WCU sets legislative priorities, issues reminder of advocacy restrictions

Margaret Spellings (right), president of the University of North Carolina system, tours WCU’s antiquated steam plant with Lee Smith, WCU’s director of operations and maintenance, during her visit to campus in March 2016. Funding to renovate or replace the plant is among the university’s top legislative priorities.

With the deadline for the introduction of new legislation now in the rearview mirror, members of the N.C. General Assembly are turning their attention to developing the state’s biennial budget.

Working with system colleagues at the University of North Carolina General Administration, Western Carolina University developed a legislative agenda last fall that includes seeking increases in faculty and staff compensation, increased funding for the NC Promise Tuition Plan, funding to address the university’s antiquated steam plant and increased funding for repair and renovation of WCU infrastructure.

WCU’s legislative priorities, which also are shared and endorsed by the WCU Board of Trustees, include providing support for the systemwide budget and policy agenda put forth by General Administration, said Meredith Whitfield, director of external relations at WCU.

Whitfield also reminded WCU faculty and staff of university policies regarding political activity and advocacy. “As a citizen, you are welcome to express your views on any and all issues to the legislature, but advocating on behalf of specific pieces of legislation and other political activity needs to happen on personal time, not using university resources including computers, telephones or email,” she said.

Faculty and staff who have questions regarding WCU’s legislative priorities or about advocacy efforts can contact Whitfield at 828-227-3553.

Looking closer at the university’s legislative priorities:

Compensation: WCU’s administration has made increased compensation for university faculty and staff a top institutional priority. In its “2020 Vision” strategic plan, adopted in 2012, WCU pledged to “make salary and total compensation packages an institutional priority in order to attract, reward and retain the highest quality employees.”

NC Promise: WCU is among three University of North Carolina system institutions selected by the General Assembly for inclusion in the NC Promise Tuition Plan, which will reduce out-of-pocket tuition costs for in-state undergraduate students at those three schools to $500 per semester beginning in fall 2018. The Legislature has pledged $40 million to the three schools to make up for the cost of lost tuition receipts; university officials say another $11 million is needed to fully cover that cost.

Steam plant: The university is seeking funding to replace or renovate a steam plant built in the 1920s. A $2 million project last year replaced one of the boilers at the steam plant, which provides heat and hot water for much of the campus, and WCU officials are seeking an additional $33.4 million to replace or renovate the rest of the heating system.

Repair and renovation: In addition to the steam plant, WCU has more than $40 million in critical repair and renovation need. The total repair and renovation price tag for critical and not-yet-critical needs is more than $200 million.