Public Policy Institute founder-director Gordon Mercer steps down

For the first time since its formation, there is a changing of the guard for Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute as founding director Gordon Mercer hands over the reins to fellow political science and public affairs faculty member Christopher Cooper.

Mercer, who oversaw establishment of the Public Policy Institute in 1998, is entering phased retirement and will work with Cooper during the next year to help ensure a smooth transition in organizational leadership. Cooper, who will remain director of WCU’s master’s degree program in public affairs, is director of PPI effective July 1.

“Under Gordon Mercer’s able leadership, the PPI has become widely known for bringing regional, statewide and national attention to important policy issues,” said Gibbs Knotts, head of WCU’s department of political science and public affairs. “The institute has helped shine the spotlight on numerous critical issues, including domestic terrorism, school violence, economic development and disaster preparedness.”

Over the years, the PPI also has encouraged thousands of young people to become more active citizens through its annual youth assemblies at which high school students from across Western North Carolina gather to propose legislation on matters of interest to the leaders of tomorrow, Knotts said.

A resident of Franklin, Mercer received the N.C. Political Science Association’s Distinguished Public Service Award for 2005 in recognition of his leadership role in creating the PPI.

“I look forward to building upon the tradition of excellent service to the region and the state provided by Dr. Mercer and his student staff over the past decade,” Cooper said. “We plan to continue to be a public policy resource for citizens, students and governmental leaders at the local and state levels.”

For more information about the PPI, call (828) 227-2086.