May 18, 2021
Dear Chancellor Everts, Members of the Board of Trustees, and the citizens of North Carolina:
We write this letter to express four concerns about the process through which Dr. Heather Norris was appointed Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of Appalachian State University.
1. Lack of Transparency and Public Accountability:
This decision is contrary to the February 10, 2020 email from Chancellor Everts announcing Dr. Norris’ interim appointment which says: “a national search for Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor will be established in Fall 2020.” This commitment was repeatedly expressed publicly, including to the newspapers the Watauga Democrat and the Appalachian.
Despite these public pronouncements, and even though the University conducted multiple national searches for both faculty and administrators last year, there was no search. Indeed, no explanation for the subsequent decision not to conduct a national (or even a campus) search has been provided.
2. Neglect of Broadly Accepted National Standards for Hiring Senior University Administrators, Including Basic Standards Set Out by the AAUP:
The appointment of the Provost directly contradicts the AAUP’s 1966 “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” which states: “The selection of academic deans and other chief academic officers should be the responsibility of the president with the advice of, and in consultation with, the appropriate faculty.” Further, the 1974 (revised in 1981) statement on “Faculty Participation in the Selection, Evaluation, and Retention of Administrators” emphasizes the necessity of faculty participation in the selection of academic administrators whose “duties [are] more directly dependent on faculty support.” Specifically, this statement says that for the selection of such positions—of which the position of Provost is clearly an instance—“the composition of the search committee should reflect the primacy of the faculty interest” and the “faculty component of the committee should be chosen by the faculty of the unit or by a representative body of the faculty.” Further, this disregard of AAUP standards for shared governance comes at a time when those principles were just reaffirmed by a special Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Shared Governance on which Dr. Norris and the Chair of the Board of Trustees served.
3. Failure to Uphold Appalachian’s Stated Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:
The appointment of Dr. Norris as Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor has bypassed the university’s stated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in recruiting, hiring, promotion, and retention efforts. Faculty searches follow a multi-step recruiting and hiring protocol that is designed to ensure a broad and diverse pool of applicants and therefore hire the best possible people for the available positions. Not proceeding with a search process that would have given a diverse range of candidates an opportunity to apply and show what skills they could bring to the Provost position contradicts the administration’s stated diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.
4. Absence of a Formal Search Substantially Impedes Dr. Norris’s Ability to Succeed as Provost:
Formal searches for senior administrators typically include public presentations by candidates in which they outline their vision for the institution and their priorities for the position. Attendees may ask questions of candidates.The lack of a formal search has denied Dr. Norris this opportunity. While her work as Interim Provost during the past year provided a limited number of faculty and staff some opportunity to gauge her abilities as a senior administrator, her vision and priorities remain almost completely unknown to a majority of the faculty, staff, and students of Appalachian. This basic lack of knowledge about Dr. Norris poses a significant barrier to her effectiveness and success as Provost.
Because the absence of a formal search process robbed the faculty, and Dr. Norris herself, of the opportunity to discuss her strategic vision and other important matters that will impact our academic mission, the Appalachian State chapter of the AAUP will organize an open forum shortly after Fall 2021 classes begin, at which Dr. Norris will be invited to present her views of the Provost position, and her vision and priorities, with a question and answer session following her presentation. Needless to say, were you to organize such an event, our forum would most likely not be necessary. Given the importance of these issues to the faculty, the campus, and the public, we look forward to your response to the chapter’s concerns.
Appalachian Chapter of the American Association of University Professors
Approved by Chapter Membership May 18, 2021