I have served under five chancellors during my time on the faculty at Appalachian. All of them have been splendid people and fine administrators. But Sheri N. Everts is clearly special and excellent in ways that we had no right to hope for.
She has obviously had an unspeakably difficult first year: Anna Smith’s dreadful suicide, followed by a wave of similar acts; the peaking of national attention regarding the sexual assault crisis on college campuses, including ours; a state legislature determined to wreck liberal arts education; a winter that won’t recede; the need to replace a Provost; and anxiety, depression and a generally bleak mood in the student body.
Through all of this, she has been courageous, resourceful and steady. Her compassion for students is, it would seem, boundless. She has opened her heart and home to faculty, administrators and students, manifesting a generosity of spirit that transcends what we have become accustomed to in other chancellors.
She is a female – the first one ever to lead this university. In doing her job so well, she empowers all women on this campus and creates subtle and important symbols that run counter to the patriarchal stereotypes that still dominate our society.
And then, last Friday, she was officially installed in an excellent ceremony in Holmes Convocation Center. Who was there? The Board of Trustees; the governor of North Carolina; the much-esteemed president of the UNC system; our Congressional representative; members of Dr. Everts’ extended family; a huge contingent of robed faculty; a magnificent choir and orchestra; many members of the campus staff; the former poet laureate of North Carolina; deans, presidents and CEOs from other institutions.
Who wasn’t there? Approximately 16,000 Appalachian students. When Gov. Pat McCrory announced that $70 million will go to Appalachian if the proposed state bond proposal is agreed to by the voters, he looked out on an essentially empty arena. When Dr. Everts gave her fine acceptance speech, she had to face a building almost totally devoid of the very people she wants to serve: the students. How did she feel?
I sat with my colleagues from the Watauga Residential College. Earlier in the morning we were to have met with some 100 students to make a ceremonial walk from the LLC. No one showed up. When we eventually saw that our students were just like all the others, our reaction was a combination of outrage, embarrassment and great sadness.
To think that this Chancellor-elect, after demonstrating unparalleled dedication, skill and grace, would be disrespected, dishonored and humiliated by Appalachian students – this is very hard to accept.
I have to believe that there is an explanation that does justice to the fact that Appalachian students are, in general, bright and caring people. My own students are among the finest I’ve ever had in nearly 50 years of teaching. Our institution is in a kind of golden age, and part of that is our ability to attract ever-increasingly capable, thoughtful and community-minded students.
Thus, I urge the SGA, The Appalachian and other organizations to foster an extended conversation about what went so terribly wrong. I further call upon faculty members to take up this topic in class – despite the fact that the semester is almost over.
Chancellor Everts deserves a massive apology. How that can happen is unclear to me. That it must happen is obvious.
Letter to the Editor: Leslie E. Gerber, Adjunct Instructor at The Watauga Residential College