The strategic direction set for the University of North Carolina system by its new president, Erskine Bowles, is in “perfect alignment” with ongoing improvements in academic quality, steady increases in student enrollment and a revived focus on economic development at Western Carolina University.
That was the word Thursday, Aug. 17, from WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo, who kicked off the 2006-07 academic year with an annual Opening Assembly address. In his remarks, Bardo advised faculty and staff to buckle up their seatbelts for what promises to be “a heck of a ride” as Western and the UNC system respond to Bowles’ directive that university actions be more closely linked to the needs of the people of the state.
“The course Erskine Bowles is setting is very close to the direction we have been taking for the last 10 years. From a local standpoint, what is most exciting is that Western has a clear role to play in the state, and we are receiving huge support to implement the types of approaches we have been considering for the last couple of years,” he said.
Bardo told the faculty and staff that, in several meetings with the new UNC president, Bowles has re-affirmed the instructions of former President Dick Spangler, who set three goals for Bardo when he first arrived in Cullowhee in the summer of 1995 – grow the university, increase its quality, and focus on the needs of the people of the region. Bowles also has elaborated on those three directions, Bardo said.
“He specifically highlighted the need for Western to set aggressive enrollment and retention goals, and to do everything possible to meet them. He wants us to continue to focus attention on the economic development of the western region of the state, since we will play such an important role in its future. And, he wants us to continue to improve the quality of our academic programs with particular emphasis on continuing to increase the quality of our faculty,” Bardo said.
“Erskine’s messages to Western are very clear – grow as a substantial, high-quality regional university that focuses on development of the western region. Set goals and standards, be aggressive, but achieve the goals you set,” he said.
Bardo outlined five specific areas in which Western should play a critical role in helping meeting state and regional needs:
– Increase the number of science and mathematics teachers in the public school and community college systems, which are suffering a shortfall of teachers in those critical areas.
– Increase the number of community college transfer students through specific agreements that will ease student transfer and promote timely graduation.
– Ensure that general education courses are available for undergraduate students who choose to study through distance education, as opposed to traditional, campus-based classrooms.
– Investigate a flexible degree program for students in the Honors College that will allow high-achieving students to explore varied interests while allowing the university to continue to raise academic standards.
– Improve the process of delivery of courses for older adult students in North Carolina, which has an under-educated population in need of advanced skills and training.
Bardo reminded the audience of what is perhaps the most critical task of the year – earning reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He also urged faculty and staff to thank legislators for their support of the university, including approval of the most significant salary increases for employees in more than a decade.
“Western is receiving more support than it ever has in its history,” he said. “At the same time, the expectations for Western are very, very high.”