The clarification made by the Appalachian State administration to the Watauga Democrat The recent story (“Students, faculty, App State staff to hold public meeting”) is so mean-spirited it’s comical.
The clarification was requested by the administration because the story referred to the Appalachian Student Government Association, Faculty Senate, and Staff Senate as “governing” rather than “advisory” bodies.
Technically, the administration is right. But why on earth does the university administration feel so insecure and threatened in its authority that it would devote the time of senior executives amply paid by taxpayers to correct a story on such a trivial point? Were they really afraid that their authority would be undermined? If so, this incident says a lot more about their questionable leadership qualities than any of the bodies mentioned in the article.
Organizations of the kind that furnish the town hall have been part of the culture of higher education for decades. They fulfill governance roles. The Student Government President sits, by statute, on the Board of Trustees. The Faculty Senate evaluates top administrators, appoints faculty committee members, and approves changes to the Faculty Handbook.
The Staff Senate plays a major role in the representation of staff employees. The fact that none of these bodies can act unilaterally does not alter the fact that they exercise governmental functions (in other words, “advisory” and “director” are not antonyms).
The real problem, however, is that the current administration of the university – at the behest of politically appointed councils at the campus and system level – feels so beleaguered that it worries even about the most illusory encroachments on its authority.
The people who built Appalachia would never have wasted time on such a minor issue. On the contrary, they embraced the role of these organs. For years, BB Dougherty, as president, held regular meetings with the entire faculty. A later president, William H. Plemmons, supported the establishment of the Faculty Senate. Former Appalachian Chancellor Ken Peacock worked regularly with all three bodies. None of them would have felt that their authority was being challenged by describing these bodies as engaged in “governance”. As good leaders, these former presidents realized that the administration benefited from cooperation with these bodies. They did not plead their own pre-eminence in vain.
Anyone familiar with the situation at Appalachian understands why this so-called “clarification” was written: the current administration knows that it has virtually known support among faculty, staff, students and alumni – in fact, among no other constituencies than the politically appointed councils.
When you have no real respect, when you fail at the level of leadership, it makes sense, in short, to fall back on the little trappings of your authority.
Let’s hope a change of direction happens before too much damage is done to a fine university – and that the town hall on February 20 can sort this out.