University of North Carolina System President Margaret Spellings announced Tuesday, Nov. 28, the naming of Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar as acting chancellor of Western Carolina University. The very next day, Carol Burton, WCU’s associate provost for undergraduate studies, agreed to step into Morrison-Shetlar’s shoes by taking the role of acting provost.
Both appointments are effective Jan. 1, 2018, the day after Chancellor David O. Belcher plans to go on medical leave at the end of the year. Belcher has served as chancellor since 2011.
“Dr. Morrison-Shetlar is well-qualified to serve in this increased capacity, and I am confident that she will honor and build upon the profound impact Chancellor Belcher has made at WCU,” Spellings said in announcing the appointment. “Her leadership during this transitional period will ensure that WCU students will continue to receive a valuable education and that the institution will continue to thrive. We appreciate Dr. Morrison-Shetlar’s willingness to step up and serve the Catamount community, and I look forward to working with her in the coming months.”
Also vice chancellor for academic affairs and a tenured biology professor, Morrison-Shetlar has been at WCU since January 2014. Belcher, who has been battling brain cancer since April 2016, announced on Monday, Nov. 27, his plans to go on medical leave effective Sunday, Dec. 31. During the period of medical leave, he will continue to hold the title of chancellor, reside in the Chancellor’s Residence with wife Susan, and remain active and engaged with the university community on a limited basis.
“I am grateful to Alison Morrison-Shetlar for her willingness to act in my stead while I am on medical leave. I am confident she shares my commitment to ensuring that students at Western Carolina University receive a high-quality education and a life-changing experience,” Belcher said. “She understands our institutional values and mission, and she has the passion necessary to keep this university focused on its primary purpose – our students and their success – during this time of transition.”
Morrison-Shetlar came to WCU from Elon University, where she had served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 2010 until her appointment as WCU provost. A native of Scotland, Morrison-Shetlar holds a doctorate in biomedical science from Dundee College of Technology, where she also earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry. She received a management and leadership in higher education certificate from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.
Morrison-Shetlar shared with the university community her thoughts about the acting chancellor appointment as part of a message to campus from the Office of Communications and Public Relations shortly after the announcement by Spellings.
“It is an honor to be asked to step forward to do my part to continue the good work of Chancellor David O. Belcher. I have pledged to President Spellings that I will endeavor to live up to his inspiring legacy of leadership and will, in fact, seek his wisdom and counsel on a regular basis. I also have informed her that I do not plan to seek the permanent position and will help her in any way to select the best possible successor for Chancellor Belcher,” Morrison-Shetlar said.
“My experience serving as primary officer-in-charge when Dr. Belcher is away for extended periods of time will help provide a natural and smooth transition during this difficult time. I know the campus and community join me in sending warm thoughts and prayers to David and Susan,” she said.
In accepting the role of acting provost, Burton also will serve as acting vice chancellor for academic affairs. She has been associate provost for undergraduate studies since 2007, overseeing the Mountain Heritage Center, the Center for Service Learning, the Center for Career and Professional Development, and Liberal Studies, as well as other duties. She currently is leading the campuswide effort to revise the university’s “2020 Vision” strategic plan.
“I am deeply grateful to Carol for her willingness to step forward at this time, as well as having the utmost confidence in her ability to serve our students, faculty and staff in support of the mission of Western Carolina University,” Morrison-Shetlar said.
Burton, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WCU, said she feels an intense obligation to serve in the new leadership capacity during a critical time in her alma mater’s history.
“I am proud and humbled to continue to support WCU’s ongoing excellence, albeit in a more challenging role,” she said. “Our community is a reflection of the strong leadership and participatory membership already in place, and I look forward to our continued success in serving our faculty, staff and students in my new capacity.”
Burton also holds a doctoral degree in adult and higher education from North Carolina State University. “I am saddened by the circumstances of this transition. Chancellor Belcher is an amazing leader whom I admire very much,” she said.
Looking further down the road, Spellings said she will work closely with Patricia B. Kaemmerling, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, to plan the launch of a search for a permanent chancellor. Further details of the search process will be shared soon with the campus community.
Note: The UNC System offices also contributed to this story.