University of North Carolina President-elect Tom Ross had one simple requirement for the committee tasked with helping find the next chancellor of Western Carolina University – deliver him a superhero.
Ross provided the search committee with a long list of the desired characteristics and qualifications he would like to see in WCU’s next chancellor during the group’s first meeting Tuesday, Nov. 16. “It’s probably best summarized as Superman or Superwoman, and all I am asking you to do is get them to me by July 1,” he said.
The 16-member committee – composed of members of the WCU Board of Trustees and faculty, student, staff, alumni and community representatives – will help select a successor for John W. Bardo, who is stepping down June 30 after 15 years on the job.
Ross told members of the group that their task in the weeks ahead was the most important thing they would ever do for Western Carolina.
“I think you are going to want to try to find somebody who understands how far this place has come under the leadership of John Bardo. This institution is on the right trajectory. It has made some great progress,” Ross said. “You want to find someone who is going to build on that and take this place to the next level, and someone who has the ability to do so.”
Ross asked the search committee to present him with its top three candidates, and enumerated characteristics he believes are important for WCU’s incoming chancellor: an understanding of the university’s mission; an ability to work in the complex environment of higher education; a leadership style that is transparent and inclusive; exceptional people skills and ability to communicate with students, faculty, staff, alumni, local leaders and state officials; comprehension of UNC Tomorrow, the long-range strategic plan that addresses North Carolina’s needs and how its public universities can help meet those needs; knowledge of the role of higher education in economic development and in a civil society, and the specific role that WCU has played in serving the Western North Carolina region; willingness to help in fundraising; and appreciation of the changing demographics and the value of diversity.
“What I am looking for, first and foremost, is a leader with integrity. It is critical to this institution, it is critical to the University of North Carolina system, and it is critical to this region that the leader be a person of integrity,” he said.
Ross encouraged the group to think beyond the shadow of the ivory tower and consider candidates outside the realm of academia.
“Some people disagree with this, some people find it controversial, but I say it because I believe it. In today’s world, running an institution of higher education is very complex and requires a wide range of skills,” he said “An individual who has those skills doesn’t always have to come from the traditional academic path. There are times at which strong leaders from other fields can come into an institution and provide the kind of strong leadership that the institution needs.”
Ross urged the committee to be mindful of the role of intercollegiate athletics in the life of a university.
“I’m somebody who believes the chancellor at a place like Western Carolina needs to understand and appreciate the value of intercollegiate athletics,” he said. “They’re part of what generates loyalty to the institution. They make fundraising possible at a higher level and they play a real role in the college experience for students, whether they participate or not. The chancellor must understand and appreciate the role of athletics, but also must understand that they do not interfere with or impede academics.”
The committee should find a leader who also will be an advocate for those who work at the university, he said.
“In today’s University of North Carolina, we are not able to do what we really should be able to do to reward faculty and staff for the work that they do. If it were not for committed people at this place who are going into the classroom every day teaching, who are providing the support for students through student life, through the business office, through the admissions department, everywhere on this campus, if it wasn’t for their commitment, we wouldn’t make it,” Ross said. “A chancellor has to understand that and has to value those people and, within whatever restrictions he or she has, make life as pleasant and as good as possible.”
Steve Warren, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees who is chairing the search committee, said the group accepted the challenge of bringing forth a superhero.
“President-elect Ross, we hear your charge,” Warren said. “I’m going to make you a promise. We’re going to find you your Superman or Superwoman. They won’t have an ‘S’ on their chest; they’ll have a ‘WCU’ on their chest.”
To which Ross replied, “And they’ll be dressed in purple, I bet you.”
The search committee will conduct a series of open forums from 1-5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, to obtain public input concerning WCU’s next chancellor, with additional opportunity for participation through an online questionnaire on the committee’s website.
Additional committee meetings are scheduled for Dec. 1 and 6 to develop an official position description and leadership statement, at which point the process enters a “quiet phase” as the executive search firm Baker and Associates begins the process of recruiting, evaluating and screening candidates.
The committee will meet again Jan. 27 to set the format for interviews of prospective candidates, with additional meetings in February and March to narrow the list to between five and 10 candidates, followed by off-site interviews.
The goal is for the committee to complete its work and recommend its top choices to the WCU trustees so that the board can forward the names of at least three nominees to Ross, who will present his recommendation to the full UNC Board of Governors for final consideration and approval at its April 8 meeting.
A video of the full charge Ross gave to the committee is posted online.