Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher will spend much of the fall semester traveling across North Carolina – and beyond – during a “get acquainted tour” that will take WCU’s new chief executive officer and his wife, Susan Brummell Belcher, to 15 stops during a four-month span.
The tour is designed to assist Belcher, who became chancellor effective July 1, in the process of crafting a vision for the next phase of development for the university by soliciting ideas and input from alumni, benefactors, legislators and community members. It includes visits to towns and cities in the Western North Carolina region and across the state, and to Upstate South Carolina, the Metro Atlanta area and Washington, D.C.
“Susan and I are very eager to get to know the members of the Western Carolina family,” Belcher said. “I need to hear their thoughts about what the university does well and about what it could do better to serve our students, our region and our state. Together, we will develop a shared vision for the future direction of Western Carolina University.”
Formerly provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, he succeeds John W. Bardo, who stepped down as WCU chancellor this summer after 16 years in the position.
The tour already has taken Belcher to meet alumni and community members in Jackson, Haywood and Macon counties and the Tri-County area of Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties, with stops in the Greater Asheville area on tap for Sept. 14-15.
As I write this column, signs of fall are everywhere: sounds of the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band echo through the campus, football scrimmages are beginning, new faculty members are acclimating to their new university environment, and student organization leaders are preparing for the arrival of the nearly 9,400 students who will call WCU home this year. We are clearly on the brink of the fall semester, a time of new beginnings.
My wife, Susan, and I are experiencing our own new beginning as we join the Catamount community, a group of loyal and committed students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and partners who have welcomed us with remarkable generosity of spirit. We could not be happier to be at WCU in the midst of what we consider a little slice of paradise at a time of great promise.
Two significant initiatives on the horizon will benefit from your involvement as part of the extended Catamount family. First, this will be a year of strategic planning, of looking at the university’s future against the backdrop of current realities. While the economic outlook presents significant challenges, it also provides us with opportunities to sharpen our focus. Our university cannot be all things to all people; few universities can. Thus, the overarching charge for the year is determining what we will do and what we will not do, resulting in a truly strategic vision for our institution.
While the strategic planning process is designed to engage faculty, students, staff and administrators in such discussions, it will also provide many opportunities for alumni, business and community leaders, and partners on a variety of fronts to participate in visioning activities. The 2020 Commission, the steering committee for this process, will include off-campus leaders along with campus representatives among its membership. The university will host meetings for members of WCU’s external communities to discuss their hopes and dreams for WCU, their concerns, and the roles WCU can play in the development of our region and state. And the university is hosting a strategic planning website (the2020commission.wcu.edu) through which you can provide ongoing input and keep up with developments. The resulting plan, which we will present to the Board of Trustees in June, will paint a broad-brush-stroke look at Western Carolina’s future – a future for our students, our faculty, our staff, and our role in shaping a dynamic tomorrow for Western North Carolina and the state as a whole. I invite your engagement in shaping this vision.
The other initiative in which I hope you will participate is our “get-acquainted tour,” a multicity trek designed to help Susan and me get to know the extended WCU family. The tour is taking us to neighboring communities in Western North Carolina and to several other in-state and out-of-state cities that boast strong concentrations of WCU alumni and friends. You can read more about the tour in this issue of the university magazine. As the dates for receptions in these areas approach, WCU friends in the vicinity should receive invitations to attend. I hope you will plan to join us if at all possible. Susan and I are anxious to get to know you.
As we look forward, it is important to look back to those on whose shoulders we stand. I count it an honor and a privilege to find my name among those of such predecessors as Madison, Reid, Pow, Robinson, Coulter and Bardo. The university would not be where it is today without the efforts of many including Reynolds, Hunter, McEniry and Carlton, and without the service of those such as “Dean” Bird, Frank Brown and Jack Wakeley. I salute these leaders and their legacies even as we turn attention to building on the foundation and traditions they have left us.
I am proud to be a Catamount. I am proud to wear the color purple. And I am proud to be associated with
our excellent Western Carolina University – the economic engine, the intellectual hub and the cultural heart
of the mountains.
You are part of the Western Carolina family, and I trust that you share my pride and belief in the future of
David O. Belcher