Remarks from the April 26, 2021 Faculty Senate Meeting

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Faculty Senate
Monday, April 26, 2021

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon, and thank you, Michael.

I’d like to begin by thanking all of you who have made it a priority to share your input on the search for the university’s next Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor. I’ve met with the Deans, the Council of Chairs, and with several key stakeholder groups, including representatives from this Senate, to hear your thoughts. Your perspectives on past searches and the process for moving forward have been very helpful, so thank you. I’m continuing to hold these meetings, and will keep you informed.

Throughout the year, I — along with members of my cabinet — have met regularly with the Faculty Senate Chancellor’s Advisory Committee. These meetings have been opportunities to discuss in greater detail matters the Senate has brought forward. They are also important opportunities for us to seek input from Senate leadership. In our last meeting, we discussed a wide range of topics, including the Provost search, the return to campus in the fall, COVID relief funding, social media policy development, the status of the new Veterinary Tech program, and the UNC System’s Racial Equity Task Force. We also talked about ways this advisory committee can provide input to me on a wide range of matters, to ensure the decisions my leadership team and I are making are informed by information and feedback from Faculty Senate.

Michael is helping plan an event for members of the Faculty Senate to get together in-person with me, as well as members of my leadership team, on Thursday, May 6. We’ll send you an email invitation shortly. This will be an important opportunity for us to continue discussions we’ve been having throughout the year, and I look forward to it.

One topic that continues to be raised by members of this Senate is COVID-19 vaccinations. As we all know, institutions of higher education are examining this emerging issue. Like everything related to the pandemic, it’s complicated by factors beyond our immediate control. As a state government entity, App State cannot unilaterally mandate vaccines for employees or students. It is important to note that no federal or state public health official has directed that COVID-19 vaccinations be mandated for students at institutions of higher education. The UNC System — and App State — will continue following guidance from public health officials and state law regarding vaccinations. While we cannot require them, we are strongly encouraging, and promoting the importance of vaccines. This week, we are holding a clinic on Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon. The more people hear from their own trusted sources, the more likely they are to be vaccinated, and your voices will make a difference. Please help share how important it is to get the vaccine. One key piece of information you can help share is that people who are vaccinated for COVID-19 and are exposed to someone with COVID do not have to isolate as long as they don't have symptoms. I’m also providing a $10 gift card to Campus Dining to everyone who gets a vaccine at our clinic this week, so feel free to share that as well!

As we prepare for the full return of students, faculty and staff to campus for the fall 2021 semester, we are keeping a close watch on national, state and local public health guidance, legal requirements, and state, local and university data. I shared in my campus update on Friday that our vaccine clinics, testing implementation, safety measures and public health campaigns are making a difference in reducing the spread of COVID-19 on our campus. Our positivity rate has not exceeded 3.2% this semester, and has remained below 2% since mid-March.

Last week, Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen announced their timeline for further lifting of COVID restrictions. They said that when two-thirds of adults in North Carolina have received at least one vaccine — and if state trends remain stable — they anticipate lifting the mask mandate and easing other public health recommendations. This week, we expect a new Executive Order from Governor Cooper with safety restrictions for the month of May, and we anticipate the lifting of mandatory social distancing, capacity and mass gathering restrictions by June 1.

Over the last year, the faculty have engaged in candid discussions about how to meaningfully engage in diversity, equity and inclusion work that will have lasting impact on our institution.

Colleges and universities have long been at the forefront of societal change, but they have also helped perpetuate systems of oppression. This is recognized at the highest level of the UNC System. The commitment to address these inequities is present in the UNC System strategic plan. It is also evidenced by the UNC System Racial Equity Task Force, which was created by the Board of Governors to examine the legacy of race and racism in our state’s public higher education system and to help foster a culture of inclusion across our institutions.

Prioritizing inclusive excellence has made a difference on our campus. Since implementing our strategic plan in 2014, we have made great strides with increasing diversity in our student population, and our retention rates demonstrate our commitment to creating a welcoming community. We still have work to do towards our goals of creating a university community that represents the population of our state, but our progress shows our dedication to continuing this important work.

We will continue to prioritize inclusive excellence on our campus, and we will continue working on meaningful changes so every member of our community is welcomed and valued. These efforts include:

  • Working to change the culture of policing locally and regionally;
  • Enhancing our resources for wellness and prevention;
  • Increasing the diversity of students, faculty and staff, and
  • Fostering a welcoming community that acknowledges the humanity in all of us, works to support one another, acknowledges our need for growth and change, and celebrates our successes.

As we all know, Dr. Willie Fleming, who has been key to this work, is retiring at the end of next month. We will share information about an interim, and plans for a national search for our new Chief Diversity Officer, soon.

I continue to advocate for legislative budget increases, and for appropriate staff and faculty compensation. We have been fortunate to have had several recent visits from state legislators and in these meetings, my leadership team and I champion the faculty and your importance to our state and region. We pair these high-impact stories with key information about App State that reinforces our peer group and comparison institutions to help make the case for appropriate funding. We are seeing renovation and restoration prioritized by the General Assembly, and we have shared our priorities for the possibility of one-time funding for these projects.

Over the last incredibly difficult year, we have seen unprecedented expenses due to the global pandemic. We have been forced to furlough Athletics employees, reduce occupancy in our residence halls, cut sports programs, and direct much of our resources towards our COVID response and recovery efforts. 

I hope you will tune in for the campus budget presentations at the end of this week. I initiated campus budget presentations in 2016 because I firmly believe our university’s budget should be transparent and easily accessible, and I look forward to these presentations each spring. They are a thoughtful and informative opportunity for members of our campus community to be included at the beginning of each year’s budget process, AND to gain insight into resource allocation. They also offer opportunities for informed discussion. Even though we are presenting virtually this year, please know we want to hear from you, and we will be sure to answer all of the questions you submit.

For 463 days, we have been actively managing the daily onslaught of new information about COVID-19, contextualizing it and making decisions appropriate for our campus. We are ALL ready for better days, and better days ARE ahead.

In less than two weeks, we will hold our first in-person commencement events since December of 2019. Even though we are holding 15 different commencement ceremonies in order to meet all of the safety restrictions, all of our students who want to can once again walk across the commencement stage.

In the face of adversity, the faculty have responded with innovation, creativity and resilience.

Your legacy will be a university that emerges stronger than ever, with an increased capacity and commitment to serving our state and our region.

As Michael mentioned, I have a meeting I need to leave for, but I am happy to answer questions and continue conversations at our upcoming social event, and I will continue to meet with members of this Senate. I will also resume the individual academic department meetings that Interim Provost Norris and I conducted throughout the academic year. This was a recent suggestion by the Council of Chairs that I am delighted to implement. These meetings and conversations are very helpful and inform the decisions and communications development for my leadership team and me.

Of course, you are also always welcome to reach out to me via email at any time.

Thank you.