Remarks from the Fall 2019 Faculty and Staff Meeting

Friday, September 6, 2019

Fall 2019 Faculty and Staff Meeting
Friday, September 6, 2019

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon.

We are three weeks into the Fall semester of the 2019-20 academic year, and while it is still the beginning of the semester, it feels like we are well underway! Much has already taken place this semester.

Yesterday, we celebrated Appalachian’s 120th year at the annual Founders Day celebration. It was a beautiful day and a lovely event that both honored and explored our institution’s history.

With the help of our faculty and staff, we are working to tell a fuller history of our university — and of those who helped make it the institution it is now.

The day’s events included dedicating a sculpture of Lillie Shull Dougherty, a gift from the Dougherty family; a university history exhibition, which featured a research showcase with poster sessions by faculty, staff and students; and a commemorative ringing of the Founders Bell, which is in its newly constructed pavilion on Founders Plaza. I would like to thank Dr. Karl Campbell and the Appalachian History Committee for their work on this year’s Founders Day. They have done a tremendous job of bringing to light themes and topics relevant to Appalachian’s legacy. I would also like to thank the Physical Plant staff, who took tremendous pride in building the new home for the Founders Bell, painstakingly working to reproduce the roofline and bell steeple of Watauga Academy.

Celebrating tradition is integral to building community, and I am pleased our faculty and staff have joined together to revitalize important history and begin new traditions our institution can celebrate for many generations to come.

We have much of which we can be proud. You have likely heard me say before that Appalachian is the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state. Let’s look at some specifics:

I emphasize undergraduate, because Appalachian specializes in providing a stellar undergraduate education. We have excellent graduate programs and continue to invest in them. As an example, our new Doctor of Psychology – or PsyD – program began admitting students this semester, with a primary goal to train students in clinical psychology to serve rural populations. Ninety-one percent of our students are undergraduate students, however, and they are taught primarily by tenured faculty who are engaged and invested in their success.

We belong to one of the most reputable and most successful systems of public higher education in the nation. Many of us chose to work at a public institution for very specific reasons that align with our personal values:

  • We believe a quality education should be affordable and accessible to everyone;
  • We believe in leveling the playing field so all can participate and succeed; AND…
  • We believe – as Appalachian’s founders believed – that we should serve the rural populations in our region and state.

It is important you know I do not take the word “premier” lightly. Anecdotally, it is routine for professors from UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State to send their children to Appalachian. Our faculty are appreciated and continually lauded by students and their parents and families alike. An Appalachian degree is nearly a guarantee for our students they will get into the graduate school of their choice, and employers repeatedly report a preference for hiring Appalachian graduates. Empirical data back up these commendations:

Our latest data for our 2017-18 alumni show that ninety-eight percent of our undergraduate alumni and ninety-six percent of our graduate alumni are employed and/or enrolled in continuing higher education programs.

Additionally, Appalachian’s retention and graduation rates are behind only those of UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State. At these Research-One institutions, undergraduate students are not necessarily the primary focus. Many of you, like me, have professional backgrounds at R-1 institutions. We understand the largest emphasis is not on undergraduate education, and faculty like you aren’t in the undergraduate classroom. Here, we focus on excellence in teaching. Like you, I chose to come to Appalachian because we want to teach and engage in research with undergraduate students.

These successes, which are only two examples that contribute to our standing as the PREMIER, public undergraduate institution in the state, are a testament to the quality of the education you provide, and engaged faculty and staff who care about the success of their students.

Accomplishments like these should be celebrated, as should the people who make them happen. For this reason, I am establishing an award for faculty & staff to recognize your positive contributions to students.

The accomplishments, research, awards and accolades you earn are numerous. We work to showcase them in many ways- through my weekly newsletter to campus, my monthly communications to alumni and parents and families, through bi-weekly announcements to media, and via our news website, Today-DOT-App-State-DOT-E-D-U! These communications make a difference- we realized an increase in non-athletics media exposure of 207% last year, with an overwhelmingly positive sentiment ratio.

A few examples that garnered significant media attention over the summer include:

The work of geography professor Dr. Baker Perry, who along with Research Assistant Professor of Geography Anton Seimon, scaled Mount Everest this summer to conduct climate research as part of a National Geographic expedition. During interviews with ABC News, the Weather Channel and other international news outlets, Dr. Perry described that they braved record crowding, temperatures of nearly negative 22 degrees and icing that compromised his oxygen intake, to install the two highest operating automated weather stations in the world. In an Appalachian-style “Apollo 13 moment,” Dr. Perry solved a critical technical crisis at more than 27,000 feet with a shovel and a roll of duct tape. These weather stations are now providing scientists an unprecedented level of weather data that will improve weather forecasting across the globe.

Last month, our second class of police cadets celebrated their successful completion of the Appalachian Police Development Program. Students who complete this two-year program become sworn police officers while simultaneously earning their bachelor’s or master’s degrees. I am pleased to announce that 100% have passed their examination to become certified North Carolina police officers, and, of last year’s class, 100% are employed or pursuing further education.

The Appalachian Police Department is committed to the security of our campus, and improving the future of their industry. Last month, the North Carolina Police Executives Association named the department the Law Enforcement Agency of the Year, primarily for its Appalachian Police Officer Development Program — the second of its kind in the nation and the only such program in North Carolina. Thank you to our chief, Andy Stephenson, who is not only a dedicated and compassionate police officer, but also an exceptional leader for his team.

Middle Fork – at the Appalachian Academy at Middle Fork, we are seeing incredible progress. Science, math and reading scores have improved so dramatically in one year that we are six-tenths of a point from having our “low performing” designation removed. Teacher turnover has dropped 5 points from last year and nearly 11 points from the year prior. This impressive success is visible beyond the numbers – it is evident in the enthusiasm of the students, the passion of the teachers and the support from the administrators.

Over the last few months, many of our faculty have worked – across disciplines and in addition to their many other demands – on a local response to growing global concerns about climate change. As part of this work, Appalachian, under the leadership of the Office of Sustainability, is in the process of re-writing a university-wide climate action plan. This ongoing and iterative process has included faculty, staff, students and members of the community. Thus far, the team doing this work has re-evaluated existing institutional climate goals, met with numerous campus stakeholders, and identified opportunities to strengthen our commitments. The updated plan will consist of a roadmap focusing on three primary areas that contribute to our campus carbon footprint: purchased electricity, transportation and campus heating.

Tuesday was “census day,” the day the UNC System takes a "snapshot" of all students' enrollment which becomes the "official enrollment" used for federal and state reporting.

Continuing our average 5-year growth rate of 1-2%, our current enrollment stands at 19,280.

  • Our first-year student enrollment stands at 3,501, which represents a 1.6% increase
  • The total number of transfer students stands at 1,449
  • Total enrollment for underrepresented students is 17.4%. This represents an 8.3% increase from Fall 2018 and an increase of 47% since 2014.
  • Almost 1 in 5 of our new first-year students is racially or ethnically diverse, and underrepresented new, first-year student enrollment has increased by 80% since 2014.
  • Our overall retention rate stands at nearly 88%, which is well above the national average (and as already mentioned third overall in the UNC System) but also up from 87.2% last year
  • Retention rates for our African-American students are up from 80% to over 89%
  • Retention rates for our Hispanic students stand at nearly 88%, which is up from 83%; AND…
  • Retention rates for all underrepresented students stand at just over 87%, which is also up from 82%.

These numbers are an impressive testament to the work YOU do every day. You deserve applause!

We are approaching a landmark enrollment rate of 20,000. Reaching this enrollment number will require university-wide commitment. I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about why is it important to reach this number.

Let’s take a quick look at the funding sources: tuition increases and state funding allocation are two areas over which we do not have significant control. We do have influence, and I continue to be a vocal advocate at every opportunity and with every audience necessary to ensure Appalachian has the resources we deserve – and that you have earned.

The third area, however, is within our control.

Tuition revenue from increased enrollment has a direct and immediate impact on our bottom line. Increased revenue leads to increased resources: for classroom resources, for salaries and additional personnel, for innovative and creative teaching and research endeavors… and again, let me emphasize, it is within our control.

Funding is tight for academic institutions, and the landscape for higher education is uncertain. We have all seen the recent headlines about campuses merging or closing their doors, and surveys and studies tell us this trend is likely to continue.

Reaching our goal of 20,000 students will not only bring in the tuition revenue we need, it will also bolster our position in Chapel Hill AND in Raleigh.

It is important you know this is a resourced goal. The Provost and your deans will be reaching out to you to see what you need in order to support the growth we need to achieve in the coming year. The vice chancellors and I are committed to providing what you need to reach this important milestone in Appalachian’s history.

Over the summer, I tasked Provost Kruger and Vice Chancellor Forte with a thorough review of our budget, and they worked with Vice Chancellor Brown to identify and re-allocate state funds from Student Affairs to Academic Affairs. These funds will help develop a 4.99% pool for faculty merit increases. Once the budget process is complete at the state level, we will move forward with merit increases for faculty as allowed. With 4 years of no merit-based faculty salary increases before my arrival on campus, I recognize there is a lot of catching up to do in this regard, but for 5 out of 6 years I have worked with the Vice Chancellors to identify these funds and I am committed to continuing to do so.

While reallocation is not a continuing option, we have worked continually to place state resources back into the line items in which they belong – to support academics and academic facilities – and to use student fees and private funds more appropriately.

Private funds continue to be critically important to college affordability, and to this end, I would like to ask you to help me welcome Jane Bargothi to Appalachian. Jane has taken the open position of Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Development, and she brings with her more than 13 years of development experience. She is also a 1996 graduate of Appalachian, and holds a passion for our mission. Your Deans have already met with Jane, and she has plans underway for supporting a robust scholarship program.

You are seeing quite a bit of construction taking place on campus – some projects are more obvious than others – but all are important. Support for faculty and students sometimes comes in the form of buildings and infrastructure. I have spent hours taking tours, meeting with you and learning about the difficulties you have experienced in your academic homes. I saw:

  • Classrooms and offices subject to frequent flooding
  • Substandard bathrooms
  • Elevators that didn’t work
  • Broken HVAC systems diminishing air quality
  • Faculty – our Number One resource – working in closets.

When I arrived on this campus five years ago, I not only saw these shockingly poor conditions, but I also encountered an “either-or” mentality that often resulted in our faculty getting the short end of the resource stick.

I have been working ever since to change this way of thinking and the accompanying resource allocations, and the shift to “BOTH-AND” is underway.

When we place people in substandard facilities, we send the message they don’t matter. This is why I care about building physical infrastructure to support and empower the vast human potential on our campus. Our faculty and our students live out their academic lives here. That is worth setting goals for. It’s worth finding not just one solution, but implementing many solutions.

I don’t believe in stopping when it becomes harder to find funding. I believe in thinking big. I believe in shining a light on what has been neglected – then fixing it.

In the future, we will see buildings like I.G. Greer, which utilizes very little space for classrooms, replaced or reconfigured on the same footprint in a way that shows that academics matter. Your Deans will be changing the use of space; making the right decisions about what our faculty need now, and what they will need in the future.

Plans for the Appalachian 105 property are not complete. That location will be utilized for academic space in addition to what we have done so far with the money raised from private donors to support the track and tennis teams.

Academic space will be incorporated into the End Zone facility. Spaces that are used for football events will be utilized no more than the 1-2 weeks out of the year for which they are needed for athletics events. They will be multi-purpose spaces that will also be utilized for academic needs, events, conferences, and meetings.

We have moved, or are in the process of moving, more than 80 offices that do not provide direct student support to locations off campus (but nearby), freeing up office space and parking for those offices and departments that need to be centrally located.

Our current construction projects total more than $250 million, and represent the largest infrastructure investment in the UNC System. The residence halls project underway is a long-overdue, innovative public-private partnership, which is allowing us to save money we can – and will – use on academic buildings.

There’s a lot happening on this vibrant, thriving campus. We are prioritizing academics and focusing on the future, firmly rooted in our past, and guided by our academic mission.

Appalachian is the premier, public, undergraduate institution in the state. We have YOU to thank for that.

Thank you.