David O. Belcher stepped into the role as chancellor at Western Carolina University at a tough time. The economy is the lowest it has been in decades, the athletic department isn’t producing to expectations, and opinions of the college are very strong throughout the community but these obstacles haven’t slowed chancellor Belcher’s vision of the potential of WCU.
“One of the big goals that I had for the university this year was strategic planning. That’s a year long process we are in the midst of that, we have I think done as much as we possibly could given the short time we’ve had,” said Belcher in an interview for WCJ and TV62. “We’ve had a number of round table discussions on campus with people from the campus itself. We’ve done a listening tour out in the communities that we serve to talk to people about their hopes and dreams for Western Carolina.”
When he took the position of chancellor Belcher meet with the residents of Jackson County to hear their opinions and views on the college and how it affects the businesses and economy of the area. He wanted to bridge the gap between the local towns and the college. Belcher told the elected leaders of Jackson County in July there was no need to fear the college.
“We don’t want you to consider us that monster down the street. We want you to consider us part of you,” he said in July.
One of his first decisions was to put together a committee of 36 members to set forth the strategic plan for the next decade. This committee, the 2020 Commission includes faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, and business leaders in the community. Belcher expects the committee to soon make an announcement of the direction of planning the university will follow in the next few years.
Student Government Association president TJ Eaves is a member of the 2020 Commission and has worked hand in hand with the Belcher since he first took office.
“I think he has exceeded expectations,” said Eaves on Belcher’s performance to date. “For me it was to create a relationship to bring forward the issues students had about the university. However he came to me first and was forthright in getting down to the issues students wanted answers too.”
Eaves and the other members of the 2020 Commission have spent the last few months traveling from Asheville to Atlanta to hold community forums. The purpose of these forums is to hear the ideas of what the people want from WCU. Once the committee finished the tour, they then met as a group to compile the information received and began working on a plan that they will soon present to the WCU Board of Trustees.
All topics are on the table for discussion
Another idea of chancellor Belcher was to put a “group of campus leaders representing all the constitutes” in the same room on a regular basis to talk about the issues that are going on around the campus. This group is known as the Chancellor’s Leadership Council.
The leadership council talks about the big issues such as the budget and what to do with the little amount of money that is available. They also discuss policy issues around the university and work together to resolve them.
Tuition increase is certainly in the present budget situation
Budget concerns have been one of the topics of discussion for the last few years. Increases in tuition have brought on both mixed emotions and strong opinions for students and their parents. There will be another increase for the next school year for WCU but no decisions have been made on the exact increase in price.
“I am going to wrestle with the recommendation (of the budget increase) that comes to me and will make a recommendation to the board of trustees who in turn will make a recommendation to the board of governors,” said Belcher. “One of the big challenges is a fiscal one for our university. We have lost at WCU over 30 million dollars in the last three years.” Belcher is confident that the university, even after losing that amount of money, will make it through.
Athletic Department needed new leadership
Even though many eyes are on the budget situation at WCU, many of those same eyes are looking in the direction of the athletic department. Belcher knows that athletics is a very important part to the university community. He kept the intentions of the student athletes in mind, along with his view on the situation, when he decided a change was needed in leadership.
“I believe in student success, I believe in retaining and graduating students, that means that I believe in doing those things to help in those initiatives,” said Belcher. In order to help the athletes excel he made his decision. “So in my opinion leadership was an issue we needed to address,” he added.
Eaves has had the chance to experience many great memories with Belcher, but there was one that stood out above all the rest.
“During one of the student leaders open house when he was asked by a student to play the piano,” said Eaves. “I wasn’t sure if he would play but he didn’t just play he destroyed that piano! It was a great time for everyone that was at the open house. I love how he is student first on everything he does.”