Chancellor announces plans to step down

John W. Bardo, who guided Western Carolina University through a period of unprecedented growth in student enrollment, campus construction and academic stature during 15 years as the institution’s 10th chief executive officer, announced Monday, Oct. 11, he will leave his position as chancellor next summer.

John W. Bardo

John W. Bardo

Bardo, chancellor at WCU since 1995, informed the campus community of his decision to retire from the post effective July 1, 2011, in a series of conversations with key administrators and a message to faculty and staff.

Upon his retirement as chancellor, he will begin a year of research leave before taking a new role at WCU as a faculty member.

Bardo, 61, said he decided now is the time to step down as chancellor so the university can be better positioned for the next leap forward in its development. “It cannot be lost on even the most casual observer that this university is poised for another major breakout in quality and impact on the people of the state,” he said.

“After a great deal of soul-searching, I decided that it would be in the best interests of the university if I chose this time to announce my intent to retire from the chancellorship. This will allow a new chancellor the ability to rapidly assemble a team to lead the institution to the next level of quality,” he said. “It is bittersweet to say that I know that this university’s best days are ahead.”

UNC President Erskine Bowles, who announced his own retirement plans earlier this year, commended Bardo for his years of exemplary service to the university.

“John Bardo has been a truly phenomenal leader for Western Carolina University, the surrounding region and the entire state. Over the past 15 years, he has dramatically changed WCU for the better, significantly growing enrollment and academic offerings while also raising the academic quality of the student body,” Bowles said.

“Throughout his long tenure, he also has worked on multiple fronts to establish WCU as a catalyst for sustainable economic development in that region of the state. In the process, the campus has attracted national recognition for its ongoing efforts to incorporate civic engagement and community outreach into the undergraduate experience,” he said. “As UNC’s most senior chancellor, Chancellor Bardo has also been a wonderful mentor to me. In countless ways, he will leave WCU stronger than he found it, and that’s quite a legacy in and of itself.”

In addition to being the senior chancellor in the UNC system, Bardo is WCU’s longest-serving chancellor since 1972, when the institution joined the UNC system.  The UNC Board of Governors unanimously confirmed Bardo as WCU chancellor March 17, 1995.

In announcing Bardo’s appointment, then-UNC President C.D. Spangler characterized him as “exceptionally well-qualified to lead Western Carolina University in the years ahead.” Spangler went on to say, “He brings to the position of chancellor a proven commitment to scholarship and to teaching, as well as a strong desire to explore new opportunities for service to the western region of our state.”

Those comments have proven remarkably prophetic, said Steve Warren, current chair of Western Carolina’s Board of Trustees and a WCU alumnus, who said it is difficult to look at his alma mater today without seeing Bardo’s fingerprints.

“The place, in so many ways, bears no resemblance to the Western Carolina University he first set foot upon in 1995. Not only has the physical look of the campus changed, its spirit has changed. It is a can-do spirit. It’s an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s a spirit embodied in the language of the probable, not the possible,” Warren said.

“What I really want to convey, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, on behalf of the thousands of students who have passed under his watchful and caring eye, on behalf of the people of Western North Carolina, of which I am one, is the enduring thanks and appreciation for a job extraordinarily well done,” he said.

Under Bardo’s leadership, Western Carolina has seen student enrollment grow from 6,500 to more than 9,400 today. To accommodate rising enrollment, the university has constructed or made major additions to 14 buildings, including five new residence halls, a dining hall, a campus recreation center, the Fine and Performing Arts Center and a high-tech Center for Applied Technology. The university expanded its student union facility, launched women’s soccer and softball programs, and renovated every athletics facility on campus, including the addition of west-side stands to WCU’s formerly notorious one-sided football stadium.

With the 2005 acquisition of 344 acres of property across N.C. Highway 107 from the main campus as part of the Millennial Initiative, the university doubled the size of its campus. A new Health and Human Sciences Building is now under construction as the first facility of the initiative, which involves creation of neighborhoods anchored by an academic building and surrounded by related private industry and government partners.

During Bardo’s tenure, the university gained national recognition for being among the first institutions in the nation to require incoming students to report to campus with their own computers and for adopting innovative tenure and promotion policies that reward faculty member for their scholarly activities that go beyond traditional teaching, research and service. Western Carolina’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which emphasizes strong links between students’ academic and extracurricular activities, has been called a national model by higher education associations.

It was under Bardo’s watch that the university created the residential Honors College, which has grown to become one of the largest in the United States. Over the past 15 years, WCU has focused attention on sharply increasing admissions standards and has developed a top-ranking program in undergraduate research. This year, WCU was second in the nation in the number of student presenters at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Bardo oversaw the first comprehensive fundraising campaign in university history, which netted $51,826,915 in private giving for endowed scholarships, professorships and programmatic support. The tally unveiled in October 2009 was more than $11 million above the $40 million goal announced when the campaign was publicly launched in February 2007, and success was declared a year earlier than anticipated in spite of the economic downturn.

During the Bardo years, the university emphasized the enhancement of student life through the development of learning communities, student leadership initiatives, model Greek life programs, and strong attention to the development and welfare of the whole student.

Bardo also made it a priority to bring additional resources to Western Carolina to attract top faculty members who are nationally known experts in their fields. When he first arrived at WCU, the university had no endowed distinguished professorship. Today, Western Carolina boasts 21 that are fully funded.

Prior to coming to Western Carolina, Bardo was vice president for academic affairs and provost at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. Previously, he held various administrative and academic appointments at the University of North Florida, Southwest Texas State University and Wichita State University. He also has been a Fulbright Scholar at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and a guest visiting professor in the social policy program at the University of Wales.

A native of Cincinnati, Bardo holds a doctorate in sociology from the Ohio State University, a master of arts degree in sociology from Ohio University, and a bachelor of arts degree in economics from the University of Cincinnati. He has written two books and articles for more than 70 professional publications on topics including community development, technology in education, social and psychological adjustment to migration, and higher education policy. He speaks widely on issues of technology in education and the role of higher education in economic and community development.