After a crash course on the topic of all things Western Carolina University, new University of North Carolina system President Margaret Spellings departed Cullowhee with a newfound appreciation for the color purple and a better understanding of WCU’s unique role in the UNC system. On just her 10th day on the job as UNC president, Spellings began what WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher described as a “24-hour, action-packed experience at Western Carolina.”
During her whirlwind visit March 10 and 11, Spellings took a guided tour of campus and met with students, representatives of Faculty Senate and Staff Senate, community members, regional political and business leaders and the university’s Board of Trustees. “I have learned a lot in the past 24 hours as I have made the rounds. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to faculty, to staff, to students, to you all,” Spellings said in remarks delivered during the March 11 trustees meeting. “What I have seen is the familial, community pride, the understanding of what this institution means to this region, the affinity and the affection for the Eastern Band (of Cherokee Indians) – it just screams out at you.”
Spellings said her visit has given her better awareness of WCU’s emphasis on hands-on learning opportunities for students that include working side-by-side with faculty members to help solve real-world problems facing Western North Carolina. “The opportunities that students have here are so unique and so powerful, for undergraduates in particular, where they can go into the community and save lives as part of an EMS program or work in a health care program or be in our schools or at the body farm, just on and on and on – that real-life, practical application of skills is very unique in this country,” she said.
Sharing her early priorities, she spoke of the importance of understanding the roles that everyone plays – the president of the UNC system, the UNC Board of Governors, the trustees and administrators at each institution, and the Legislature – in conducting the business of public higher education in North Carolina. “We need to have a recognition that each of our institutions and each of our roles is unique,” she said. “These institutions are individualized and we have to understand those missions and hold everyone accountable in that unique way.”
Spellings took office March 1, with plans to visit every campus of the UNC system within her first 100 days. Her stop at WCU was the second on the statewide tour. She was elected president of the UNC system in October, succeeding Thomas W. Ross, who stepped down in January after five years in the post.