Provost Norris’ Remarks to Faculty Senate – April 8, 2024

Provost Norris’ Remarks to Faculty Senate – April 8, 2024 


Good afternoon.


Today, I’ll provide updates on the following topics:

  • Academic updates related to the Hickory Campus
  • Faculty salaries
  • Wey Hall
  • Emerging LGBTQ+ concerns
  • Free Expression Space
  • Expected Board of Governors policy revisions

I’ll begin with an update on Hickory programs, and our plan for future programs.


As you know, we have committed to offering many programs on the Hickory campus, in order to ensure students who are place-bound in that area have access to an App State education.


With not quite a full year of program offerings on the Hickory campus behind us, we have some data to help further inform our decisions about program offerings moving forward:


  • Our Elementary Education and Social Work programs have been thriving, thanks to pre-existing student cohorts.
  • Business-related Programs, Criminal Justice, and Psychology have also seen promising engagement.


It's clear that where we have existing foundations, we can build effectively.

We are also continuing to look at market demand, and the workforce needs of the area, and our academic affairs strategic plan will include these considerations. We expect to see strong demand for:

  • Communication Studies
  • Apparel Design & Merchandising
  • Health Care Professions
  • Building solutions-related programs.


We will continue evaluating the impacts and outcomes of our new and emerging Hickory programs for long-term viability. Our decisions will be both data-informed and strategically patient.


Vice Provost of Program Development and Strategic Initiatives Mike McKenzie has been engaged with the development of the academic offerings on the Hickory Campus, and is available to discuss this further today or at any time in the future.


I want to assure you that our investment in Hickory is not to the detriment of Boone campus resources. The Hickory campus has garnered increased enthusiasm for the university as a whole, and our state budget allocations have been robust, and greatly appreciated.   We are always cognizant of our responsibility to be good stewards of state resources, and continue to explore new pedagogies and engagement methods that are not only cost-effective but also enrich our educational offerings.


We anticipate being able to make adjustments to the pay scale for courses taught away from a faculty member's assigned duty station. This means faculty who are based in Boone and teaching in Hickory will receive compensation, to account for the opportunity costs of travel time to and from their assigned duty station.  I will keep the Faculty Senate Budget Committee Chair informed as we move through the budget process in the coming months.  I'd like to again thank the Hickory Faculty Task Force for their work on developing recommendations in this regard.


Faculty salaries remain a key priority, and we continue our proactive review to establish and maintain competitive salary structures.


As Vice Chancellor Dan Layzell and I discussed with Faculty Senate Budget Committee Chair Jim Westerman last week in an update to our continuing discussions, we are seeking the authority to use internal funds in the next fiscal year to provide faculty merit pay increases, retroactive to July 1, 2024, that will augment the across-the-board 3% increases appropriated by the state in the coming fiscal year.  


We feel confident that we will make significant progress on our shared goal in the upcoming year.


An important point to note is that we recently moved up from the UNC System’s Group 3 peer institution comparisons for faculty salary ranges to Group 2, putting us in a category that allows us to advocate for higher salaries for faculty.


As we look at the money we will dedicate to faculty salaries in the next two years, our investment will not only move faculty salaries to the Group 2 median, but will also ensure we have surpassed the 75th percentile for Group 3.


We will continue to move faculty salaries higher relative to both ranges, recognizing it will take a significant investment.


I’d like to provide this group with an update on Wey Hall.


As you are likely aware, classes taking place in Wey Hall were canceled on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 20, and the building re-opened on Monday, March 25. This action was taken in response to a report on March 20 from a faculty member regarding safety concerns and damage in his office, and a separate complaint from a student on the same day regarding cracked ceiling tiles in a classroom.


It was determined that during Spring Break, while contractors were drilling, the contractor failed to follow approved university safety protocols and concrete debris fell into the ceiling tiles above a classroom, and into a faculty member’s office.


In a March 21 message emailed to all Art Department students, faculty and staff, which is posted on the College of Fine and Applied Arts website and linked from the Wey Hall renovations web page, Dean Shannon Campbell shared a sincere and heartfelt apology. She also explained the immediate steps the university took to ensure the safety of students following the failure of contractor personnel to follow the established safety plan, which included:

  • The termination of the individuals responsible for the safety violations;
  • Several independent safety inspections prior to re-opening the building;
  • Daily walkthroughs by the leadership of Muter Construction, the general contractor for the Wey Hall construction project, and App State Planning, Design & Construction teams;
  • Weekly inspections by App State Planning, Design & Construction;
  • Twice weekly inspections by an independent safety consultant commissioned by Muter Construction.


For students who temporarily lost access to studio space, the Dean has encouraged faculty to offer flexibility in deadlines, just as they would in the event of weather delays.


I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Shannon for her leadership and advocacy for the Art Department students and faculty.


Wey Hall will be closed for the remainder of the construction period at the end of this semester. Later this week, Mike McKenzie will lead a meeting with the faculty and staff working in Wey Hall to share with them the work that has been underway to secure a suitable place for the relocation of the large arts equipment and classes being taught in Wey Hall. Once the faculty teaching in Wey have been informed, Mike will meet with the entire Art Department faculty and staff, and we will move forward with sharing a detailed implementation plan.


We have developed an FAQ page linked from the Wey Hall construction web page, that provides detailed information about the situation. It was last updated this morning with detailed information about key, recent inspections that have taken place of both Wey and East Halls.


We take the concerns raised about safety and the educational experience of our students very seriously, and we remain dedicated to finding a solution that ensures the best possible academic experience for our students while we complete the 22-million-dollar renovation of the building.


I also want to speak to some of the emerging concerns that have come up regarding members of our LGBTQ+ community.


Let me begin by being very clear about one concern that has been raised: there is absolutely no concerted effort at App State to terminate LGBTQ+ employees.


Per North Carolina law, the university does not collect or maintain LGBTQ+ status in employment records.


When any employee is discharged from employment at App State, regardless of their classification, they are provided with information on how to file a grievance concerning the discontinuation of their employment. They also have access to additional grievance outlets such as the EEOC.


Employee separations, whether voluntary or involuntary, can impact members of our campus community, particularly if they were part of our underrepresented communities. If there are faculty, staff or students looking for support, we encourage them to reach out to our campus resources.


Regarding the Spring Fest activities that took place last week, I’ve shared with Stella, and I believe she has shared with you, a recent communication from Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs JJ Brown to students regarding the event series. JJ has affirmed that the Student Affairs Division is committed to continued conversations regarding name and programming for next year. 


It’s important to acknowledge that everyone at the university wants to support our students. We all have different roles and responsibilities, and this support looks different depending on the roles we hold. But, we all work here because we understand the importance of supporting students through their college careers.


We are continually seeking ways to develop and foster a campus environment in which all members of our university community feel supported and can thrive.


JJ Brown’s recent communications to students have also included information about a Free Expression Space on campus, and he has committed to taking the responses from our students into account as we move forward.


Last week, he shared with students that he heard from more than 50 students who want to participate in finding a solution for a physical location for free expression on our campus. Jamie Parson and Jeff Cathey, the university’s designated Free Speech Officers, will establish and lead group discussions regarding engagement in alternative options for free expression, given the safety priorities and changes being made to the tunnels beneath Rivers Street.


Meetings begin this week and interactive listening sessions are scheduled to begin this week.

We would ask that you consider adding representation from the Student Affairs Division on the Faculty Senate Student Welfare Committee, to facilitate the most effective communication with the Faculty Senate and to ensure we can work together as effectively as possible to address the issues our students are particularly passionate about.

I’d like to briefly address a final topic, which will be discussed at the upcoming Board of Governors meeting in April: SAT/ACT requirements for undergraduate admissions at UNC System institutions.


As you know, the ACT or SAT score requirement was temporarily waived in July 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this waiver is set to expire after the fall 2024 admissions cycle.


The proposal under review would allow those below a set GPA threshold but with an adequate standardized test score to "test into" the UNC System with certain ACT or SAT scores. Campuses may propose requiring test scores for students with a higher GPA, subject to approval. The proposed changes are designed to ensure that students are academically prepared for the rigor of higher education. This topic has been under discussion by the Board for some time, and we look forward to a standardized solution that will continue to allow institutions some flexibility in our requirements.


I appreciate your full agenda today and appreciate the opportunity to take time to discuss some of the matters that have been top of mind for the last few weeks, and which were addressed during the visitors’ reports.


I’ll take just a final moment to remind you of the campus budget presentations on Friday from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in the Grandview Ballroom of the North End Zone Facility.


A livestream of the meeting will be available at the Hickory Library and Information Commons on App State’s Hickory campus, starting at 8 a.m.


I hope to see you all there, as your schedules allow.


Thank you for our continued work together as we move toward a productive end to the spring semester.


Slide deck 4/8/24

Published: Apr 9, 2024 11:01am