Education, Higher Ed

UNC-Pembroke chancellor: Attending Trump rally was “inconsistent” with COVID safety urged by school

UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings says his attending a rally for President Donald Trump  in Lumberton last week was “inconsistent” with how he has encouraged students, faculty and staff to behave during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an e-mail to the university community this weekend, Cummings said he attended the rally at the invitation of Lumbee tribal members as a way to support the tribe’s quest for federal recognition.

Both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden support federal recognition for the tribe. Trump’s announcement of his support came weeks after Biden, whose campaign has not been holding large-scale rallies due to concerns about community spread of the coronavirus.

UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings

The U.S. has seen more than 8.7 million infections and more than 225,000 deaths, with recent spikes bringing the seven day rolling average of new cases to a new high of 68,767.

Cummings, a retired surgeon, has discouraged students, faculty and staff from attending large-scale gatherings as the school has seen a recent increase in infections and infection clusters.

“Like many in our country and across the world, you may be feeling frustrated and tired of COVID-19 affecting your daily life as it restricts our ability to connect with each other in-person,” Cumming wrote in an e-mail to the campus community just last week. “But please don’t let that stand in the way of our success. We have come so far this semester, and I ask you to please take these final weeks very seriously. We must wear our masks and practice social distancing without fail. And please, do not attend or host gatherings of any size if possible.”

One day after writing that e-mail, Cummings attended the large-scale Trump rally.

Cummings’ e-mail on attending the rally, in its entirety:

BraveNation:

For essentially my adult life, I have consistently and strongly advocated for full federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe. In recent weeks, many elected officials have publicly confirmed their support of Lumbee recognition, an outcome the Lumbee Tribe has worked toward over the past 100 years. Advancing and supporting this region is one of our university’s driving goals, and the impact of the education, health and housing benefits full federal recognition would bring to UNCP, Robeson County and southeastern North Carolina is a critical step forward in that path. Most importantly, recognition is the just course to correct an injustice.

I was asked to accompany a delegation of tribal members to an event in Lumberton, where the President was to offer his full support of Lumbee recognition efforts. Both presidential candidates have expressed their support for the Lumbee people, and I remain grateful to them and all who support these long-overdue efforts regardless of political affiliation.

My commitment and passion for tribal recognition influenced my decision to attend the announcement. I understand and accept the concern and disappointment over participation in a gathering that was well over our campus limitations. While I did maintain social distancing given the seating arrangement provided and wore my mask throughout the event, it was still inconsistent with how we have navigated the fall semester under my direction.

Sincerely,

Robin Gary Cummings, MD Chancellor

Online reaction to the e-mail from students, parents and staff has been swift and negative. A number have noted the e-mail does not contain an actual apology, simply an acknowledgement from the chancellor that his behavior was “inconsistent” and that he understands and accepts peoples’ disappointment.

Education, Higher Ed, News, race

Darrell Allison, chair of Racial Equity Task Force, resigns from UNC Board of Governors

UNC Board of Governors member Darrell Allison abruptly resigned from the board last week, citing “personal reasons.”

In a letter to N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Allison called serving on the board a “high honor.”

“And while I am most confident that our UNC System will find its way trough the many challenges it currently faces, it must do so without my continued service on this board,” Allison wrote.

His resignation, effective September 23, creates a vacancy that must be filled by the N.C. General Assembly.


Allison, one of  just three voting Black members on the 24-member board, was tapped to chair the board’s Racial Equity Task Force, which began meeting in July. The task force and its work were personally important to Allison, who in his resignation letter cited his undergraduate education at North Carolina Central University and said his work on the board has allowed him to “work hard in supporting and advocating for many of our historically minority-serving institutions, and our other smaller institutions which comprise our System with genuine knowledge of need and concern.”

At its first meeting the task force heard a report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey results that found the system falling below its benchmarks. In fact, the results were worse than those from 2018.

When the task force was launched, board Chairman Randy Ramsey and UNC System Interim President Bill Roper made a strong statement about the importance of its work in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the movement for reform that followed.

“George Floyd died a horrible, violent, and unjust death at the hands of a white police officer,” Ramsey and Roper wrote in the statement. “This immoral and indefensible act cries out for justice and compels all of us fully to recognize and grapple with our country’s history of racism and oppression that has so often resulted in violence. As members of the University community, it is our obligation and responsibility to do the hard work needed to address inequities in the UNC System for the benefit of students, faculty, staff, and all North Carolinians.”

Darrell Allison, UNC Board of Governors member and Chairman of the board’s Racial Equity Task Force.

Since then Republican sentiment on race equity work has turned sharply negative at the state and national level — particularly with regard to the “history of racism and oppression that has so often resulted in violence” Ramsey and Roper cited.

Earlier this month President Donald Trump threatened to cut federal funding to schools that teach The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 project. He also had the federal Office of Management and Budget prohibit departments from use of federal funds for executive branch staff training that includes critical race theory and the concept of white privilege as a component of systemic racism in the history of the United States and in contemporary life. That ban was later expanded to include federal contractors.

“Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors,” an executive order on the matter read.

“Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t there’s nothing in it for you!” Trump tweeted on the decision.

Trump reiterated his opposition to race equity and racial sensitivity training in Tuesday night’s debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“They were teaching people to hate our country, that it’s a horrible place, it’s a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country,” Trump said. “And I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

Allison, who is politically unaffiliated, is one of just five members on the 24-member board who is not a registered Republican. There are no registered Democrats on the board.

Allison is heavily involved with issues and campaigns important to the GOP, however. He is past president of school choice advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina and was on the North Carolina steering committee for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential bid.

On Thursday Ramsey released a written statement thanking Allison for his service.

“I would like to thank Darrell Allison for his valued and thoughtful service on this Board, particularly as Chair of the Racial Equity Task Force and the Committee on Historically Minority-Serving Institutions,” Ramsey said. ” Darrell is a passionate advocate for public higher education and the entire UNC System and he we will be missed. I’m also confident Reggie Holley will continue to advance the important work of the Racial Equity Task Force and build upon the accomplishments of the HMSI Committee formerly under Darrell’s leadership.”

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

App State Chancellor: Student COVID-19 death should inspire “a common call to action” on safety

Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts addressed the COVID-19 related death of a student in a statement to the university community late Tuesday.

As Policy Watch reported this week, 19-year-old sophomore Chad Dorrill died of complications due to the virus Monday night.

Everts’ message broke the news to those in the community who were not yet aware and asked for continued caution as the pandemic continues and cases climb at App State.

It also pointed out that Dorrill lived off-campus in Boone and took classes online.

From Everts’ message:

The hearts of the entire Appalachian Community are with Chad’s family and loved ones during this profoundly difficult and painful time. Tributes shared by friends and loved ones show the positive impact Chad had on the communities he loved and called home, which included App State and Boone.

Chad’s family has shared he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month and suffered from later complications. Chad lived off-campus in Boone and all of his classes were online. When he began feeling unwell earlier this month, his mother encouraged him to come home, quarantine, and be tested for COVID-19.

After testing positive for COVID-19 in his home county, he followed isolation procedures and was cleared by his doctor to return to Boone. It was after his return to Boone that he had additional complications, was picked up by his family and hospitalized. His family’s wishes are for the university to share a common call to action so our entire campus community recognizes the importance of following COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines.

Despite generally being at lower risk for severe illness, college-age adults can become seriously ill from COVID-19. As we approach the halfway mark to the last day of classes for the Fall semester, we are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in students. We have stringent cleaning and safety protocols in place on campus, and our students, faculty and staff are following the 3Ws by wearing face coverings, maintaining 6 feet of distance from one another and washing and sanitizing their hands and work stations. All of us must remain vigilant with our safety behaviors wherever we are in our community. We can flatten the curve, but to do so, we must persevere. From the smallest acts to the most important personal relationships, we must actively work each day to reduce the spread of this highly communicable disease.

Remember that gatherings are limited to 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors, and that in those settings, it is still critically important to maintain distance and wear face coverings. The university and the Town of Boone are enforcing these restrictions, and each of us must take seriously our personal responsibility as well. With grace and with kindness, let’s help one another to follow these important safety precautions. Information about prevention and testing options is available on the university’s coronavirus website, where we also post the weekly campus email updates.

Please know there are many resources to help you cope with grief and stress as well as to provide you with support in a confidential setting. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please reach out.

In condolences to his family, many have shared their memories of Chad and said, “I wear my mask for Chad.” Please let us all honor Chad and his contributions by taking care of ourselves and our community.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

App State student dies of COVID-19 complications

Chad Dorrill, a 19-year-old sophomore at Appalachian State University, died Monday night of COVID-19 complications.

“As our family suffers this incredible loss, we want to remind people to wear a mask and quarantine if you test positive even without symptoms,” Dorrill’s family said in a statement Tuesday. “You have no idea who you can come in contact with that the virus affects differently. Chad was just incredibly tired for two weeks and little did we know it was secretly attacking his body in a way they have never seen before. The doctors said that Chad is the rarest 1-10,000,000 case but if it can happen to a super healthy 19-year-old boy who doesn’t smoke, vape, or do drugs, it can happen to anyone.”

Dorrill was a basketball player and Exercise Science major.

ASU had issued no official statement on his death as of Tuesday afternoon.

Davidson County Schools Superintendent Emily Lipe and the Piedmont Pacers basketball team both issued statement about Dorrill, who was a graduate of Ledford High School in Thomasville.

““His quiet, soft-spoken demeanor belied a fierce competitor on the basketball court whose relentless hustle and shooting prowess helped win many games for the Pacers,” the Piedmont Pacers team said in a statement posted to Facebook. “Chad finished as the Pacers’ all-time leading scorer and was a member of the 2018 USSSA National Championship team.”

“Chad Dorrill was a loved and well-respected member of the Ledford community and the Class of 2019,” Lipe said in her statement.  “He was an All-Conference basketball player during his years at LHS, who was both competitive and kind. He was enrolled at Appalachian State University in hopes of becoming a physical therapist. Our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy is extended to Chad’s family, friends, and the entire Ledford community.”

Appalachian State has recorded 167 new COVID-19 cases over the last week, all among students.

On Tuesday alone the school reported 46 cases.

Late Tuesday UNC System President Peter Hans issued a statement on Dorrill’s death.

“Any loss of life is a tragedy, but the grief cuts especially deep as we mourn a young man who had so much life ahead,” Hans said in the written statement. “I ache for the profound sadness that Chad Dorrill’s family is enduring right now. My heart goes out to the entire Appalachian State community.”

“Our country is grappling with this continuing crisis on a scale that is difficult to comprehend,” Hans said in the statement. “That does not diminish the acute pain we feel alongside Chad’s parents, family, and friends, the people whose loss is personal and irreplaceable.”

“Chad’s family asked that this moment stand as a stark reminder of how Covid-19 is deadly serious for all of us, even for otherwise healthy young adults.,” Hans said. “We have a heightened duty to one another in these extraordinarily trying times, and we all need to remain vigilant. I join his family and Chancellor Everts in urging everyone to follow public health guidance by wearing a mask, washing hands, maintaining physical distance, and limiting gatherings.”

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.

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