WCU’s improvement plan will benefit region and campus, Chancellor says

A comprehensive institutional improvement plan developed for Western Carolina University’s reaccreditation process and a new tenure policy rewarding faculty members for sharing scholarly expertise with the region will help shape the future of Western North Carolina while guiding the direction of the university.

In his annual Opening Assembly address Wednesday, Aug. 15, to kick off the academic year, Chancellor John W. Bardo told WCU faculty, staff and students that implementing the Quality Enhancement Plan (or QEP) and tenure policy changes will result in a university that is a “steward of place” for the region.

“As we work on our most important activities, we will need increasingly to weave them into one institutional tapestry that is defined by our Quality Enhancement Plan,” Bardo said. “This plan has to be the university’s focus, and it gives us a unique and very important positioning with regard to the future of our students, our region, our state and, in large measure, the future of higher education nationally.”

A requirement for reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Western’s QEP is focused on the concept of educational synthesis – that is, enhancing undergraduate student learning by linking the diverse elements of the entire university experience, in and out of the classroom, and helping students connect their academic and co-curricular experiences in order to better reach their goals after graduation.

Through such educational activities as student service-learning projects, faculty research into subjects of importance to WNC, and institutional outreach and service efforts, all under the umbrella of the QEP, the university will become a better steward for the region in which it is located, Bardo said.

The new tenure policy, which must be approved by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, would reward faculty members for applying their scholarship and research activities to the benefit of the region, in addition to recognizing traditional activities of teaching and learning. Together, the QEP and the revised faculty tenure and promotion policy will enable the university to work toward one overarching goal – serving the people by directly addressing their most critical needs, Bardo said.

Bardo outlined four core areas of the university’s regional stewardship mission:

–        Developing a vibrant, innovative economy where residents can have a good standard of living.

–        Creating a “livable community” where people are safe, healthy and well-educated.

–        Encouraging an appreciation for cultural diversity and social inclusion.

–        Fostering collaborative regional governance so that neighboring communities can work together to solve regional problems.

“As a university, we cannot own the region’s problems. That is not our university’s mission. Universities cannot – and must not – attempt to take roles that belong most appropriately to the people of the region as a whole,” he said. “We can, however, work with the people of the region and the state to prepare them to address the critical issues that they face. We can provide them support, research and data. We can act as honest brokers to help them come together to negotiate solutions that serve their needs, rather than our needs. As we accomplish these actions, we will truly be stewards of place, and we will truly serve the people of the state who fund us.”

In other remarks, Bardo announced changes in the undergraduate admissions process that have resulted in a 43 percent increase in campus visits by prospective students; the launching of a new effort to develop a university “brand image”; and a review of the university’s liberal studies program.

“I have several times read writings by our founder, Robert Lee Madison, as well as works by Alonzo Reynolds and other early leaders of the institution,” Bardo told the faculty and staff. “I firmly believe that, if they are looking down on this university today they have to be very proud. What you are doing is modernizing and extending the ‘Cullowhee Idea’ on which this institution was founded – education to serve the needs of the people of the region. As you have worked through these most difficult and complex issues, you have given new life to the longest and most dear traditions of this university.”