BOONE — The Appalachian State University Faculty Senate voted to approve a resolution of no confidence in Chancellor Sheri Everts’ leadership as well as a resolution holding the University of North Carolina system Board of Governors and Everts responsible for COVID-19 illnesses and deaths as a result of reopening the campus.
The no-confidence resolution was discussed by Faculty Senators during two executive sessions the body held in July, and was officially passed on Aug. 17 with 23 in favor, 12 opposed and six abstentions. Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent clarified at the beginning of the meeting that the resolution doesn’t have a direct consequence, but voices concern about the administration.
The resolution states that Everts is frequently isolated from and unable to effectively communicate with faculty, and that she has failed in strengthening institutional finances, providing goals, operating in a transparent fashion and embracing shared governance.
In a message to faculty on the same day as the vote, Everts and Interim Provost Heather Norris sent Faculty Senate a joint letter acknowledging the resolutions. The letter stated that the two value faculty and the work they continue to do under increasingly challenging circumstances to continue the university’s core academic mission. The joint statement also mentioned a May 26 unanimous vote from the Appalachian Board of Trustees “in support for Chancellor Everts, Provost Norris, Vice Chancellor Forte and Director of Athletics Gillin” and a July 6 trustees vote to pass a “resolution of confidence in the leadership of Chancellor Sheri Everts.”
“We have greatly enjoyed the individual meetings with academic departments, and have found they provide an important opportunity for direct and unencumbered communication with the faculty at large,” said the statement from Everts and Norris. “We will use continued departmental meetings, as well as regular email updates, to communicate directly with all faculty regarding important matters and initiatives underway. We need and want your input and will continue to seek it.”
Roughly 14 faculty members voiced either their support or opposition to the no-confidence resolution during the Aug. 17 meeting. Faculty Senator Mike Hambourger — an associate professor in chemistry — sponsored the resolution and explained his reason for it. He said that many of his concerns in Everts’ leadership predate COVID-19 and have continued through the pandemic.
Hambourger pointed to a time in August 2015 — shortly after Everts came to the university — that she outlined nine priorities for her administration. The top three priorities were support for faculty and staff; wellness, health and safety for the campus; and diversity, Hambourger said.
“On all three points, I believe our university has gone backwards from where we stood in 2015,” Hambourger said. “For this reason, I urge a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Everts’ leadership.”
Hambourger said that during Everts’ tenure, faculty salaries have not kept pace with inflation or salaries of peer institutions; decisions made about reopening campus during the pandemic didn’t prioritize the wellness, health and safety of the campus community; and that the chancellor had “repeatedly shown” that she will not take the “bold steps necessary to make this a truly inclusive campus.”
“In numerous instances, Chancellor Everts has shown herself more interested in protecting the university’s image than in protecting the university’s people or academic mission,” Hambourger said.
Faculty Senator Ben Sibley, a professor in Appalachian’s Recreation Management and Physical Education Department, said he did not support the resolution as most of the faculty in his department and college do feel supported in their roles. He said that they felt supported in decisions about curriculum, teaching modes, resources for teaching, advising support, tech support, travel funds, support for research and scholarship, family considerations and work and life balance. Based on his day-to-day experiences, Sibley said he can’t conclude that the administration isn’t supportive of the academic mission.
When it comes to the decision of bringing students back to campus for face-to-face classes this fall, Sibley said that the Board of Governors and the UNC system “made it clear” that chancellors don’t have the authority to make the decision to go all online for their individual campus.
During the Faculty Senate’s Aug. 10 meeting, Sibley explained that UNC system President Peter Hans said during the Aug. 7 Faculty Assembly meeting that there were no set metrics or criteria that would determine automatically if a campus should shut down or modify operations. Hans thought that decisions for campuses to go online would largely be made on a campus by campus basis, according to Sibley.
“I just don’t see how it’s appropriate to hold the campus-level administration accountable for that decision,” Sibley said. “I think we’ve done an adequate job in making the best out of a bad situation.”
Hambourger said he thought it was fair to expect university leadership to stand against external decisions if those decisions directly threaten the health and safety of members of the campus.
Others who spoke in opposition to the resolution felt that now was not the time to pass such a resolution, and that faculty and administrators should instead work more cohesively on plans for the fall. Most who spoke in opposition did voice concerns about university communication and transparency with faculty. Sibley said the administration seems reluctant at times to communicate decisions until it’s already 100 percent certain, which usually means it’s too late for faculty input. He said faculty want to be and should be kept in the loop, even if that means sharing information while decisions are still developing.
“When we’re kept in the dark and we get news of major developments from local media outlets instead of our leaders, that creates a feeling of distrust and of not being valued,” Sibley said.
Faculty Senator Peter Soulé, a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, said that his primary motivation for voting in favor of the resolution was to send a clear message to Everts that many faculty at App State have serious concerns with how campus is being managed.
“We want substantive change in communication, transparency, shared governance and faculty support,” Soulé said. “I just want the chancellor to realize it’s absolutely possible for administration at ASU under her leadership to treat faculty as true partners in the enterprise.”
Faculty Senator Matthew Robinson, a professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies, was the sponsor for the resolution “holding administration responsible for COVID-19 illness and death.” He said during the meeting that reopening campus and possibly subjecting thousands of people to the virus is dangerous. He said Everts mentioned in an email to faculty that the university expected a rise in positive cases when students returned.
“Imagine expecting some harm to come to some members of your family due to campus and going ahead with plans to reopen anyway,” Robinson said. “I argue that that is deviant behavior, acting with the knowledge that a harmful outcome is likely.”
The resolution passed with 18 votes in favor, 14 against and six abstentions. Robinson said the resolution would be a statement by faculty but that the resolution is not legally binding.