As you probably know, I am currently on medical leave and do not plan to return to the chancellorship. Despite the best efforts of my medical team, the effects of my glioblastoma brain tumor have continued to worsen, and the aphasic impact of the disease on my communicative skills has become more pronounced. My medical team has concluded that the latest treatment regimen is not working as hoped.

I have been honored beyond words to lead Western Carolina University for the past six-plus years. It is an incredible institution located in what I call “a little slice of heaven.” The time has come, however, for me to pass responsibility for WCU on to others.

I have tasked campus leadership with moving forward a number of important initiatives necessary for continuing the significant progress WCU is experiencing. These initiatives include, but are not limited to, enrollment growth, infrastructure improvements, academic excellence, student success and regional economic development.

I have charged the Board of Trustees to carry out its important work as the institution’s policy and oversight board by focusing on its fiduciary role; enabling campus leadership to inspire the university with excellence, integrity and passion; and maintaining the policy environment that will sustain WCU’s ambitious, focused trajectory.

I now turn to you, our university’s alumni and friends. I ask you to continue to support your university and help us sustain our forward trajectory – not merely for the sake of the institution, but for the greater good of the Western North Carolina region we were founded to serve, the state of North Carolina and this great nation.

Yes, there is much that we, together, have accomplished. As you will read in this issue, enrollment is soaring, and our WCU is becoming a destination campus. This past fall, we experienced our fifth year of record enrollment out of the past six years in this era of high demand for a high-quality educational experience. And, NC Promise, which reduces out-of-pocket tuition expenses to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 per semester for those from outside North Carolina, does not take effect until fall 2018.

The face of the campus has changed dramatically in recent years, with Noble Hall rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the November 2013 fire in the old commercial strip along Centennial Drive and Brown Hall returning to life as a modern dining facility built on the bones of an old cafeteria. Construction of a new 600-bed residence hall begins this spring on the upper campus, and another facility, with about 400 beds, is in the planning stages for the lower campus.

Thanks to your support for the Connect NC bond initiative in 2016, a replacement for our antiquated Natural Sciences Building is in the works, scheduled for completion and occupancy in June 2021. It will be named in honor of former N.C. Sen. Thomas M. Apodaca ’80, who was instrumental in advocating for the facility’s inclusion in that bond package. We’ve renamed Central Drive Hall as Judaculla Hall in celebration of the unique heritage of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. And, we have successfully planned, executed and opened the Catamount School – a legislatively mandated initiative – in less than a year.

This is all great stuff, but there is still much to do. I am truly sad that I can no longer work with you on the opportunities and challenges ahead, but I am confident that the university remains in the good hands of campus leadership. I am proud of the many wonderful things we have accomplished together, and I am comforted by the thoughts of the brighter future to come for WCU. With our shared passion, support and commitment, there is no limit to what we – what you – can accomplish.

And, one more time, go Cats!

David O. Belcher