BOONE — As the Appalachian State campus started welcoming new and returning students into residence halls the week of Aug. 10, faculty members still have questions about how the university will operate this fall.
Interim Provost Heather Norris told Faculty Senate members during the group’s Aug. 10 meeting that the current enrollment projection is at approximately 19,874 students. App State spokesperson Megan Hayes said that roughly 30 percent of courses will be offered in-person on campus, 30 percent as hybrid courses (online and in-person) and 40 percent all-remote. More than 67,000 cloth face coverings as well as roughly 40,000 disposable surgical masks were distributed to students, faculty and staff, according to Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management Director Jason Marshburn.
Norris said 580 faculty members utilized the university’s Center of Academic Excellence for online course development and delivery. This includes 172 faculty members who attended online learning consortium courses, 100 who attended quality matters courses, 35 who completed spring course development grants, 58 who attended the online teaching excellence institute, 70 in the agile academy, 32 who participated in improving accessibility of their online courses and 113 who participated with the University of North Carolina system in designing effective online courses.
Marshburn said that the campus’s student health services recently became able to conduct on-site rapid COVID-19 testing that will allow a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time for results. The university is also going to partner with Mako Medical — which has worked locally with AppHealthCare — for enhanced testing capabilities and faster turnaround testing results. Marshburn added that the university will use a response-based testing approach, as per UNC system guidance.
In response to questions from faculty, Marshburn said that in the case of a positive case involving a student who has attended class in person, the university’s student health center would work alongside local public health through AppHealthCare. AppHealthCare would take the lead in the contact tracing part of the process, and public health officials will notify students in classes and the faculty members involved about the potential exposure due to a positive case being in that space — the name of the positive student would not be identified.
Faculty Senators expressed concern about the lack of communication by the university about an outbreak of COVID-19 at the university’s Child Development Center, with nine positive cases. Faculty Senator Scott Marshall, a professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, said that faculty and staff saw the incident as an example of poor communication going into the fall semester. Marshall requested that the university indicate in writing when an outbreak occurs as well as provide a graph of campus cases over time.
The group passed a resolution requesting clarity and expressing concern regarding the Child Development Center COVID-19 cluster. The resolution included questions such as what support is being offered to the families affected as well as how the university will prevent or correct a hazard on campus due to a predicted increase in COVID-19 cases on campus.
Black at App State
Faculty Senate discussed recent interactions between university administrators and the student and alumni group called Black at App State. Black at App State on July 6 sent a letter and list of demands to Appalachian administrators, signed by “Concerned Black Mountaineers.” Tension between the two groups arose after a July 21 meeting left the Black at App State collective feeling “silenced.”
The July 6 Black at App State letter included 23 demands to university administrators related to admissions, faculty, student retention and support, health and wellbeing of students of color, curriculum, change in organizational culture, campus culture and leadership, and endowments and scholarships. The group demanded that Chancellor Sheri Everts respond no later than July 10; the Chancellor’s Cabinet responded by the deadline, and stated they wanted to work collaboratively with the students.
In emails to administrators leading up to the July 21 meeting, Black at App State students indicated that they wanted to facilitate the meeting with an agenda they had provided. Administrators created their own agenda for the meeting as well, and conducted the meeting using the university agenda. App State officials later said that the two groups had “different expectations” for the meeting. Black at App State posted a July 24 statement to social media about how students in the meeting felt “dismissed” and “ignored.”
Toussaint Romain, the deputy general counsel for App State who facilitated the July 21 meeting, mentioned that many faculty had reached out to him about the matter. He offered his apologies to the Black at App State collective during the Aug. 10 Faculty Senate meeting. Norris also offered an apology for how the meeting was conducted, and said she has since met with her leadership team to discuss the implementation of each demand by Black at App State that was assigned to Academic Affairs.
Norris added that her leadership staff do want to invite Black at App State to a meeting to discuss exactly what is intended with each demand to ensure the university handles it appropriately. Kyndavee Bichara, a member of Black at App State, said that’s why the group felt it was important to host a meeting led by the collective so that members can explain ways to go about demand implementation “for the safety of Black students.”
Michael Grady, a professor in the Department of Art, read aloud a letter drafted by his department that was circulated to other departments. The letter gained 100 signatures of support, according to Grady. The letter stated that faculty acknowledge the steps the university is taking to address racial inequality, but that administrators “skipped the step of listening.”
“The manner in which the meeting was overtaken by the administration was harmful,” Grady read from the letter. “The outrage and pain that has unfolded in response is valid and is also informed by a long history of suppression that we must acknowledge and actively work against if we want to do better for our students. Honor the students’ request to lead the conversation, actively listen to their experiences and do not redirect attention to efforts already underway. As faculty, staff and administrators, we do need to do more and we can do more.”
Black at App State member Colbie Lofton said she loved the letter, and added that the collective would appreciate solidarity from the Faculty Senate.
“It’s not just a conversation between us and administration, but departments speaking about it, because at the end of the day implementation is going to come down to everyone,” Bichara said.
Faculty Senate passed a resolution expressing support for Black at App State and the Student Government Association’s efforts to make the university “equitable and inclusive (prohibit racist actions against racially marginalized students faculty and staff. This includes Black, indigenous and other persons of color who have intersectional identities: gender, sex, gender non-conforming identities, ability, religion, socio-economic status or citizenship status).” The resolution also stated that Faculty Senate would work with the two student groups to make curricula more equitable and inclusive.