WCU heads into ‘game-changing year’
The 2012-13 academic year is shaping up as a “game-changer” at Western Carolina University as faculty, staff and students begin to tackle priorities set by the university’s recently approved strategic plan, titled “2020 Vision: Focusing Our Future.”
That was the word Wednesday, Aug. 15, from WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher in his annual Opening Assembly address to kick off the fall semester, as he called on members of the university community to help realize the vision articulated by the strategic plan.
“It’s going to be a huge year, a game-changing year wherein we begin to make realities of the goals we set for ourselves in ‘2020 Vision: Focusing Our Future.’ A handful of people cannot tackle this agenda alone. And we cannot just rely on the usual suspects,” Belcher said. “This is a call to action for each of you, and I challenge each of you to find your role in these endeavors to make a difference at Western Carolina University.”
The university begins the 2012 fall semester on firmer financial footing than the previous academic year, an improvement made possible in part through the implementation of a more open budget process with widespread participation of faculty, staff and students, he said.
“Western Carolina is in a stronger fiscal position than it was a year ago,” Belcher said. “We experienced no budget cuts or reversions last year. That might sound like a sobering place to start – we don’t lose anything – but last year was the first year in four years that WCU did not experience a budget cut or a reversion. This appears to be a sign of stabilization.”
Against the backdrop of an improved budgetary picture that includes 1.2 percent raises for staff and faculty, the first salary increase in four years, Belcher said much of the work for the year ahead will be guided by the strategic plan.
Individual units of the university will create their own strategic plans, with goals and initiatives designed to help meet overarching institutional priorities, he said. In addition, the university will develop an implementation plan, naming individuals and units expected to carry out specific initiatives, spelling out a timeline for meeting goals and identifying necessary resources to complete the tasks.
In her remarks, Provost Angi Brenton said the coming year will include a comprehensive review of WCU’s academic programs to ensure that the university is investing its resources strategically and in alignment with institutional priorities. “We need to examine if programs that were needed and thriving 40 years ago are still needed and thriving today,” Brenton said.
Although the concept of academic program review and prioritization inevitably leads to some faculty and staff angst, Brenton said she hopes much of that worry will be dissipated by the same sort of broad-based participation of the campus community that guided the strategic planning process.
“It is an important process that will position us to survive and thrive in a dramatically changing and competitive future for higher education,” she said.
Belcher said the university also will undergo a similarly extensive review of its non-academic organizational structure to ensure efficient and effective use of resources. In addition, the year ahead will include the beginning of a comprehensive master planning process for the campus.
“This process in not just about where to place new buildings, but rather is going to be comprehensive in nature, looking at priorities for renovation; at space utilization; at infrastructure such as roads, curbs, sidewalks, bike lanes, electrical capacity and the steam plant,” Belcher said. “I know it’s not sexy, but we ignore these issues at our peril.”
Master planning, while focused on the campus, will include input and involvement from leaders from the community and county, because development on campus almost always will affect the surrounding area, he said.
Development of the Millennial Initiative will be a primary focus in 2012-13 and beyond, Belcher said. The initiative is WCU’s regional economic development strategy that involves public-private partnerships linked to the academic enterprise. A Millennial Initiative Select Committee has been studying how best to develop the concept in the unique, rural setting of Cullowhee, with a final report expected from the group by the end of the month.
Belcher also announced the official launch of two regional initiatives that he first unveiled during his installation address in March.
A consortium consisting of university, community college, and primary and secondary school leaders from across Western North Carolina will be convened to look at major challenges, such as literacy and mathematics proficiency, that cut across all educational sectors. Dale Carpenter, interim dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions, and Elaine Franklin, a former WCU faculty member who is now executive director of the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, have agreed to co-chair the initiative.
WCU will facilitate an annual conference for regional leaders and thinkers from the public and private sectors to focus on strategies for economic and community development, and to explore how WNC can take a more regional approach to solving problems and working on issues. The conference is in the planning stages, with additional details to be announced soon, Belcher said.
Video from the Opening Assembly and copies of remarks are available online at news.wcu.edu.