Remarks from the June 26, 2020 Meeting of the Board of Trustees
Board of Trustees Meeting
Friday, June 26, 2020
Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to echo Chair Blackburn’s welcome to:
- The new chair of Appalachian’s Staff Senate Kelli Wilson; and
- The new President of Appalachian’s Student Government Association, Michael Davis.
We are glad to have you join the board.
My March update to this board took place two weeks after we were forced by the global COVID-19 pandemic to make an abrupt move from teaching a majority of our classes face-to-face to teaching all of them online.
Since that time, we completed the Spring 2020 semester, provided a flexible grading policy as an option for those students who suffered the most significant disruption and held a virtual commencement for more than 3,600 graduates that was virtually attended by a record-setting 27,000+ people from all 50 states.
Last semester, our faculty shared teaching methods and best practices with one another, adapting their courses and their delivery methods always with the best interest of our students as their top priority.
We now look to August with excitement. We miss our students and are looking forward to welcoming them to campus, and yet we are not naïve about this. As Governor Cooper confirmed in his press conference Wednesday in which he extended Phase 2 of North Carolina’s re-opening, the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases in North Carolina remains elevated. President Roper, in consultation with UNC System Chancellors, continues to watch these numbers for how they might impact our plans for the future. As we look at a variety of scenarios for a return to campus, we recognize one likely scenario might mean we pivot to online instruction. As we continue watching the numbers, I, along with my leadership team, continue to appreciate our partnerships with faculty and staff, as well as continued conversations with student leaders, to ensure the safest path forward.
We now face the two most important issues that have hit higher education in our lifetimes: a global pandemic and a nationwide response to recent acts of racism that are forcing the evaluation, assessment and reconfiguration of the most basic tenets of our lives.
The UNC System established a six-member Equity Task Force — a special committee of the Board of Governors that will meet with student, faculty and staff groups to discuss issues of race and equity in the UNC System. My leadership team is closely examining the work of their divisions, digging deeper into their systems and processes to help unearth and remedy the disparities that result from centuries of systematic, nationwide oppression. I am meeting with small groups to hear thoughts and ideas about ensuring an inclusive experience for ALL of our Appalachian Community. The voices of Appalachian have been loud and clear, standing in solidarity with our Black faculty, staff and students. We have made great strides, yet recognize they are small in comparison with the necessary systemic change that must be made.
Dr. Willie Fleming, who many of you know is Appalachian’s first Chief Diversity Officer dedicated to inclusive excellence, champions this work taking place across our campus, though we know the work belongs to all of us. Last week, he began sharing regular updates broadly with campus. These updates, as well as the significant milestones we have achieved in recent years, links to available resources and support services, and important information about initiatives and programming, are all available at diversity.appstate.edu. The site also addresses the status of requests made by students, staff and faculty as well as proposals related to diversity, equity and inclusion made over the years by the Chief Diversity Officer’s Advisory Board.
As an institution of higher learning, our mission of teaching, research and service drives us, and our responsibility for the safety of our community guides us.
Our university has been fundamentally changed by COVID-19. Our decisions are informed by Governor Cooper’s timeline, as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local public health agencies and UNC System leadership. We are keeping our students, faculty and staff up to date with regular communications and through a website dedicated to continuity planning and sharing information about Fall 2020 and beyond.
There is intricate coordination of logistics underway, and certainly many questions arise as we work through safety protocols, class schedules, classroom capacity and locations, transportation, housing, cleaning details, communications, outreach to our new and returning students, athletics and events, and programming for students.
- We are working with our deans, department chairs, academic advisors, Human Resources, Environmental Health Safety and Emergency Management, and Office of Disability Resources staff together so we can have as much flexibility as possible in course delivery methods and work environments for students, faculty and staff. We recognize some will need accommodations, and I would like to thank the many individuals who are putting in long hours to run and test scenario after scenario in order to offer as many options as possible while planning for the unknown.
- We have a range of personal protection equipment, including plexiglass shields and face coverings. Three reusable face coverings will be provided to every student, faculty and staff member. Face coverings will be required to be worn in accordance with CDC guidelines whether at work, in class or in public areas on campus.
- 50 additional temporary custodial staff will begin work on campus in August to clean high traffic areas throughout times of increased use. Classrooms will be cleaned by custodial staff multiple times a day.
- 300 hand sanitizing stations will be installed at primary entrances and exits of academic buildings and in high traffic areas.
- Classroom furniture will be re-organized to reduce seating and place appropriate distance between each person in the classroom.
- All available space on campus, including the Plemmons Student Union meeting rooms, conference rooms and other meeting room spaces on campus, will be utilized as classroom space in order to accommodate physical distance requirements.
- Cameras, microphones, projectors and other equipment are being purchased for classrooms in order to accommodate a combination of online and face-to-face options.
- Heating and air systems are being optimized to provide the greatest possible fresh air exchange.
As you know, earlier this month we took an extremely difficult step, informing Athletics staff of mandatory furloughs that will impact every full-time employee of the department, a total of 106 employees. Human Resources and Business Affairs have been diligently engaged in finding ways to protect as many jobs as possible.
To avoid additional furloughs, I asked that staff in other areas, including Campus Dining, be reassigned to the important work of safely returning our students, faculty and staff to campus.
On the academic front, our faculty are exploring research topics, including the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, mapping the socioeconomic determinants of the virus, social distancing on greenways and trails, as well as several other topics. Our faculty are incredibly skilled at exploring local issues within a global context and preparing our students to do the same, and these studies will contribute to the growing knowledge base surrounding COVID-19 and also offer students an opportunity to be fully engaged in this critical research. Their work will make differences in this community and beyond for generations.
Also making a difference for our community and beyond is the important work taking place on the Chancellor’s Energy Council. This team brings together experts from across campus, along with New River Light & Power, to ensure a thorough and integrated approach to important energy initiatives, practices and policies.
Our students continue to inspire us. Although orientation attendees are not physically on campus, 32 Student Orientation Undergraduate Leaders (we call them SOULs) are dedicated to virtually providing incoming students a welcoming and informative introduction to more than 5,000 incoming first-year and transfer students. These SOULs are hired and trained to speak about a variety of university resources. Each is assigned a group of students to lead through the day’s orientation activity. They then follow up throughout the summer, building on the relationship, connecting new students with resources, and letting them know they are not alone.
Additionally, Jane Barghothi and J.J. Brown are leading a phased project through which university staff, faculty and administrators are calling every new and returning student to check in, as COVID-19 disrupted so many aspects of our lives. More than 10,000 incoming and current students have been contacted so far. While we have not connected with all of them, callers report those we have reached are very pleased to hear from App State and appreciate the opportunity to be connected with resources as needed.
Our students, their successes, and their potential drive us to find ways to assist them when they are in need. Many continue to experience financial hardship as a result of COVID-19. As you know, in March, our University Advancement and Student Affairs teams worked together to develop the Mountaineer Emergency Fund for our students who are facing financial challenges that present significant barriers to their academic success. Students who encounter an unforeseen financial emergency or urgent situation that would prevent them from continuing their App State education may apply for short term, emergency grants – that is, money they don’t have to pay back – that can help them through this difficult time. More than 2,300 students have applied for emergency aid, and the requests are coming in steadily. More than 425 thousand dollars has been granted to students struggling with job loss, and those with child care, medical, utility and other bills piling up. These are powerful examples of how this fund makes an immediate difference. I know many of you have contributed to this fund, and I would like to thank you for this critical support. If you wish to learn more or share information about how the fund helps our students you may visit: give.appstate.edu.
Additional federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (or CARES) Act is providing grant assistance to the university for direct aid to students. App State’s allocation is nearly $8 million. We began distributing these grants to students in April, and have allocated more than four-point-one million dollars to date. We are appreciative of our congressional leaders and the advocates who ensured Appalachian’s allocation, as this is has been an important source of aid for more than ten thousand of our students so far.
Before I close, I would like to take a moment to recognize the many contributions of Vice Chancellor for Advancement Randy Edwards and thank those of you who were able to join our celebration of Randy’s 37 years of service last week. In his roles as a faculty member, department chair and dean of the Walker College of Business, Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff and Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Appalachian, Randy has touched many lives. His impact was evident at his retirement reception last week. Randy, thank you for your decades of leadership and service to Appalachian.
I would also like to welcome Jane Barghothi into the role of Vice Chancellor for University Advancement. Jane has served as senior associate vice chancellor for university development since July 2019 and will assume the Vice Chancellor position on July 1. Jane is a consummate advancement professional who brings strong leadership, innovative ideas and passion for the success of our students to her work every day. As an alumna, she knows firsthand the power of an App State education and I know she will bring together her long-standing knowledge of our university and her strong professional skills to advance our fundraising operation in support of the academic mission.
Very little will be the same in August of 2020 as it was when we welcomed students back to campus last fall. In many, many ways, we are building a new Appalachian.
And yet, what remains is what we love: our stellar faculty, our dedicated staff, our passionate students, our beautiful location. These keep us grounded, and keep us going, as we persevere.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks.