Search group hears from campus, community

The search committee tasked with helping select the next chancellor of Western Carolina University spent four hours Monday, Nov. 22, listening to the people whose lives will be most affected by the leader who eventually is hired – those who work and study at WCU and those who support the university.

In a series of open forums in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center, approximately 175 faculty, staff, students, alumni and community neighbors shared their thoughts about the university’s next chancellor and the future direction of WCU. The broad-ranging discussions touched on academics, athletics, economic development strategies, budget cuts and those age-old student hot buttons, parking and food.

The forums were designed to provide guidance to a 16-member search committee appointed by the WCU Board of Trustees as it works to help identify a successor for Chancellor John W. Bardo, who has announced his plans to step down next summer after more than 15 years in the position.

Composed of representatives of the trustees, faculty, students, staff, alumni and community, the committee is working closely with Baker and Associates, an executive search firm with offices in Winston-Salem and Atlanta, to conduct the search. The committee is chaired by Steve Warren, a WCU alumnus who also is chair of the university’s trustees

A common theme of the sessions was the importance of finding a chancellor who will recognize and appreciate the aspects that make WCU – and the community of Cullowhee – a special place that is unique among the University of North Carolina system, while also helping the university and surrounding area develop. Several speakers were visibly moved when describing their affection for Western Carolina.

“I’ve had the good fortune of sitting in on literally hundreds of these over the years, and I am really impressed with your humanness,” said Jerry Baker, lead consultant for the search firm. “I am touched by your emotions at working here. There is something special that’s going on here, and I am not just saying that. I’ve done this for a long time. You have come across as serious and committed, and I want to convey that to our prospective candidates.”

Separate forums were held for faculty, staff, students, and alumni, community members and athletics fans, but all sessions were open to anyone. The open forums followed the inaugural meeting of the search committee on Nov. 16, when Tom Ross, president-elect of the University of North Carolina system, told the committee what he would be seeking in WCU’s next leader.

In addition to the forums, members of the public can share their thoughts on WCU’s next chief executive officer through a questionnaire posted on the chancellor search committee’s website. The online questionnaire seeks input on the “state of the university,” preferred priorities of the chancellorship, suggested background of candidates, and any other pertinent issues. Videos of all four sessions will be posted in their entirety when available on the chancellor search committee website.

The committee will discuss public feedback and review the official position description for the chancellor’s post at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1. The meeting will be held in the Peele, Westmoreland Suhre, Hartshorn Hospitality Room of the Ramsey Regional Activity Center. Another meeting is set for 3 p.m.Monday, Dec. 6, in the Hospitality Room of the Ramsey Center. The committee will meet 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 Nov. 22 open forums are the only meetings that will have time for public comment.

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.