CULLOWHEE – While much of Western Carolina University’s Opening Assembly on Thursday (Aug. 18) focused on such international issues as the global economy, Chancellor John W. Bardo also took time to recognize local matters ranging from nearby residents’ worries about an expanding campus to employee salary concerns.
In the face of rapid growth in enrollment at Western over the past few years, some Jackson County residents have expressed fear about the potential loss of the small-town, rural nature of the community.
“Newt Smith (chairman of Western’s Faculty Senate) reminded me that our enrollment gains will have major implications for the surrounding community,” Bardo said. “Therefore, I will appoint a chancellor’s taskforce of appropriate university representatives to meet regularly with the community.”
Bardo has assigned his chief of staff, Dianne Lynch, to represent him at official meetings, including those of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, to assure that the university is in regular discussion with elected officials. “Whenever possible, we want to minimize any potential negative effects of growth while promoting its more positive aspects,” he said.
Bardo also spoke to a major concern of university employees – salaries lagging behind state and national averages. The General Assembly this month approved an annual salary increase of 2 percent or $850, whichever is greater, for state employees. Based on recommendations of a campus budget policy advisory committee, Bardo also is placing $300,000 of new funding allocated to the university by the state to go into a reserve account to fund promotions and in-range adjustments for SPA employees – those who are subject to the State Personnel Act.
“Even though we do not control SPA salary policies at the local level, we must continue to make funds available within the state’s framework,” he said. Bardo and other university administrators also are contacting state legislators about the rising cost of health insurance for state employees.