Message from Interim Chancellor Heather Norris

Friday, June 14, 2024

Yesterday’s Staff Connect on the Kidd Brewer Stadium football field was enhanced by perfect temperatures, fantastic food and even better company, as staff from all areas of the Boone campus gathered to enjoy some time together — and of course they didn’t miss an opportunity to get a little work done at the same time.

These gatherings are a highlight for me — it was a great turnout, even so close to the end of the fiscal year — and I enjoyed getting to see and talk with so many of our staff.

Summer is one of the most fast-paced seasons on the calendar, bringing with it a different kind of busy. During this time in particular, the contributions of our staff are unmistakable and a source of pride for the entire university. This teamwork significantly enhances our efforts to educate students, engage our communities and garner support for our academic endeavors. I see and deeply appreciate all of your efforts.

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of addressing Staff Senate during its June meeting. I appreciated the time with our Staff Senators, who represent and advocate for more than 2,000 staff members, and their acts of service — from the incredible AppKIDS program to the yearly winter coat and blanket drive — that strengthen App State’s relationships with the communities we serve.

I shared some information about changes in leadership that have taken place since I’ve assumed my new role, the new UNC System Policy 300.8.5 adopted by the Board of Governors last month, our efforts to improve relationships with the Town of Boone and other local leadership, and a quick update on the construction you’re seeing, walking and driving around on campus.

  • Since I’ve taken on the role of interim chancellor, we’ve seen a few leadership changes, and I want to acknowledge and thank these capable leaders for stepping forward and taking on key responsibilities, helping with important transitions and keeping the university moving forward.
    • Dr. Neva Specht has taken on the role of Acting Provost while I serve in my current role.

    • Jamie Parson has stepped into the role of Acting Senior Vice Provost, while also retaining her duties as one of App State’s designated Free Speech Officers.

    • Will Sears has stepped into the role of Interim Vice Chancellor of Advancement, following the departure of Jane Barghothi.

    • When Dan Layzell began a leave of absence last month, John Adams assumed the role of Interim Chief Financial Officer; Vice Chancellor Hank Foreman took on leadership of the operations areas for the Division of Finance and Operations; and Vice Chancellor J.J. Brown took on leadership of campus services for the division.

    These strong and proven campus leaders have provided important continuity during a time of change for the university, and I appreciate how they have stepped up, offered consistency and solid leadership, helped manage some significant issues and strengthened important relationships.

  • With the decision by the UNC System Board of Governors to repeal and replace Policy 300.8.5 in the UNC Policy Manual, which was called the Policy on Diversity and Inclusion Within the University of North Carolina, and the adoption of a new policy, titled Equality Within the University of North Carolina, there are, naturally, a lot of questions about what will change across the UNC System and at App State. I shared information about this in my May 24 newsletter.

    Each university is charged with certifying — by Sept. 1, 2024, and on or before Sept. 1 annually thereafter — full compliance with the commitment to institutional neutrality and nondiscrimination required by law and this policy. This includes providing a report describing the actions we have taken to achieve compliance and how any savings related to these actions have been redirected to initiatives that support student success and well-being.
  • In follow-up meetings with UNC System staff, the Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, Academic and Student Affairs teams and Communications teams have been discussing what this means for our institutions. Guidance from the UNC System is forthcoming, which will help us ensure we are complying with the new policy as expected. We are eager for this guidance and will share it as soon as we have it.

    In the meantime, we remain focused on our commitment to student success, which has been a hallmark of our university since its inception. We will all play important roles as we move forward and ensure our compliance with the new policy and associated guidelines. Please know I will continue to keep our university informed as we move forward in this regard.

  • It’s hard not to notice the capital improvement projects underway this summer! Summer is always a time for renovation and restoration projects, and this summer is certainly no exception. These projects represent significant financial investments on behalf of our state legislature to keep our infrastructure solid, our campuses beautiful and our equipment and technology modernized.
  • Campus construction updates are available on the App State’s Future website — which includes a Campus Construction Updates podcast. The latest one is an in-depth conversation with Vice Provost Mike McKenzie and Associate Vice Chancellor Nick Katers about Wey Hall renovations and where art classes will be held next semester as renovations continue on Wey Hall. The Future site is updated regularly, and a new construction update podcast will be coming out next week!

On Wednesday, we hosted the Hickory Higher Education Summit for the second consecutive year at our Hickory campus. This event exemplifies our opportunities to serve as a hub for regional thought leadership and collaboration. It was wonderful to have so many members from various parts of our community — government, business, civic and education leaders from all levels — gathered together to serve our region and our state.

I extend my gratitude to our partners from area K–12 schools, community colleges, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Lenoir-Rhyne University and other government and education organizations for joining us. We value and appreciate the open dialogue and partnership with these important leaders, and, together, we form a collaborative and strategic team focused on preparing the workforce of the future. We are establishing goals and pathways to improve education and economic opportunities in Western North Carolina, and expanding the possibilities of education for many generations to come.

Last week, I shared the latest statewide energy savings figures reported at the 12th annual Appalachian Energy Summit: $1.96 billion in avoided energy costs since the 2002–03 academic year. I’m very pleased to follow up with additional numbers specific to Appalachian State University, which total more than $81 million in utility savings: $64.5 million in energy costs and $17.3 million in water use costs.

And last Friday, Phillip Johnson ’59, Don Phipps ’92 ’97 and Betty Telford ’89 became the latest inductees into the Reich College of Education’s Rhododendron Society, bringing its total membership to 80 alumni who have received this special recognition for their exemplary contributions to education and their communities. Induction into this society is the highest honor given by the College of Education, and I join Reich College Dean Melba Spooner in thanking these alumni for enhancing education for students across North Carolina.

One of my favorite elements of our university is how we face each challenge, and each opportunity, with enthusiasm and an innovative mindset. It’s an exciting time to be in higher education, and an exciting time to be at Appalachian State University.

Heather Norris
Interim Chancellor