Allison breaks silence as opposition grows to FSU chancellor appointment

FSU Chancellor-elect Darrell Allison

In his first interview interview since being appointed Chancellor of Fayetteville State University, Darrell Allison said criticism has been “hurtful” but did not directly answer questions about the controversial process by which he was appointed.

In an interview with ABC-11 Allison, a former member of the UNC Board of Governors whose appointment has been opposed by students, faculty and alumni, said he has heard from “so many more that’s not so loud” supporting him. That includes faculty, students and staff, Allison said.

As Policy Watch reported last week, members of FSU’s board of trustees and UNC System sources close to the process said Allison did not make the initial cut for candidates to be submitted to the UNC System President. He was added last-minute in a move he and the trustees have not been willing to discuss publicly and ultimately chosen for the position over candidates with more education and experience.

“The initials Ph.D are important,” Allison told ABC-11. “But for what Fayetteville State University needs right now, the letters are l-e-a-d-e-r. I’m a leader and I bring good, strong leadership.”

Allison is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school. He has no previous experience teaching or in administration at the university level. He has worked as a lobbyist for K-12 charter schools and as served as a political appointee on the board of trustees of NCCU and on the board of governors.

On Wednesday the Raleigh-Apex NAACP joined the FSU faculty and the school’s national alumni association in opposing Allison’s appointment.

“Even though I didn’t attend Fayetteville State, I did attend Lincoln University in Jefferson City and I’m a member of the Lincoln alumni association and I sympathize with the Fayetteville alumni association.” said Gerald D. Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP.  “Most HBCU executives bring years of experience in higher education. They will have demonstrated their capacity to leverage relationships with previous HBCU presidents, governments, industries and leaders to address some of the challenges facing many HBCUs collectively, such as growth in enrollment, student achievement, fundraising, affordability and financial stability.”

Givens questioned whether the controversy over Allison’s appointment could even endanger the school’s accreditation, noting that in 2019, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), sent a letter to the University of South Carolina requesting more information about its search for a new president because of allegations that Governor Henry McMaster was pressuring board members to vote for General Robert Caslen. The same association is responsible for FSU’s reaccreditation.

Allison’s first day as FSU chancellor is March 15.

 

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One year later: UNC health experts reflect on ‘shining examples’ and moving past the pandemic

Today marks exactly one year since the first COVID-19 patient was identified in North Carolina.

An invisible virus no one had ever heard of 12 month ago has registered more than 865,000 cases and stolen 11,363 lives.

Dr. Wesley Burks

Dr. Wesley Burks, the CEO of UNC Health and Dean of the UNC School of Medicine, said Wednesday’s anniversary was a time to reflect on the hard work, the fear, and the sense of purpose borne out of the pandemic.

“We weren’t sure what was going to happen. We definitely didn’t think we’d still be here today talking about it, ” confided Burks.

“But through all of this work, we are different – both collectively and personally.”

Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk, an assistant professor in the UNC Department of Family Medicine, said the COVID crisis underscored for her the struggle many marginalized communities face.

“What this COVID pandemic has done has shone a spotlight on health inequities that have existed in this country for decades,” explained Dr. Malchuk. “But it is the first time a global illness has brought these things to the forefront and grabbed everyone’s attention.”

Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk

Malchuk says she is now using her position as a woman and a person of color, who grew up in a lower socioeconomic background, to educate her patients about COVID and encourage them to get vaccinated.

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, chair of UNC’s Department of Psychiatry, said her takeaway
over the last 12 months was the promise and impact of tele-psychiatry in reaching those in crisis.

“We are now able to provide mental health care broadly across the state, to reach people in ways never [seen] before,” Meltzer-Brody said.

“Collectively we are able to take care of behavioral health needs much earlier, with experts, to hopefully decrease suffering and prevent long-lasting damage.”

Dr. Melissa Miller, director of UNC’s Clinical Molecular Microbiology lab, shared her concerns for the toll this has taken on her own colleagues.

Dr. Melissa Miller

Not only did they play a leading national role in developing accurate COVID-19 testing, they have conducted more than 250,000 tests.

“For the first time people are really seeing what the lab does, and how important to patient care laboratory tests are,” Miller shared.

“It’s with great sadnesss and pain that I look back at what we’ve been through in the last year, but also with hope that we have in front of us going forward.”

Dr. David Weber, UNC’s Medical Director of Infection Prevention, reflected on how little we really knew about the virus last March, and how scientists like Dr. Ralph Baric have helped pave a way out of this pandemic.

Weber believes that leading research will help North Carolina and the nation return to some sense of normalcy later this year.

Dr. David Weber

“With the current ability to give everyone the vaccine by May and the given current number of people who have already been infected, it’s likely we’ll begin to reach community protection levels by the end of May or June,” Weber offered.

But this is not a get out of jail free card.

Health professionals still worry about the variants that may escape the protection of the vaccines.

“But both the drug companies working on new therapies and the vaccine companies working on booster doses that cover these variants, give us hope that by the end of the year, life will return mostly to normal.”

Dr. David Wohl, a professor of infectious disease, says pathogens often find a way to take advantage of those who are marginalized, ignored or maligned in a community.

Dr. David Wohl

But he was struck by leaders on all levels to change the direction of ‘a horrible year.’

“Being the first to go in, the first to use PPE and show everyone else how to do it…and almost never saying ‘no,'” said Wohl in praising the tireless efforts of essential health workers.

Moving forward, Dr. Wohl says they will be focused on reaching into the community to accelerate vaccination rates among those who do not have access to high-speed internet or transportation and are challenged to make an appointment.

Over the past year, UNC Health has treated more than 1,700 COVID patients and administered 200,000 doses of vaccine across the state.

To learn more about getting vaccinated against the COVID virus, visit yourshot.org.

 

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NC Senate advances a bipartisan bill to allow some parents seeking drug treatment to keep Medicaid coverage

The state Senate is advancing a bill that aims to allow parents who are on Medicaid and temporarily lose custody of their children to stay on the government insurance plan so they can more easily get drug or mental health treatment.

Senate bill 93 would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to ask the federal government for permission to keep these parents in the Medicaid program.

Sen. Danny Britt, a Lumberton Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said staying on Medicaid would make it easier for parents to obtain court-ordered substance abuse or mental health treatment while their children are in foster care. Losing Medicaid causes months-long delays while parents search for other ways to pay for treatment, he said.

“We all know the statutory goal is reunification,” he said.

The bill has bipartisan support and the Senate Health Care Committee gave it unanimous approval Wednesday.

“I applaud your effort in trying to get this done,” said Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat.

It is not clear how many adults would be able to keep their insurance coverage under the bill.

Britt said the change would cost the state $5 million. North Carolina Medicaid is a $16.7 billion health insurance program that enrolls about 2.5 million people – mostly low-income children, elderly adults, and people with disabilities. The federal government pays most of the costs.

Parents qualify for Medicaid if their family income is 41% below the federal poverty level, or $8,905 a year for a family of three.

Most adults under age 65 who do not have disabilities or dependent children do not qualify for Medicaid.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and DHHS secretary Mandy Cohen want the state to expand Medicaid, which would make more low-income adults eligible for the health insurance program. Republican legislative leaders oppose Medicaid expansion.