What impact is Appalachian State having on Boone?
This was the question explored by a town hall held last night in the Evelyn Johnson Room of the Watauga County Public Library. The event was sponsored by the Appalachian State chapter of the American Association of University Professors and ClimAct, a local environmental group. The room was packed, with over forty citizens in attendance and that many more joining via Zoom.
The town hall left little doubt that there is a lot of concern—from community members, students, and faculty—that the university may be adversely impacting Boone and the surrounding area. Kellie Reed Ashcraft of the Watauga Compassionate Care Initiative noted that Boone’s poverty rate is significantly higher than the state average. There was a lot of worry expressed about the university’s aggressive enrollment growth goals. Many noted that the town is increasingly full of shoddy housing and that it is expensive, too, forcing many people who work in Boone to seek housing elsewhere. Some students bemoaned that App State is becoming a degree mill, and that reckless growth is resulting in lower quality of students, diminishing the quality of an Appalachian degree. One participant quoted Edward Abbey to chastise the university’s priorities: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
Frustration was also expressed about the university’s lack of responsiveness to the Boone community, even to answer questions. At one point, the question was asked: “Who has even met Sheri Everts [the App State Chancellor]?” Only a few hands were raised. Many noted that the core problem is that Everts owes her $375,000 annual salary to the UNC Board of Governors in Chapel Hill—and that the Board is the only constituency she really cares about. Needless to say, the Board is appointed entirely by the Republican majority in the General Assembly.
Finally, some attendees pointed out that, on top of everything else, the recent revelations about App Pac and the lavish donations by two members of the App State Board of Trustees suggest that the university is now trying to buy the Boone Town Council. What a convenient way to get land owned by the university rezoned to meet its interests—and those of wealthy real estate developers.
Enough is enough, it was decided. App State used to be the pride of Boone. But, as one resident pointed out in one of the evening’s most moving testimonials, the university is now exploiting the local population, forcing out people who have lived in the region for generations.
The event’s organizers promised that more was soon to come.