Trustees approve three finalists for next chancellor, forward names to UNC leaders

The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees has endorsed a slate of finalists for the position of WCU chancellor and forwarded the names of three candidates to be considered by Dr. William Roper, interim president of the University of North Carolina System.

Approval of the three finalists came by unanimous vote during the board’s quarterly meeting Friday, March 1.

Dr. William Roper (second from right), interim president of the University of North Carolina System, pauses with his WCU student hosts during a tour of campus in mid-February. A slate of three finalists for the chancellor’s position at WCU will be evaluated by Roper, who will decide whether to bring one forward for consideration by the UNC Board of Governors. Roper was hosted during his tour at WCU by (from left) Mollie Jones, Student Government Association senator; Matt Opinski, SGA president; and McKenley Webb, SGA vice president. (Photo courtesy of the UNC System)

The board discussed the qualifications of the trio of candidates recommended by a university search committee that was appointed in December 2017 to lead the search for a successor to former Chancellor David O. Belcher. Those discussions took place in closed session as allowed by the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.

Prior to going into closed session, Patricia B. Kaemmerling, chair of the Board of Trustees and co-chair of the search committee, provided an update on recent activities in the search process.

Following a series of off-campus meetings with 10 candidates between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, the committee invited four candidates to come to Cullowhee for campus visits in mid-February with selected students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and community members. Participants in those sessions signed nondisclosure agreements to protect the confidentiality of the candidates.

“I believe those campus visits were very successful,” Kaemmerling said during her remarks at the beginning of the meeting. “We have received very positive feedback from the various stakeholders who met our candidates.”

After those campus visits, the search committee met again Wednesday, Feb. 27, to narrow the list of candidates to three. Following the action by the trustees, the WCU board will now forward the names of the three finalists to Roper in unranked order. After his evaluation of the candidates, Roper will then decide whether to recommend one finalist to the UNC Board of Governors for consideration.

Kaemmerling said she and search committee co-chair Bryant Kinney, vice chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, anticipate the naming of a new chancellor by late April or early May, with the university’s next leader on the job on or about July 1.

Roper, who became interim president of the UNC System effective Jan. 1 following the announcement by former President Margaret Spellings that she was stepping down from the role, paid a visit to WCU in mid-February. It was his first visit to a UNC institution since being named interim president, and the visit came at the invitation of the search committee co-chairs, Kaemmerling said.

“We wanted him to have a chance to see our campus and meet some Catamounts before he selects our next chancellor,” she said. “This is an exciting time at Western Carolina University.”

The chancellor search committee has been working to find a successor for Belcher, who stepped down from his position to go on medical leave at the end of the 2017 calendar year. Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar has been serving as acting (now interim) chancellor, and Carol Burton, WCU associate provost for undergraduate studies, is serving as acting provost.

The committee began meeting again last September following the announcement in July that the finalist selected by Spellings for the position had withdrawn from consideration, placing the search process into a temporary holding pattern.

The committee has been assisted in the process by the executive search firm Buffkin-Baker and by Lynn Duffy, UNC senior associate vice president for leadership and talent.