BOONE — Approximately 21 Appalachian State University faculty members emailed university board of trustees on Sept. 25 expressing concern about what they perceive as a lack of engagement with the university’s Faculty Senate.
The emails were sent after a series of events and communications between faculty and university officials. Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent sent an Aug. 24 email to faculty and Faculty Senate members stating that it was the group’s goal to work constructively with administration, and that he hoped administrators would return to providing shared governance.
The Aug. 24 email followed an Aug. 17 email that faculty senators received from Chancellor Sheri Everts and Interim Provost Heather Norris stating why they would not be in attendance of a Faculty Senate meeting that day. According to faculty senators, the university faculty handbook states that the chancellor shall meet with Faculty Senate at the group’s first and last meeting of each academic year. The Aug. 17 meeting was the group’s first for the academic year.
The joint email noted resolutions on the group’s agenda that day — including a resolution of no confidence in Everts.
“Two members of Faculty Senate, including the senate parliamentarian, are named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the university, the (University of North Carolina) system and Gov. Roy Cooper,” stated the joint email to senators according to Behrent. “While university administrators typically attend Faculty Senate in support of shared governance, in light of the above and on the advice of counsel, no senior level university administrators attended today’s meeting.”
At that time, Behrent said Norris had discontinued regular meetings with the senate’s Budget Committee that have taken place since the spring. Behrent — who serves as a constituency representative during Appalachian Board of Trustee meetings — requested via email to present a five-minute Faculty Senate report during the trustees’ Sept. 25 meeting. His request was subsequently denied by Hank Foreman, the university’s vice chancellor and chief of staff.
During the Sept. 25 annual App State Board of Trustees meeting, Faculty Senate members flooded the emails of trustee members to voice concerns about a lack of shared governance.
Faculty Senator Rick Elmore, an assistant professor of philosophy, stated in his email that the COVID-19 crisis has brought an array of unprecedented challenges to campus, the community and the nation.
“There has been deep disagreement between the majority of faculty and the administration over how best to handle our community’s response to these challenges,” Elmore wrote. “One of the central concerns of faculty has been the lack of shared governance on our campus: the failure of the administration to communicate clearly and honestly with faculty and the exclusion of faculty from meaningful involvement in decision making.”
In the context of ongoing concerns about shared governance, Elmore stated in his email that the board’s refusal to allow Behrent to speak “communicates to faculty that our concerns and perspectives are not valued by the leadership of the institution to which so many of us have dedicated our professional lives.”
As a former chair of App State’s Faculty Senate (2010-12), Jill Ehnenn — a professor and assistant chair of the Department of English —said in her email that shared governance with faculty has deteriorated steadily over the years, and increasingly so since March.
Ehnenn added that faculty aren’t asking for administrators to agree with them, but rather to engage with them. She said that faculty want to address topics such as decreased transparent communication from administrators, the handling of the pandemic, university goals to increase student enrollment, budget concerns, faculty salaries and instances where faculty have been given “disdain” by upper administration and the trustees, she said.
Faculty Senator Emily Dakin, an associate professor in the Department of Social Work, requested in her email that both administrators and that the App State Board of Trustees meet with representatives from the Faculty Senate.
Everts said during the Sept. 25 trustees meeting that university officials have reimagined and redefined the university experience at App State since March. She gave an overview of what all the university has accomplished to reach this point in the year such as purchasing three face coverings for every student, faculty and staff member; hiring 50 additional staff for increased frequency of cleaning and regular sanitizing; and testing more than 1,000 students nearly each week since allowing them back on campus.
Additionally, faculty have adjusted their teaching methods while deans and department chairs ensure that course delivery needs are met, she said. According to Everts, 48 percent of classes are being taught remotely and 52 percent are hybrid or fully face-to-face instruction.
“In the last six months, we’ve had to recreate what took those who came before us more than 120 years to develop,” Everts said. “This effort has been nothing short of super human.”
Everts added that each week of the fall 2020 semester the university completes is a significant accomplishment. She said the safety and wellbeing of students, faculty, staff and of the greater community remain at the forefront of university decisions.
“We are all weary with the effects this pandemic continues to have in our daily lives, but we cannot become complacent. It is our responsibility to remain diligent and disciplined. Doing so will keep our students and faculty in Boone and on campus, our staff and faculty employed and our local economy supported.”
Administrators would be remiss to not plan for budget reductions as a result of the pandemic, Everts said. She mentioned the July request from the North Carolina Board of Governors to UNC system institutions to submit plans for “worst-case” 25-50 percent budget cuts.
While those scenarios are unlikely, Everts said the university is expecting at least a 10 percent reduction next fiscal year. University Academic Affairs staff recently completed a reorganization of the enrollment management and marketing functions of main campus undergraduate programs, grad programs and online programs that eliminated administration level positions. This saved the university more than $900,000 annually, according to Everts.
Additionally, Everts said the 20,023 students enrolled for the fall semester meant the university experienced a 3 percent increase in undergraduate students since 2019, 11 percent growth in graduate students and 18 percent increase in online degree programs.
“Moving forward, we recognize we cannot continue to grow on campus indefinitely,” Everts said. “Yet we take seriously our educational mission and responsibility to educate the citizens of the state of North Carolina. We are looking at areas that have growth capacity and market potential for both on campus and online programs.”