COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

App State Board of Trustees refuses to hear from Faculty Senate chair as tensions continue

The Appalachian State University Board of Trustees held its first meeting of the academic year Friday — but it refused a request by the school’s Faculty Senate to speak at the meeting.

Last month Policy Watch reported on the Faculty Senate passing a resolution expressing no confidence in the leadership of App State Chancellor Sheri Everts.  This week, as the school continues to face issues like the COVID-19 pandemic  and an ongoing controversy over an on-campus voting site Michael Behrent, chair of the ASU faculty senate, requested five minutes to address the board as provided for in the board’s by-laws.

In an email this week Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff Hank Foreman told Behrent that the board considered but declined his request.

Unable to address the board during its meeting, Behrent recorded and uploaded a video of the comments he prepared.

The faculty reaction to the board’s rebuff was swift and negative. On Friday a large number of them wrote to express their displeasure with the decision.

“Faculty would like to work with you and with the executive administration, together, to make Appalachian stronger,” wrote Martha McCaughey, a professor of sociology and member of the Faculty Senate. “However, you rejected, without any explanation, the formal request of our Faculty Senate Chair, Dr. Michael Behrent, to give a short report, and this therefore does not appear on your meeting agenda.”

“It is poor optics to refuse to engage with the Faculty Senate in the midst of a pandemic, and following the faculty’s voicing serious concerns about shared governance of the university,” McCaughey wrote. “Administrators’ meeting with individual departments is not an acceptable substitute for the administration’s obligations related to shared governance as defined in Article IV of the Faculty Constitution and 7.1 and 7.2 of the Faculty Handbook.”

“The Faculty Senate, on which I serve, stands ready to engage with both the executive administration and the Board of Trustees,” she wrote.

Jill R. Ehnenn, professor and assistant chair of the Department of English, elaborated on those concerns in her own email.

“My immediate concern is the administration’s refusal to operate according to the principles of shared governance in the midst of a pandemic and in the aftermath of a no confidence vote in which serious and legitimate concerns were expressed,” Ehnenn wrote. “This is unacceptable. Faculty don’t ask that the administration agree with us; we ask that you engage with us.”

“Steadily over the course of the past few years, and increasingly since last March, shared governance has deteriorated at Appalachian,” she wrote. “Upper administration/BOT’s refusal to engage with faculty has reached such lows that when Dr. Michael Behrent requested a mere five minutes on today’s BOT meeting agenda, his request was denied.  As Dr. Behrent is current Faculty Senate Chair and a constituent member of the BOT, that modest request should not have been denied. As I see it, there is now a complete breakdown of communication between faculty and administration.”

“This breakdown is a tremendous matter of concern for faculty who care about their university, as it impacts the sound running of a university according to time-honored practices in academia (ie, shared governance), and thereby, impacts students,” she wrote. “I see the upper administration putting on a polished ‘PR’ face to the outside world; but down on the ground, things are not well for the campus, because administration is frankly not doing right by its faculty.”

Emily Dakin, associate professor in the Department of Social Work, pointed out that the lack of communication and engagement from administration and the Board of Trustees isn’t just bad form. It’s an actual violation of established policy.

“The faculty who spoke in favor of the no confidence vote expressed that they viewed this vote as the only means available to our body to try to get administration to engage constructively with our body around issues of communication and shared governance, when our previous efforts to do so had failed,” Dakin wrote in an e-mail to the board Friday. “Furthermore, the Chancellor’s refusal to engage with the Faculty Senate violates the Faculty Handbook  (“7.1.3 The chancellor of the University shall meet with the Faculty Senate at its first and last meetings of the academic year”). This is a policy that she violated in both 2018 and in 2020. While we greatly appreciate administration meeting with individual departments, this is not a substitute for the administration’s obligations related to shared governance as defined in Article IV of the Faculty Constitution and 7.1 and 7.2 of the Faculty Handbook.”

 “We humbly request that our administration meet with representatives of the Faculty Senate, and that the Board of Trustees meet with representatives of the Faculty Senate,” Dakin said.

After the no-confidence vote, Everts sent an email saying no senior level university administrators attended the meeting because members of the Faculty Senate are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the UNC System over what they say are unsafe working conditions in the pandemic.

Since then, App State Provost Heather Norris has cited the lawsuit in her refusal to meet with the Faculty Senate or its committees. The lawsuit cited has plaintiffs from a number of UNC System schools. That’s the justification the administration has continued to use.

But at none of the other schools who are party to the lawsuit have administrators been advised not to meet with faculty leaders while the suit is ongoing. At UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and several of the school’s top administrators have continued to stress the importance of meeting and engaging with faculty even when those sessions are sometimes tense.

Faculty representatives have also continued to address various boards of trustees across the system and, at its most recent meeting, the UNC Board of Governors.

 

 

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