Western Carolina University Chancellor John W. Bardo thanked faculty and staff for continuing to increase institutional quality despite the state’s budget crisis, and urged them not to allow lingering economic doldrums to derail their efforts to continue creating “a 21st-century university.”
In his annual Opening Assembly address to start the new academic year Wednesday, Aug. 18, Bardo said that the work of the year should focus on reinforcing constant themes of the university over the last 15 years – to improve the quality of education, to grow the university in a sensible manner, and to help the people of the region and the state prosper.
“From the beginning, this university has been about serving the needs of the people of the state,” he said. “Robert Lee Madison founded this institution to serve the educational needs of the people of this valley, and that philosophy hasn’t changed. We still focus on the needs of the people. All across this institution, people have taken on big projects with few resources and have accomplished unbelievably good things.”
Bardo shared a long list of faculty and staff accolades ranging from national awards to major research grants, and from service on national professional associations to outreach efforts to help the nearby town of Dillsboro rebuild its economy.
“I have been absolutely thrilled with the quality of work that people are doing on this campus. We all know how tough things are out there, but you haven’t let it stop you. You haven’t let it cause you to lose your focus, and that’s true across the entire institution. We’ve been able to do really good things across the entire university,” he said.
That includes not just faculty, but staff, Bardo said. “I can’t imagine being more proud of working with any other group of faculty and staff. As we move forward, it is critical that we continue to keep our focus. It’s also critical that we continue to understand the role that staff play. They are absolutely partners in everything that happens here.”
WCU faculty and staff already have taken significant steps toward creating what Bardo called “a 21st-century university” through its Quality Enhancement Plan calling for linking student experiences in and out of the classroom so they become fully engaged with their learning and their communities. They are doing so by embracing the Boyer model of scholarship, which broadens the definition of scholarship to reward faculty for the work they do outside conventional research, teaching and service, he said. And they are working to restructure curriculum, revise the liberal studies program and incorporate service-learning activities into their classes, he said.
Bardo cited recent reports surrounding a speech by President Barack Obama about the importance of higher education indicating that the United States has lost it leadership role in higher education, and that the nation now ranks 12th among developed countries in the percentage of young adults with college degrees.
“It’s crucial that we figure out how to encourage U.S. students to go to college, and that we figure out what it means to be an educated person in the 21st century. That’s why your work is so very important, because it is at the heart of what the United States is going to be in the future,” he said.
“And believe it or not, right here in Cullowhee, you are leading the way,” Bardo said. “The work that you are doing is defining in really major, important terms what higher education ought to look like in the future.”
Bardo also offered some suggestions on the characteristics of a 21st-century university, including engagement and outreach to the region, state and nation. “To me, it’s about focusing on the needs of the people who fund us, and whose needs we were created to serve,” he said. “In the end, a 21st-century university is about making a difference, making a difference in the lives of our students, making a difference with our scholarship, making a difference with our service.”
Bardo called on the campus Strategic Planning Committee to focus its attention on those issues and on refining its responses to UNC Tomorrow, the University of North Carolina system’s 20-year strategic plan that addresses North Carolina’s needs and how its public universities can help meet those needs. As part of the planning process, he announced a campuswide retreat to be held Tuesday, Sept. 14, in the A.K. Hinds University Center to solicit faculty and staff input.
Bardo reminded the crowd that, as difficult as the current financial situation is for the university, things would be far worse without the support of the General Assembly. He thanked legislators for making it possible to maintain quality programs, escape huge budget reductions, and avoid additional faculty and staff cuts and furloughs.
“There is an old Arabic saying, ‘the cure for bad times is patience.’ This, too, will pass, as my grandmother used to say. Things will get better,” he said. “It is important that we do not let the state’s budget situation stop us. In good times you act, in bad times you prepare to act. What we are about now, as a university, is preparation for the future, making sure that we know what we need to do, how we’re going to do it, and where we’re going to find the resources to make it happen.”