The search for WCU’s next Chancellor continues through forums

Co-written with Jonathan Birek

A leader is someone of great confidence, composure and compassion. They are resilient yet accountable. Western Carolina University was able to see this first-hand from former Chancellor, David O. Belcher.

The university is now tasked with finding his successor while continuing to grow and prosper. The new chancellor should be ready to start working with the start of Fall semester 2018.

The 22-member search committee in the past two weeks has had a series of forums for students, staff and faculty to hear what the community is saying about the kind of leader they want. The only forum for students, held on Feb. 6, was in the middle of the day and only five students attended it. To put that into perspective, the student body consists of 11,000 plus. (Read more about it further down in the story.)

If you were not able to go on any of these you should make your voice heard and fill up the online survey .

The chancellor search committee started their search on Jan. 19 when they met with President of the UNC school system, Margaret Spellings via teleconference.

WCU’s next leader must continue the good work happening in Cullowhee while driving forward with even bolder actions and with even greater focus…

To find out more about Spelling’s Charge to the Chancellor Search Committee, click here.

Now, the process shifts to public opinion.

The search committee is seeking input from staff, faculty, students and community/alumni on and off campus.

A series of forums were announced for Feb. 5-6 and Feb. 12. In addition, there are surveys and public questionnaires that can be found online through the search committee’s website.

The first, and only, student forum was held on Tuesday, Feb. 6, in the A.K. Hinds University Center theater.

The 12:15 p.m. start time clearly had an impact on the amount of students that were able to attend the forum with only five students showing up. This begs the question of why the one and only student forum was held in the middle of the day at the same time the career fair was going on.

Even with the sparse turnout the committee still heard a few questions and comments from students about what they want to see from the next Chancellor. A student representative from the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (or SAGA), Max Ringenbach, hopes campus diversity is a priority for the next Chancellor.

“SAGA are still a really small community. Our club average size is around 25 people, so continuing the feeling of diversity and inclusivity and making sure there is still diversity work done on campus,” Reingenbach said.

The students couldn’t help but reference the former Chancellor when asked what they want to see from the next one. A sophomore at WCU, Matt Smart, thinks the bar has been set pretty high.

“I know we are not going to have another Chancellor Belcher but I think he set the standard for what this community needs and what a great chancellor is,” said Smart.

One of two students on the committee and the President of the Graduate Student Association, Kevin Trudell, says he and SGA President, Katherine Spalding, are working together to collect and provide the student voice in the search through the student forum and surveys. In addition, students are welcomed to send their opinions through email to Spalding.

The committee consists of both former and current members of the WCU Board of Trustees; members from the Alumni Association, Graduate Student Association and Student Government Association; the CEO of the Cherokee Indian Hospital; and faculties.

In addition, the committee has one nonvoting member from the Board of Governors who will serve as the liaison, David Powers.

Chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, Pat Kaemmerling, and Vice Chair, Bryant Kinney, were both present at the student forum.

Both co-chairs on the search committee, Kaemmerling and Kinney, state that when developing the committee, they wanted to be sure to include representatives from all of the university’s many constituent groups.

“We think we have good representation for each group, without a committee structure so large that it would become unwieldy,” said co-chairs, Kaemmerling and Kinney.

In organizing the forums and surveys, the committee recognized the potential issue of timing.

“Obviously, there is never a time that works for everyone to be present,” said Kaemmerling and Kinney. “For that reason, we have developed the online survey tool to be available to all who wish to provide input – and, many are already using it.”

The importance of collecting input from all groups involved at WCU is clear. While gaining opinions from all 11,000 plus students, faculty and staff is difficult, the mission is to create a leadership profile that represents the majority.

The committee, along with everyone providing input, recognizes how valuable and therefore difficult it will be to find the next successor to Chancellor Belcher.

Belcher announced his plans to go on medical leave effective Dec. 31, 2017. Upon completion of his medical leave, Belcher also announced that he would not be returning as Chancellor.

Chancellor Belcher left an impact on both the campus and community. Finding the next Chancellor, while having to be done by Aug. 1, 2018, will be the next step in growing WCU.