Address at Fall Semester Faculty and Staff Meeting

Monday, August 18, 2014

Good morning! Thank you for being here on such a gorgeous day. This is a busy time for faculty and staff and I suspect you have an item or two you could be addressing in your offices or within your divisions, so it means a great deal to me that you are here. I appreciate this opportunity to introduce myself to all of you and thank you for all you do each and every day for our students.

I started my career in higher education as a faculty member a long time ago, and continue to believe that effective academic leadership virtually always derives from real faculty experience.

As Chancellor one of my goals is a continual role as an actual faculty colleague, including opportunities to guest teach when appropriate. So, I would very much like to join the “faculty club” at Appalachian State University. Though I understand full well, that we don’t have an actual location for such. I would offer Appalachian House as one such venue for faculty events in the absence of a faculty club at this time, and I hope there will be many opportunities for us to gather at Appalachian House to celebrate what we all do. Of course, another important role for me is that of staff colleague and together we are all members of the Appalachian club or family, as students shared multiple times over the last several days. Thank you for welcoming me to the Appalachian Club or the Appalachian Family. Together, we change lives for a living, and those students whose lives we help to change, then also change the world.

Not bad for a day’s or a life’s work. Let me repeat that: you change lives every single day. Sometimes you don’t hear about it, for a time, or at all; but I do. It is one of the joys of being Chancellor. Alums and current students tell me about the positive difference you made in their lives. Thank you for that and thank you, again, for what you do each and every day for those students whose lives you are changing.

Some of you may not have met me before, and for you, I’d like to offer a short introduction. I am a literacy scholar, a faculty member, a former middle and high school English teacher, a reader, a writer, and a first-generation college attendee and graduate. I have learned first-hand the value of higher education.

I am also a fan of quotations that I keep in a professional journal. I keep three journals, and have kept at least one since I can recall. . . 8 years old, for one of my journals. In one of my professional “work” journals, I have the following Abraham Lincoln quotation, in part because I am most recently from Illinois, working as Provost for six years in the oldest public institution in the state of Illinois, namely Illinois State University. The first, ever, attorney for a university, was Abraham Lincoln at Illinois State University. He drew up the incorporation papers for what became Illinois State Normal University, and eventually, Illinois State University. So, my quotation journal has many Abraham Lincoln quotes. One that resonates with me in my current comments is the following--

Lincoln said:
“Every man (or woman) is said to have his (or her) peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men (and women), by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

A noble endeavor, but one that I hope we all keep in mind as colleagues.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Chancellor Ken Peacock and Rosanne Peacock. Ken is a hard act to follow and some would say it is daunting to attempt to follow such an accomplished and talented administrator. Well, I believe I am fortunate to be able to build on his successful and positive legacy. I also want to thank Chancellor Peacock for his kindness and generosity during the transition. It takes a generous and thoughtful person to assist during these times, to allow the campus and his administrative team to adjust to a new leader, and Ken and Rosanne have created a smooth transition for my husband, Jay, and me. As you might know, Jay is also a professor and previous President and Chancellor, and he looks forward to continuing to connect with the community.

I want you to know why I was interested in Appalachian and why I felt it was such a good “fit.” I come from leadership positions at two institutions with much in common with Appalachian; I’ve already mentioned Illinois State University, but I also had leadership experience at the University of Nebraska at Omaha where I was Chief Academic Officer and Chief Student Affairs Officer. The commonalities across institutions are:

Focus on excellence in undergraduate teaching, scholarship, and service. I believe that with this foundation, change in particular areas is easier to accomplish with this as the foundation. Change is never easy, but with this strength, I think it less daunting.
Undergraduate research has been a strength and priority at each of the campuses at which I’ve served. Your excellence is noteworthy in this area. I also have greatly enjoyed listening to faculty talk about undergraduate research as “just being part of the job.” That is not true everywhere. You are to be applauded and rewarded for such.
Your focus and excellence in the areas of community engagement, civic engagement, and service-learning resonate with me and have been areas of focus for my research, as well as my service. I believe these areas also make us a different kind of institution. I have also had some experience in moving towards valuing and rewarding this important work as well.
Promoting diversity. When I arrived at the Illinois State University campus we had underrepresented student numbers akin to Appalachian State University, around 10% or 11%. The first year class at Illinois State University this year (the one we admitted before I left) had 24.8% of our class from underrepresented groups. I feel at home on a campus that lists promoting and valuing diversity in its strategic plan and works to alter their numbers in that regard. I believe we also need to work towards a more diverse faculty and staff, as well.
Financial issues are a reality at the vast majority of institutions of higher education. However, even though there is never enough money, there are priorities which I hold dear: salary increases. I’m new to North Carolina, but I am not new to compensating folks appropriately for their contribution to the institution. At Millard Public Schools (an Omaha suburb) as a Board of Education member, my one issue, my one reason to be on that board, was to increase the salaries of the teachers who made Millard such a great school district. Merit increases have been important to me in every leadership position I have held. That is not going to change in North Carolina. We anticipate receiving limited funds from the UNC General Administration through the General Assembly to allocate for EPA salary increases. We will also try to identify additional funding for EPA salary increases so more faculty and EPA non-faculty can receive a merit increase. While we explore our options, we are waiting for guidelines from UNC General Administration and I will continue to communicate progress in these endeavors.
Shared Governance I come from two campuses with different, yet, involved and serious shared governance: Illinois State University; I met with Academic Senate or leadership– 4 times a month; not in a year, in a month. We are about educating students. It is why we exist, and it’s essential that communication lines are wide open between my office and the faculty in order to know where to focus our attentions.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha is an AAUP campus, a faculty union; at Illinois State there were 13 unions, but not an official AAUP, though new policies and procedures followed many of the AAUP’s best practices. The value of shared governance derives from the talented people collaborating to create joint solutions to the challenges we confront.

I would also add that at Appalachian State, I have already met with the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, the Deans’ Council, the Student Government Association, representatives from the Council of Chairs, as well as numerous other individuals and groups to hear what matters to you – to listen to what you care about, listen to what you don’t want to change, and listen to what you do want to change. I’m sure it will not surprise you that you do not all agree with each other in these areas? So continued communication is key to finding the optimal common ground for best solutions.

We have certainly had some changes in Athletics at Appalachian State. I was just going to mention the move to the Sun Belt Conference this morning as it means more opportunities for our student-athletes. However, with Athletic Director Charlie Cobb’s decision to leave us and to go to Georgia State University as AD, we wish Charlie and his family well. I understand that Charlie’s wife, Lindsay, is from Atlanta. On a broader note, I would offer that change is the only constant. Charlie, as a valued member of the Chancellor’s Cabinet, illustrates what is often true under new administrations – some folks leave for other opportunities. Again, change is the only constant.

Our university has a core academic mission and we are recognized nationally as a leader in higher education, and particularly so in highest quality undergraduate experience. Our faculty and staff have built a strong foundation of academic excellence and it is always at the forefront of our efforts. Athletics can play a valuable role in supporting our academic mission by enriching students’ experience, by rallying the community, engaging alumni and friends, and raising the public visibility of our university. This increased visibility can help grow our pool of prospective students and serve as an entrée for people to learn about our transformational Appalachian Experience and in many cases support it as donors. We do not have a university for athletics, but we have athletics as an additional enrichment for the university experience. I think it essential that when we use the phrase “student athlete,” we always make clear that “student” is the operative term.

Both Illinois State University, which used to be Illinois State Normal University and Appalachian were once Normal schools. Teaching students the norms of society and preparing teachers. Both have grown to be comprehensive institutions with teaching as the foundation for their growth.

Importance of place—I’ve never worked in a university setting as gorgeous as this one, though Omaha is actually a wonderful restaurant and music city. The music and arts of Appalachian are legendary as Jay and I experienced during An Appalachian Summer Festival. The closest I’ve been to this type of beauty was the undergraduate summers I spent as an employee cook in Yellowstone National Park. Boone feels like Yellowstone and looks like Jackson Hole. A wonderful location and one which embraces sustainability in numerous ways perfect for this region and for the world.

Appalachian’s leadership in sustainability is known nationally. The 3rd Annual Appalachian Energy Summit is, of course, held here at Appalachian. It illustrates our leadership in North Carolina, as the Summit provides opportunities for professional engagement with faculty and staff colleagues from across the state of North Carolina, a model for collaboration, and a real and powerful path to a more sustainable future for higher education in North Carolina. Sustainability at Appalachian is a tradition, not a trend. One has only to look at programs like the Renewal Energy Initiative (REI) a student-led effort funded by a fee proposed and voted upon by our students. Summit Hall, the residence hall connected to Appalachian Hall, one of our newest buildings under consideration for LEED certification and part of the Brad and Carole Wilson Honors and Engagement Community hosts a commercial-scale solar thermal system funded by REI. This kind of work is found at the intersection of Appalachian’s three branched approach that asks us to consider if actions are sustainable economically, environmentally, and equitably in relationship to our planet’s co-inhabitants. I commend you all for your leadership in sustainability and for the work you do each and every day to build a sustainable future for us all. Such commitment to research, creativity, innovation, and practice is making a difference now and for our future.

The safety and health of our students is of the highest priority for me, and Appalachian’s tradition of caring for students shows that it is a deep and broad commitment through our entire community. In 2013, President Ross launched the UNC Campus Security initiative. I commend Appalachian’s leadership on this important work and support this collaboration with our UNC colleagues as we continue to strengthen the policies, procedures and resources in place to keep our students safer and support them in times of crisis.

When I began the “match” and commonality section of my remarks, I alluded to being a first-generation college attendee and graduate.

My parents were farmers in Nebraska; my father, Herman, had a high school education. He taught me the importance of creativity in so many ways. He was the unique combination of a published writer and at the same time a successful farmer. And additionally, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals (then the Browns) as a baseball pitcher.

My mother was only able to complete the 8th grade. Her family lost the family farm during the Depression and she had to go to work at 13, cleaning other folks’ houses. She was a reader her whole life.

She made sure we all had a library card for the local library, a Carnegie library, and she took us there every Saturday morning while she got groceries across the street. She may not have had a formal education, but she taught me by example the importance of reading. I read a lot of autobiographies and biographies in that library, including one on Andrew Carnegie which was one of my favorites. I have always remembered him saying, “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.”

I could not imagine surplus wealth, but the idea of a lifetime of service to the community resonated with me at 8. Perhaps I was a bit of an odd child?

My mother also taught me the value of being nice to folks. I remember her saying often, particularly after one or another of my older sisters and brothers would win some sort of scholastic honor (I know she was afraid of us getting “too big for our britches”), so she said, “You are no better than anyone else, but they are also no better than you. Treat everyone with respect.” I also lived and learned that education changes and transforms lives. My seven brothers and sisters and I all have at least a bachelor’s degree. Three of us have master’s degrees; and my younger sister and I both earned PH.D.s. All eight of us have higher education degrees because of the sacrifices of my parents.

My mother was 13 years old when she left school to go to work. I have really never left school. Going from my undergraduate experience to the position as an English teacher in middle and high school, and thereafter to university faculty. I am very fortunate indeed.

My father died when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, but I think of him daily and can only imagine what he’d think of what I am doing today.

He would be so amazed at the talented and accomplished people I have the opportunity to work with and for. You change lives every single day of yours. You change the world with the changing of our students’ lives, and do so humbly, in good humor, and while thinking of the environment and the planet; a combination that is amazing and impressive to me. Finally, many of you have asked about my goals and priorities for Appalachian State. I am intentionally spending these initial months listening and learning. I did not come to Appalachian with a vision in place, other than that which I have already highlighted regarding diversity.

We’ll move forward together, building on the vision and mission of Appalachian.

Thank you for allowing me to introduce myself to you and thank you for all you do, each and every day, for the students, who just like me, could not imagine a world in which such life-change in a single generation is even possible.

Thank you for your kind welcome to my family and me.

Also, finally, thank you to Dr. Randy Edwards, Interim Chief of Staff, and Rick Beasley, Interim Athletic Director, who have both agreed to join Chancellor’s Cabinet during my tenure. Thank you, all.