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Amid controversy, Darrell Allison starts as chancellor of Fayetteville State University

Chair Darrell Allison at a previous meeting at the UNC Center for School Leadership Development on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

Former Board of Governors member Darrell Allison officially assumed his role as Fayetteville State University’s twelfth chancellor on Monday, amid opposition and concern from faculty, students and alumni over his qualifications and the process by which he was appointed.

The Board of Governors ultimately selected Allison from more than 60 applicants across the country — the same board he resigned from in September to apply for the job. 

While serving on the BOG, Allison was involved in finding a solution for the Silent Sam monument, and was one of the five BOG members who signed the December 2019 op-ed in the News & Observer explaining the now-overturned Silent Sam settlement with the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans.

After Allison was named chancellor-elect on Feb. 18, backlash immediately ensued as critics questioned the system's overall process for selecting leadership.

At the February press conference announcing Allison as FSU’s next chancellor, a media relations representative shut down questions from reporters about the chancellor search process, stating that information is confidential.

But some details about the search process have since emerged. NC Policy Watch reported that Allison was not recommended by the campus search committee and his name was added last-minute to the list of finalists the Board of Trustees submitted to the UNC System. 

FSU alumnus Demetrius Haddock said he participated in interviewing the finalists. Among the final five candidates, Haddock said there was a sitting president and provosts. Haddock said he and others involved with the interviews adamantly supported a different finalist who they viewed as having impressive qualifications and higher education experience compared to Allison’s school choice lobbying and political experience.

“It's almost absurd to even suggest that there were not significantly more qualified candidates and significantly more experienced candidates,” Haddock said.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that Allison’s mother-in-law, Brenda Timberlake, resigned from her position as a member of the FSU Board of Trustees the day before his appointment was announced. A University spokesperson has said that Timberlake did not take part in the search process.

These revelations and the lack of transparency about the search process led to widespread criticism and spurred campus populations to action.

FSU and the Board of Governors maintain Allison was appointed in line with policies created by the board for chancellor searches. 

“This was a thorough process, and there was no selecting of Darrell and placing of Darrell in this search from the UNC System or board or whomever,” Allison said at the February press conference filmed by WRAL.

Voiced opposition

FSU alumnus Bradie Frink created a petition calling for the removal of the newly appointed chancellor shortly after the announcement. It has gained over 2,500 signatures.

FSU’s Faculty Senate declared the chancellor search “failed” and demanded that Peggy Valentine be reappointed as interim chancellor until another search can be conducted with an open and transparent process. 

The Faculty Senate wrote it is concerned the search risks FSU’s accreditation and thereby the annual $36 million in federal financial aid and grants it receives. The accrediting body requires the Board of Trustees to address potential conflicts of interest and protect the institution from undue influence by external persons or bodies — principles they say may have been compromised, according to the alleged process of Allison’s appointment.

FSU’s National Alumni Association released a statement calling the selection process “flawed” and asserting Allison is “not the best qualified applicant," according to documents published by NC Policy Watch. Richard Kingsberry, who issued the statement, said the National Alumni Association will pursue a “legal investigation” into the process implemented by the search committee, FSU Board of Trustees and the BOG. 

The American Association of University Professors expressed concern about the apparent disregard for shared governance in the chancellor selection process in a letter addressed to Board of Trustees Chairperson Stuart Augustine. 

“For the board to change course and appoint Mr. Allison suggests that the faculty’s participation in the search process was merely for appearance’s sake and calls into question whether the search itself was conducted in good faith,” the letter said. 

In addition to statements, individuals have physically protested the appointment with marches and rallies.

Student Government Association President Sydney Harris led a march to protest the policies used to appoint Allison as reported by The Voice, FSU’s student-run newspaper.

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FSU alumni have also held protests. Frink traveled twice from his home in Maryland to be present at two alumni-led rallies last week because he said he recognizes the gravity of the situation and is committed to opposing Allison’s appointment. 

While Allison now holds the role, Frink said he and a group of other alumni are not going to stop their protests. He said they plan to hold monthly protests on Murchison Road to make their opposition visible until Allison is gone. While it may take time, Frink said the group plans to take legal action and believes they will have a viable case once they do their due diligence.

“There are several angles that we plan to fight, and it is not that we're fighting just for the fact of being disruptive,” Frink said. “There's something going on here that we are sick and tired of seeing. And we are not going to stop until we actually succeed in removing Darrell Allison.”

Voiced support

Allison has acknowledged that people may find the situation unusual in terms of having a former BOG member named chancellor, but he is confident that opposition will dwindle as he starts interacting with campus populations.

“I have a number of alumni, that once they get to know me and understand me, they will be supportive. The same with faculty, the same with staff,” Allison said in an interview with The Fayetteville Observer.

Allison has received support from alumni, state representatives and BOG colleagues who say they are confident in his ability to lead FSU. Supporters point to his work as chairperson of the BOG Historically Minority-Serving Institutions Committee and efforts to bring more money to HBCUs and smaller institutions, as well as graduating from an HBCU himself, as assets to the university.

“Darrell is a friend-maker who can bring much-needed resources, both human and financial, to our university,” wrote North Carolina Rep. Marvin Lucas and Algeania Warren Freeman, two alumni, in an op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer.

According to University spokesperson Jeffery Womble, Allison met with members of his leadership team, the president of FSU’s Student Government Association and the president of the National Alumni Association during his first day in office. Allison also paid his $1,000 due to become a lifetime member of the National Alumni Association, though he did not graduate from FSU.

During his first week in office, Allison is holding a series of town halls with students, faculty, staff and alumni, so stakeholders can share ideas and suggestions for enhancing the programs and opportunities at FSU. 

“He will be listening intently to the University’s stakeholders,” Womble said in a statement. “He plans to incorporate everyone’s input and build upon the greatness that is already here.” 

Potential precedent 

While some have taken issue with Allison’s lack of experience in higher education, for others, the selection at FSU perhaps warns of a troubling precedent for the entire UNC System.

“It certainly bodes poorly for the future of campus governance in the UNC System,” Michael Palm, president of the University’s AAUP chapter, said.

Palm said it’s one thing to disagree with the candidate, but it’s another to think the process is corrupt.

Palm said he believes Allison’s appointment will have a chilling effect both on people deciding not to apply for the chancellor position because it seems like having the “rubber stamp of the BOG is the only way to get the job,” and on individuals’ willingness to serve on search committees if their work and opinions are going to be ignored. 

“It's obviously a political appointment, and I think it's maybe even more brazen than people expected in terms of the BOG just installing one of their own in this position," he said.

A UNC System media representative did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.