‘THE SAGE OF WCU’

The university bestows an honorary doctorate on its former director of public information

By RANDALL HOLCOMBE

When incoming chief executives arrive on a college campus, they face the daunting task of learning about their new universities from the ground up and need the advice of others, says Myron L. Coulter, WCU chancellor from 1984 through 1994, who now holds the title of chancellor emeritus.



Doug Reed, awarded an honorary doctorate in May, was longtime director of WCU’s
Office of Public Information and launched the university’s journalism program.

“Early on in my administration, I met Doug Reed and quickly realized he was one person I really needed to get to know,” Coulter said. Before he retired, Reed served as director of WCU’s Office of Public Information (now Public Relations) from 1966 to 1996. Coulter said he discovered that Reed was gifted with an “uncanny insight” into the inner workings of the university, local community, region and state. “Doug possesses a rare wisdom that is the result of an amalgam of knowledge and experience – wisdom of a higher order,” Coulter said.

Reed was a trusted adviser for six WCU presidents and chancellors during his three decades at the university – a period that saw WCU become a member of the University of North Carolina system and its enrollment more than double. A Tennessee native who was raised in Weaverville, Reed was a newspaper reporter and editor for 17 years before coming to WCU. When he arrived in Cullowhee, Reed assumed the dual roles of public information director and associate professor of English, in charge of starting WCU’s new concentration in journalism and teaching all the journalism courses.

One of Reed’s students was Jim Buchanan ’83, a Jackson County native, 27-year veteran of the newspaper business and currently editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times. “I was quickly in awe of Doug as a person,” Buchanan said. “In Doug’s class, I think there was a point that it dawned on everyone that he had been around the block and that he was smarter than we were. Doug exhibited grace, intelligence, good humor and a down-to-earth wisdom I have always admired.”

It was that wisdom that Chancellor John W. Bardo referred to as he presented an honorary doctor of letters degree to Reed at a May commencement. “The 30-year span that corresponded with your exceptional service was a critical period of growth and transition for WCU, and you helped shape the university with wisdom and loyalty, becoming what can only be described as ‘the Sage of WCU,’” Bardo quoted from the degree citation.

Accepting the honor, Reed noted changes that occurred at WCU during his tenure, including the institution’s transition from a teacher’s college to regional university, and the emergence of a “wider concept of its place” in North Carolina. “This institution has a great and good history,” Reed said. “Western Carolina University has been generously good to me. I thank you from a full heart.”