three-year and five-year retention rates for non-white faculty and non-white SHRA staff at App State are greater than those for white faculty and white SHRA staff, while retention rates for non-white EHRA staff are lower than those of white EHRA staff,” Hayes said.

Hayes said information from the Affinity Group survey as well as retention rate data will be included in the comprehensive report to campus next semester.

“I know that there have been efforts made to hire diverse faculty and staff, but that’s not enough,” Wahpeconiah said. “Numbers are wonderful, but they only show one portion of the issue. My biggest concern is with diversity equity and inclusion what’s often left out of the conversation is the inclusion.”

Wahpeconiah said the report proposes several solutions, including reinstating the university’s equity office, which according to Hayes was last had an office in 2016.

“Chancellor Everts created a cabinet-level Chief Diversity Officer position, and at that time, the former Office of Equity, Diversity, and Compliance was reorganized to provide broader services across multiple divisions,” Hayes said. “The CDO is a direct report to the chancellor and sits on the Chancellor’s Cabinet, thereby reinforcing the priority given to DEI work at App State and establishing a direct voice representing perspectives of diversity, equity and inclusion at the university’s highest levels of decision making.”

Michael Behrent, announced later in the meeting that the university would undergo the American Association of University Professors investigation into violations of academic governance principles and structural racism in the UNC System.

Ken Brackney’s report at the faculty senate meeting steered the discussion toward lack of communication on behalf of Chancellor Sheri Everts and App State Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management Jason Marshburn.

Several faculty members shared that their emails to Marshburn concerning budgets and COVID-19 safety protocols have gone unanswered for weeks.

Jim Westerman, a professor in App State’s Department of Management, said he attended one of the chancellor’s weekly briefings on COVID-19 to pose questions about students who fail to comply with the App State’s vaccination policy. He said his questions went unanswered.

Hayes said that detailed responses to multiple questions about testing compliance and student vaccination rates were prepared by Jason Marshburn for the Oct. 7 chancellor’s COVID-19 briefing with the Faculty Senate Advisory Committee, and were emailed to all of the meeting attendees immediately following the meeting.

"During Chancellor Everts' weekly meetings with leadership from Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Student Government Association, Academic Department Chairs and Deans, the process for who is notified in the event of a positive test was regularly discussed," Hayes said. "This process is also noted on the university's COVID-19 reporting page, where the CDC definition of close contacts is provided."

Hayes said also regularly discussed at these meetings were the difficulties of comparing data dashboards with other educational institutions.

"We don’t all report or verify the same way, because we don’t have access to comparable data sets," Hayes said. "Chancellor Everts reports campus numbers compared with the county and state numbers in her messages to campus each week. I would ask that as a matter of publicly available record, you note this, as well as the data reported each week on the App State dashboard, in your story."

Scott Marshall, a professor in App State’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences said when staff in the department weren’t receiving email notices alerting them to exposure to COVID-19, he reached out to Marshburn, but claimed got no response.

The next faculty senate meeting will take place Dec. 13.

Moss Brennan contributed reporting to this story. 

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