Chancellor: University must maintain its past while looking to future

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University must remain true to its traditional mission of providing high-quality educational programs while adapting to rapid changes not only regionally and nationally, but globally as well, if Western North Carolina is to prosper in the 21st century.

That was the message delivered Thursday (Aug. 18) by Western Chancellor John W. Bardo, who kicked off the 2005-06 academic year with an Opening Assembly address titled “Creating Human Capital: An Agenda for the Decade Ahead.”

Western faculty and staff pack the lobby of Western's new Fine and Performing Arts Center prior to the Opening Assembly.

Western faculty and staff pack the lobby of Western’s new Fine and Performing Arts Center prior to the Opening Assembly.

To help the people of the region and the state it serves, the university must respond to numerous factors, Bardo said, including economic globalization, increased competition from nations such as China and India, an influx of people moving to WNC from other states and countries, a population that is both older and more ethnically diverse, and an upswing in the importance of regional relationships that cross state borders.

“One fact remains constant – our core business is education. Our core direction is not changing. We must continue to improve academic quality, we must continue to increase enrollment, and we must support the development of this region – if not for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren,” Bardo said.

“We have to create the human capital to assure that our state and region are internationally competitive, that our people understand the responsibility of citizenship, and that they are active leaders in the global culture,” he said. “We can make this happen. We must.”

The chancellor’s talk, the first public event to be held in the performance hall of the university’s new Fine and Performing Arts Center, was attended by some 650 faculty, staff and students, representatives of Western’s board of trustees and the University of North Carolina system, and residents of the surrounding community.

Bardo reminded the crowd it is critical that Western and other colleges and universities work to solve shortages in several professions – teaching, health care, engineering, technology and science – that threaten the future of the region, state and nation. For example, 44 percent of the 3.4 million degrees to be awarded in China this year will be in engineering, while as many as 22 percent of the 3.1 million degrees awarded in India will be in engineering, he said. In the United States, only 6 percent of 1.3 million graduates will be in engineering fields, he said.

Western Chancellor John W. Bardo at Opening Assembly address.

Western Chancellor John W. Bardo at Opening Assembly address.

“When we were children, our parents told us to finish our dinner because there were children starving in China and India ,” he said, citing “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman. “Today, we tell our children to finish their homework because there are children in India and China who are starving for their jobs. What a change.”

The shifting balance of economic power is a troubling concern not just at the national level, but at the state and regional levels, as well, Bardo said.

“How many of you have had a friend or relative laid off?” he asked. “How many people do you know who have lost their homes and had to leave their communities as jobs are shipped overseas? Globalization is not just an international trend. It has huge personal impacts on each of us every day. We will need to respond if we are to help this region develop.”

Among the steps for Western recommended by Bardo for the next 10 years:

* Continue to stress the importance of outreach and engagement, linking the abilities and service of the university to help meet the needs of the region, both to help solve social and economic problems and to help strengthen students’ experiences through co-operative education and service learning.

* Complete the planning process for the Millennial Campus on 344 acres of property adjacent to the main campus, to enable Western to engage in public-private partnerships that enhance educational opportunities for students in high-tech programs and increase the ability of faculty to conduct cutting-edge research, while simultaneously promoting economic development.

* Increase the university’s focus on international issues, including attracting more international students to Western, augmenting the number of international experiences for students, internationalizing the curriculum, and encouraging international faculty exchange.

* Focus on technologically based programs of study and continue development of a joint computer engineering program with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Western and UNC Charlotte began offering a joint degree program in electrical engineering last fall.

* Expand access to language education by developing programs with other universities or colleges to enable students to study such important languages as Mandarin, Japanese, Urdu, Russian and Arabic.

* Enhance instruction and expand facilities for the teaching of the sciences, including molecular bioscience and forensic science, to enable the university to take advantage of its unique surroundings. “Mountain science can possibly mean as much to Western as marine science does to UNC-Wilmington,” Bardo said.

* Fully develop the sound and video recording and editing studios located in the Center for Applied Technology, and explore such niches as interactive broadband, commercial video and electronic gaming to create highly educated students and support spin-off businesses in numerous fields related to electronic media.

Bardo reminded the faculty, administration and staff that much of the groundwork for Western’s work over the next 10 or so years is already in place. He also said that dramatic changes are coming, regardless of whether or not the university and surrounding region are prepared to deal with them.

“Given the trends around us, and given the innate quality of life in this region, we can expect growth in the population,” Bardo said. “The only questions involve the quality of that growth and the role Western will play in assuring that we contribute both to preserving that quality of life and to providing support for regional development that is meaningful and productive.”