Darrell T. Allison was named Chancellor of Fayetteville State University in February trigger a firestorm on the University of North Carolina campus, where faculty, students and alumni accused the politically affiliated former board of governors of the system having risen to the top without adequate qualification or recommendation from the campus-level search committee.
Allison is a longtime school election advocate and a former lobbyist who most recently served as vice president of government affairs and state teams for the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit group once led by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
In September, Allison abruptly resigned from his seat on the North Carolina Board of Governors to be a candidate for the position at Fayetteville State, a historically black college about 60 miles south of Raleigh, NC that has approximately 6,700 students. Allison is a graduate of North Carolina Central University, another historically black college in the North Carolina system, and earned a law degree from the Chapel Hill campus in 1999.
Allison has no PhD and his experience in higher education is limited to the years he served on the system's board of directors from 2017 to 2020. As a board member, Allison played a pivotal role in the system's response to a Confederate memorial on Chapel Hill known as the Silent SamAllison supported a proposal that would have given the Sons of Confederate Veterans $ 2.5 million to take the statue off the university's hands and maintain it. The outrageous plan was later rejected by a state judge.
(Controversy keeps whirling about the deal that was carried out in secret.)
Allison's appointment is only the last in a series of controversial decisions by the Board of Governors long been criticized as a politicized body vulnerable to ideological agendas that violate standards of academic governance.
The appointment of the Chancellor was met with a swift backlash when Reports surfacedCiting unnamed sources, Allison was not a finalist recommended by the local search committee. The Senate of the Faculty of Fayetteville State passed multiple resolutions in response, including one demanding that Allison's appointment be revoked and the search declared "failed."
That didn't happen.
As expected, Allison assumed his duties as the 12th Chancellor of Fayetteville State on March 15. During his first week, Allison spoke to Allison The Chronicle in a far-reaching interview about the challenges the campus is facing, the controversy surrounding his appointment and the pain the Silent Sam episode continues to cause for him personally.
For the sake of clarity, the conversation was condensed and only minimally edited.
What is the biggest problem facing higher education for you right now? And how is the state of Fayetteville reflected in these challenges?
I do not compare myself to a person who can adequately answer such an important question. When I was on the UNC Board of Governors and then President Margaret Spellings had worked out a strategic plan that talked about better access and affordability, it really struck me: we will be very intentional for students in these poor rural counties, these potential freshmen of the first Generation. One of the things that bothered me was, "Are we ready to give them the right support?"
Fayetteville State University's student population is 80 percent from rural areas. I want to make sure we have an offering here that provides scholarships, tackles any challenges they may have – a scholarship, transportation, etc – and make sure we have a meal or two for them on the course someday because I like them want to give every opportunity.
You had to be a controversial choice as Chancellor of Fayetteville State. Why was your choice worth the heartburn?
Higher Ed connects with me on a very personal level. I am my family's first generation student not only going to college but graduating. I have a brother and an older sister; They were the same first generation students. And we were all fortunate enough to receive a four-year academic scholarship to North Carolina Central University. We needed it because our parents couldn't afford to send any of us, let alone three of us, to college.
The three most important things Fayetteville State found necessary were these: You wanted a strong lawyer. They wanted a registrar who would help build the brand and reputation of Fayetteville State University. And third, they wanted someone with experience building strategic partnerships that leverage resources – donations to the institution. I had a strong feeling that I checked those boxes.
Was I the brightest, the smartest, and so on and so on? When are you ever
Did you expect your choices to be divisive?
Look, I'm not from Pluto. I was born and raised in America. Unfortunately, everything is so partisan and divisive.
Many bodies resonate with a person with political acumen, and I think it is fair to say you did. Do you think academic credentials as traditionally defined for these positions are simply out of date?
No, I will not do that.
I feel we need to get to the point here. There has been an erosion of confidence in your choices. I've spoken to a faculty that doesn't feel respected by this process. They believe that shared governance is at risk. Is this a problem?
It depends on when you caught the erosion of trust and when you had those conversations. We were very determined to get involved that first week. I told the students, staff, and faculty that you were having issues with the process. I can't talk to it. I was a candidate in that process. But now that I'm here, just give me a chance and stick to the university's motto – Res non verba ("Actions, not words").
Trust and respect are not just given; it has to be earned.
I think that's exactly what the faculty is saying – they believe that the trust was violated and that it wasn't deserved. That is exactly what the faculties say.
I didn't break that trust. Again it's more than me.
Are you in any way responsible for a process that some people consider illegal?
I am not responsible because I was not responsible for the process. I am responsible for how I lead, how I behave, and how I work to get the positive results we need here at Fayetteville State University.
Do our stakeholders feel that we are making progress together? I have to show that.
I know it was a stormy way I got here. I don't make it easy. I am not ignoring that. I understand that very well.
I'm Darrell Allison, and I don't even like some of the things I've read and heard about this guy. But I watch today and tomorrow and I think I have a lot to give.
But you could have said, “This process is going to harm this university. it's bigger than me and i won't be part of it. "And you didn't. And I wonder why.
Because this process will not define me in what I want to bring. There's a reason I've been chasing this. It's not for the ego. It's not about being chancellor, about being chancellor. I really felt I had a good understanding of the needs of Fayetteville State University.
Given your history in the school election movement, I think people are curious about your perception of Betsy DeVos who is a big advocate of it. How did you rate your performance as US Secretary of Education in relation to higher education?
There were some positive things, and obviously some things that weren't too important to me.
What didn't you care too much about?
I will leave my answer at that.
No, I didn't have an answer. You know as well as I do that there was really no choice when these schools were founded. That is why they were started. It was that or nothing.
What did the Silent Sam controversy teach you?
As the only African American on the Board of Governors, this problem obviously hit me in a unique way. I didn't raise my hand to be part of a workgroup for Silent Sam but the leadership asked me and said we really want to try to find a solution.
I had two priorities: One was to make sure this statue was never erected on the UNC Chapel Hill campus again. # 2 to ensure the statue has not been rebuilt in any of the other 15 locations in the UNC system.
It was a matter of life and death. I feared that we might see bloodshed and death on the campus of our UNC system. The status quo wouldn't be an option for me. The other option was frankly a not-so-good option: this group (the sons of the Confederate Veterans) would receive some compensation to have the statue taken away. That wasn't a great option, but I'm very much into it. When it comes to money versus maintaining student life, I will choose student life every time. That's why I supported it.
Do you remember when you were a law student when you saw the statue on campus?
What do you feel when you see this statue now?
I do not see it. And I'm glad I don't see it. That's how I feel.
I spoke to a former colleague of yours on the Board of Governors some time ago who said he was I didn't understand how a person can feel threatened from an inanimate object. Do you agree (with that?
This is what I would say to those who make this statement: In the Jim Crow era, a Caucasian person who railed against this statue would have been protected by the First Amendment. If a person like me said something aggressive about it back then, the chances were I was lynched from the nearest tree. That is the reality that we have experienced.
Just because you failed to face these challenges doesn't mean those feelings and struggles should be dashed or ignored.
Let me ask one last question on this subject –
Hey Jack, I'm honest with you and I've just been open with you – I'm only talking about this problem, it's enough. It's deeply emotional and painful so I think I've said enough on the subject.
OK, I'll respect that. I have another question about race, but if that's one topic you'd rather move on –
We are at a turning point in this country when it comes to racing. What is the current role and responsibility of the State of Fayetteville?
To be your remarkable self.
This school is likely one of the leading schools in the UNC (Underserved Students) system. It is a diverse, very impactful university that is still very true to its HBCU roots. It was relevant as early as 1867. It is as relevant today, in 2021, as it is necessary.
(tagsToTranslate) Fayetteville State University (t) Betsy DeVos (t) North Carolina Central University (t) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (t) Darrell T. Allison (t) Jim Crow (t) American Federation for Children (t) ) Margaret Spellings (t) Raleigh (t) NC (t) System of the University of North Carolina