I am appalled. Last month, one of our most accomplished friends, neighbors and colleagues, Cindy Wallace, was fired from Appalachian State University by Chancellor Sheri N. Everts.
Wallace is the only person ever associated with ASU to have received one of North Carolina’s highest honors, the William Friday Award for public service.
Given a shared three decades of service together, I can only remark that she earned that award with 80-hour weeks, unflagging concern for her colleagues, inventiveness and originality to work for institutional goals, unflagging concern for staff and, most importantly, the thousands of students whose lives she touched as a teacher, a leader and an administrator.
Simply said, Wallace is one of the most accomplished persons I ever had the honor of working with at Appalachian State University.
Wallace was fired without any prior notice and with as much concern as one gives the trash — simply thrown out. She was given three days to clear her office, no “thank you” and was humiliated before her community.
The late public notice was cast in Orwellian language and with facile choice to avoid elucidation, it spoke of “stepping down.” Wallace did not step down, she was fired.
I had the honor of being asked to introduce the convocation speaker at Everts’ first convocation. I was thrilled at the prospect of new tenure. Empowered with the authority of office granted by ASU’s board of trustees and the Board of Governors, and adorned in the gold-chained grandeur of the office, she positively shone with potential.
Alas, that image and potential has now been swept aside. Power she has. Authority she has. However, in my view she has cast aside the other two components of leadership — trust and respect.
I suggest with vigor that Everts has shown her true colors. Her callous firing of Wallace blazes with her obvious disregard for those latter and essential elements of leadership: trust and respect.
I arrived at ASU after President B.B. Dougherty and Chancellor William Plemmons were gone. However, I knew and worked with, or knew, John Thomas, and Cratis Williams during his year as interim, Francis Borkowski and Ken Peacock. They all understood and embodied the trust and respect of the community.
I cannot overgeneralize for the community’s view of Everts, but I neither trust nor respect her in the wake of this scurrilous action and that perspective is shot through my engagements of the last month.
Wallace’s humiliation is a bald action of disrespect for all that this community stands for and casts asunder notions of trust and respect, as I understand the concepts, based upon a combined total of 65 years of service to ASU, in combination with my wife.
Everts’ actions stand as a unique insult to the intelligence of the community, faculty, staff and students of ASU.
Power and authority Everts has in spades. Trust and respect? She stands naked without either in the eyes of the many folk who will look at her, nod to the former, and know in their hearts as they smile, nod and shake her hand that she knows not the two latter.
When someone in either the ASU board or the Board of Governors comes to their senses and the decision to fire Everts is made, I can only hope she is given three days to clear her office. Perhaps, then she might belatedly understand why this note needs to be publicly put before our community, the faculty, staff and students of ASU, and perhaps only then might she see in retrospect just how grievous a miscalculation underlays her judgment and woefully inadequate assumptions about what genuine leadership entails.
This, the community and the faculty, staff and students of ASU know better ... now.
Ghandi famously said we change the world one conversation at a time. This is my contribution to what needs to be a vigorous consideration of what Everts’ view of the future of ASU entails. From where I sit, it looks bleak.
Robert A. White,
summa cum laude, arts and sciences, 1985, ASU, retired.
Watauga Democrat (7/20/16)