Arts + Entertainment

By Shannan Mashburn • SMN Intern

Singing, lonely goat herders, nuns, and Julie Andrews are just a few things Western Carolina University’s Bardo Arts Center will be prepared for on Father’s Day with the “Sound of Music” sing-a-long event.

At 3 p.m. June 17, participants of the sing-a-long will watch “The Sound of Music” with the subtitles so they can sing along with their favorite tunes. They’ll also receive a “magic moments pack” that contains all of the props participants will need to enjoy the event. Everyone is encouraged to design his or her own unique costumes for a parade that will take place after the screening of the timeless movie.

A grand and engaging vision for Western Carolina University’s Millennial campus as a place where academics, research, private industry and college life intersect has stalled almost since its inception seven years ago, but there might finally be signs of movement.

The $46 million Health and Human Sciences building slated to open in the fall has sparked interest from private developers who are exploring the idea of building a medical complex that would house doctor’s offices or health clinics. Indeed, that was the hoped-for affect of new health care teaching facility — to become the epicenter of a health care consortium where students and professors study and teach alongside private health care providers, medical device companies and specialized clinics.

WCU Chancellor David Belcher said that as the economy improves he believes development plans for the campus will move forward.

“By virtue of this facility I think that we are setting ourselves up as a hub for rural public health,” the chancellor said. “And what I want is medical services for our region.”

However, the economic climate to date has suppressed such growth, he said, because in turn “it’s a matter of them being able to court people willing to lease the space.”

Seven years ago, using $2.87 million in state bond money, WCU bought 344 acres of land across N.C. 107 from the main campus. The idea was to build the Millennial Campus, a showcase of how academics, research, private business and housing could be combined to enhance education. But so far, the campus is home to just the $46 million, 160,000-square-foot Health and Human Sciences building, set to open for classes this fall.

It will bring under one roof 11 programs from the College of Health and Human Sciences ranging from physical therapy to nursing, serving about 1,200 students, including 300 graduate students.

A new College of Education and Allied Professions building was next on the list but has been sidelined because of funding shortfalls in the state budget.

“We’ll need to re-examine and affirm that building or not — it has been four or five years since the decision was made,” Belcher said.

The chancellor said that he is certain that as the economy rebounds there inevitably will be growth taking place in the Cullowhee area. He said the university, for its part, would be forced to deal internally with such planning issues as transportation, sidewalks and the development of infrastructure that includes water, sewer and roads.

“And will there be residential halls there? Dining halls? It takes a lot of advance planning,” Belcher said of the future Millennial Campus.

Cullowhee poised for growth

Millennial Campus isn’t the only area likely to see growth in Cullowhee. The commercial districts around campus could attract new businesses to located following the recent passage of countywide alcohol sales.

Even without those two elements Cullowhee is already the fastest-growing township in Jackson County. The community grew 47 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the latest U.S. Census.

The prospect of unbridled growth has some in the Cullowhee community calling for the county to start some sort of land-use planning process. Meetings are being held in Cullowhee under the auspices of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), a community group dedicated to revitalizing and beautifying Cullowhee.

“My hope is that the people of the Cullowhee community will come together and develop a plan for the future of Cullowhee that takes advantage of the natural resources and attributes of the area,” said Mary Jean Herzog, the chair of CuRvE.

Herzog sent a letter to county commissioners asking they consider instituting planning efforts and that they make the revitalization of old Cullowhee a priority.

“As Cullowhee continues to grow, CuRvE is concerned about the lack of planning that has a negative impact on ‘Old Cullowhee,’” Herzog wrote in the letter. “If you walk along Old Cullowhee Road, you can see how this uncontrolled development looks. There are attractive, new houses on the river and on the opposite side of Old Cullowhee Road that add to the beauty of the area … But there are significant sections of disrepair and deterioration that drag down these efforts to beautify and revitalize.”

CuRvE has not heard back from county leaders, but Jackson County Planner Gerald Green is now working with members of that group and other Cullowhee residents at commissioners’ request. The group’s members are studying community-based zoning as a possibility for the area, though it would require gathering the signatures of one-third of the property owners who would be in the planning district. The signatures are a county requirement before commissioners will consider instituting community-based zoning.

Per state law, the designated zoning area would have to be at least 640 acres and be made up of at least 10 separate tracts of land.

Robin Lang, a business owner in Cullowhee and member of CuRvE, said she believes “now is the time to act” when it comes to planning Cullowhee’s future..

“I think the alcohol referendum is waking a lot of people up,” Lang said. “You have to manage growth or it’s going to be a mess. We’ve got to be smart and savvy about it.”

Lang is an advocate for a planning board or council, similar in scope to one now operating in Cashiers, to oversee Cullowhee.

Cashiers in 2003 was divided into two districts, a “village central” and a general commercial zone. In addition, Jackson County commissioners created a five-member Cashiers Area Community Planning Council to review amendments to the zoning plan and to make recommendations to the county planning board. The council also votes on requests for conditional uses and variances in Cashiers.

Like the CuRvE members, Belcher, too, believes growth in the Cullowhee community will present challenges in coming days.

“I don’t want to see it destroyed,” he said. “Our collective challenge is how we as a region and as a community deal with economic development.”

Noreen Gay doesn’t have a moment to spare these days. She’s busily finishing the final stitches of a quilt she plans to enter in the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild show barreling down in a mere two and half weeks — so busy, in fact, she’s hauling it around on the backseat of her car when she runs errands, in case she has a few spare minutes to put to good use.

“Sleep? What’s sleep? Cook for my husband Bill?  He’s on his own,” said Gay, a member of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild.

“It’s crunch time,” agreed Cindy Williams of Franklin, president of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild.

More than 1,300 people are expected to visit the Stars Over the Smokies quilt show coming to Western Carolina University June 7-10. For many quilting fanatics, it will take every bit of the three-day show to soak up the quilts on display.

“I could spend three hours today and come back and spend another three tomorrow and see things I didn’t notice before,” Williams said.

Viewers peruse the quilts on display wearing a single plastic glove on their right hand, given out at the door so all the fondling doesn’t soil the quilts over the course of the show.

Quilting has evolved from a necessity — piecing together scraps of fabric for warm blankets because entire bolts of cloth were too costly — to an art form today.

“There has been a metamorphosis in quilting in the past 10 years,” Gay said.

Many quilters have their own personalized style. Some fancy the traditional, heirloom quilt patterns, handed down through the generations for centuries. Others create their own patterns, sometimes in the traditional vein and sometimes, as Gay describes herself, “out of the box.”

Creating your own patterns comes with some risk, but like any artistic endeavor, risk is inherent.

“All of them end up being risky. Even a traditional quilt, if you choose the wrong color, it won’t pop like it should,” Gay said.

Serious quilters usually have multiple projects at various stages of completion in their queue at a time.

“You get tired of looking at blue, you get tired of making triangles, so you go to a different project and you come back to that one,” Williams said.

Sadly, some quilts are destined to linger in those half-finished forms for years, the quilter unable to get up the gumption to finish. It’s such a common ailment, these unfinished projects are universally known in quilting circles as “Unfinished Objects,” or UFOs.

Quilters tormented by their own UFOs periodically have the chance to pawn them off on another quilter at UFO swaps. Hidden from sight in a brown paper bag, quilters bring in a UFO they don’t want anymore and go home with someone else’s UFO. The catch: you’re obligated to finish whatever UFO you pick from the bunch.

Personally, Gay has banished UFOs from her life.

“I’ll throw away UFOs that I hate,” Gay said. “I only have ‘X’ amount of quilts in me at this age, so I am going to work on what I like.”

Nancilee Dills of Franklin has sworn off UFOs as well. But for her, that means committing herself to giving every quilt in her ongoing repertoire a little love and attention on a regular basis. She keeps a spreadsheet of all her projects and won’t work on one more than six or eight hours without rotating to the next.

It’s no small feat — she has about 30 quilts in various stages, each neatly organized in clear plastic bins, labeled on the outside and with the requisite patterns, tracings and fabric squares contained within, making it easy to grab her quilting project du jour.

Quilting can be obsessive, as many of the quilters in the Smoky Mountain Quilt Guild have learned the hard way.

“We’ve now had two ladies burn pans quilting,” Williams said, imparting the stories of two quilters who got so absorbed while dinner was on the stove they almost burned the house down.

Most quilters have dedicated a room in their house to their endeavors. Mary Ann Budhal, a quilter with the guild in Jackson County, converted her son’s bedroom into her quilting hideaway. Once his old dresser drawers and closet got stuffed to the gills, she had to buy shelving units to hold all her fabric stock and UFOs.

Budhal specializes in miniature art quilts, intended as wall hangings rather than bed coverings or throws. The quilting pieces are tiny — some just a quarter of an inch — with hundreds of them in a single quilt.

With that many pieces in play, Budhal toys with her designs and color palettes on a project wall, a large piece of foam covered in flannel that she can tack pieces up on.

She’s lucky to have a live-in sounding board for her design process. Her husband is a painter and former art instructor at Western Carolina University and willingly offers up his take on a pattern — rather than the typical “looks great to me, honey” answer most women when get pressing their husbands to weigh in on this-or-that shade of burgundy.

But the perk comes with a downside.

“If it weren’t for him and all his pictures we have hanging up, I might have room for more quilts,” Budhal said.

 

The final throes

Last week, Williams and Gay spent two hours studying the great hall in the University Center where the quilt show will be held, measuring and calculating just how they will fit all those quilts into the space.

Williams will take the dimensions home and plug them into a computer program to come up with a floor plan.

“This will take me untold hours,” Williams said.

The guild had new racks built for this year’s show, fashioned from PVC pipes that fit into sturdy custom-made metal bases.

“Our old racks took screw guns and screw drivers and hammers and nails — and men — to put them together,” Williams said. “These are heavy but they are simple.”

About half the quilts being entered in the show will come from the 150 members of the Smoky Mountain Quilter’s Guild in Macon and Jackson counties. The other half are trickling in from around the country.

Budhal’s living room is rapidly filling up with quilts being mailed in from far-flung locations ahead of time. Not all quilters entering their work will be so lucky to have them finished ahead of time, however.

“They will be sewing on the binding as they approach campus to turn them in,” laughed Budhal.

While some quilts in the show are masterpieces, it will run the gamut from beginners to master quilters.

“We want a show that covers every level of experience,” Williams said. “Quilters want to see everything. You never know what you are going to learn. I have been quilting 30 years and I learn something new at every show.”

This is the first year that the guild will stage its show in Jackson County, and the community has embraced the big event. There is a quilt block planted on the lawn of the historic courthouse in Sylva. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce has a quilt display in its visitor center. And many of the downtown Sylva merchants have incorporated quilts into their storefront windows.

Additionally, WCU has an art quilt exhibit at the Fine Arts Center and a vintage quilt exhibit at the Mountain Heritage Center.

The quilt show is being held in conjunction with the North Carolina Quilters Guild Symposium. This year marks the farthest west it has ever been held in the state.

So far, 250 people have registered for the symposium, which includes two days of classes with renowned national quilting instructors, lectures and socials.

Williams began lining up the quilting instructors more than two years ago, an early start that helped land some of the biggest names in quilting. That is certainly part of the draw, but so is immersing one’s self in all-things-quilting for three days.

“No telephones, no televisions, no children to feed, no husbands to — deal with. You are with your peers and like doing what you like doing,” Williams said. “It can be very intense. But everybody comes with the spirit of friendship and happy to be here.”

 

Want to go?

Stars Over the Smokies quilt show and symposium hosted by the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild will be held June 7-10 at Western Carolina University.

The major quilting event will feature a quilt show with more than 350 quilts and 24 vendors.

Hours are 3-7 p.m. Thursday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday. $5. Located in the great hall of the Hinds University Center.

Additionally, WCU has an art quilt exhibit at the Fine Arts Center and a vintage quilt exhibit at their Heritage Center.

www.smokymtnquilters.org/2012quiltsymposium.html.

John Bardo, the former chancellor for Western Carolina University, has gotten a job. He will take over as the new chancellor for Wichita State University in Kansas in July.

Bardo retired last summer from Western Carolina University after 16 years in the post. He has spent the past year doing research based in the Raleigh-area, although he has remained on WCU’s payroll thanks to a generous state policy for retired university chancellors.

He has been making $280,000 — his full chancellor’s salary still paid by WCU — to conduct research. The policy expects chancellors to commit to a year of teaching after enjoying their year of paid research. Bardo had said he indeed intended to return to teach at WCU.

Now he will not be doing so, but he will not be required to repay the salary he has gotten under the state policy, according to UNC board of governors’ policy.

The policy was actually changed recently, making it less generous than it had been. But Bardo is entitled to the earlier, more generous version that was in force when he was hired

“That earlier policy did not require the repayment of research leave if a departing chancellor elected to take a job elsewhere before returning to the classroom,” spokeswoman Joni Worthington wrote in an email.

The policy that allowed Bardo the year for research leave was revised in 2010 by the UNC Board of Governors. Board members decided the policy, the one Bardo falls under, was overly generous and did not hold outgoing chancellors and presidents accountable for the money they were earning.

The new policy allows chancellors and presidents who are returning to the classroom six months pay at levels that are in-line with other faculty rather than their old chancellor’s salary. It also specifies certain work requirements be met and stipulates that before-and-after reviews be conducted of any research done.

“Under the revised policy, which applies to individuals who were hired into their administrative position on or after January 8, 2010, the UNC president is authorized, at his or her discretion, to require repayment of compensation paid during the leave period in the event that a chancellor does not assume a faculty position as anticipated” Worthington wrote.

Bardo did not respond to an email request for an interview about whether he intended to repay the money. In addition to the large salary being paid by WCU, Bardo this year also received a fringe-benefits package that included retirement and health insurance.

Bardo in March told The Smoky Mountain News that his research looks at the relationships between higher education, the economy and community development. The theme is a familiar one that he often addressed and promoted during his time as WCU’s chancellor. He noted that he was building a  “live database” so that he can add variables as they become available, allowing him to extend the analysis.

WCU’s former chancellor said that he was working on a book-length manuscript that would make specific recommendations on two fronts: Ways that states might re-structure their higher education institutions to align them more with changing external conditions; and how these recommendations affect internal university operations.

The move to Witchita marks a homecoming of sorts for Bardo. Bardo started his career at Wichita State. From 1976 to 1977 he was graduate coordinator of the master of urban studies program, and from 1978 to 1983 he was chair of Wichita State’s department of sociology and social work. He has family in the Wichita area.

In a Wichita State news release, Bardo was quoted as saying he was excited about his new job.

“Wichita State is a wonderful university with great potential,” Bardo said. “Wichita is a tremendous community and we’re delighted to be back.”

David Belcher, Western Carolina University’s 11th chancellor, warned a crowd of 200 on hand last week for the pomp and circumstance of his installment ceremony that the state of North Carolina must not dally in protecting its educational assets.

Other states are now raiding universities such as WCU and cherry picking the top faculty, staff and administration, he said. The assaults on the University of North Carolina system have been made easier because salary increases haven’t been given at some institutions, including WCU, in nearly four years.

WCU alone has experienced some $30 million in cumulative budget cuts during that same time period. This has resulted in few professors and larger classes than was once the case, and staff and administration have more duties because empty positions have been eliminated or gone unfilled.

“Some of our best and brightest, staff as well as faculty, are leaving Western and walking out of North Carolina,” Belcher said. “While hiring at the moment in this state is limited and our flexibility to retain talent virtually nonexistent, universities in other states are raiding us with abandon. It is not a pretty picture, and if North Carolina is serious about coming through this economic crisis with the competitive advantage to which it has grown accustomed, this situation must be addressed.”

The comments were made to a crowd that included many local and state politicians, plus UNC President Tom Ross and other members of the UNC system. Belcher, in a discussion with WCU’s Faculty Senate in the days leading up to his installment, promised to be “provocative” during the speech and to use the limelight as a bully pulpit for the university.

“We are certainly at a moment of fundamental change and challenge,” he said.

In additional remarks that prompted spontaneous applause from his faculty and staff members in the audience, Belcher promised to fight for pay raises for his WCU employees.

“The economic crisis has necessitated difficult situations for all — we get that,” he said. “But, inasmuch as North Carolina’s future prospects are directly tied to the strength of its public universities, we must address faculty and staff compensation issues. I pledge to you that Western Carolina and I will be squeaky wheels in search of grease.”

Belcher did not simply dwell on the negative, however. The new chancellor spoke of a bright future for the university he now heads, and of the regional role he believes that WCU plays.

“Western Carolina University will never be — nor should it ever be — the leader in meeting regional need. But it can and will be a leader in that endeavor,” Belcher said. “Western Carolina will partner with local communities, industries, nonprofit organizations, elected officials and civic leaders to meet individual needs throughout the region.”

Belcher emphasized that under his leadership WCU “will be a catalyst for regional thinking and regional competitiveness and regional cooperation and regional solutions,” saying  “the time of town versus town, county versus county, and city versus city competition is over.”

Regions compete with regions to attract business, industry, investment, tourism, talent, and the creative class, the chancellor said.

Erin McNelis, chair of the university’s faculty senate, said she believes that Belcher “embodies the spirit, the leadership and the excellence” inherent in WCU. She added that the chancellor has “reinvigorated” a sense of spirit at WCU and in the community with his honesty and transparency.

Others from the community liked what they heard, too. Mary Jo Cobb, a Tuckasegee resident who turned out to listen to and watch the installation, was appreciative.

“I’m certainly very interested in him being involved like this with the community,” Cobb said. “That’s my priority and he really seems to be reaching out.”

Former Forest Hills Mayor Irene Hooper also attended the installation. Her father attended the university when it was actually an academy. Hooper said she’s enjoyed Belcher’s visible presence in the community and that “Cullowhee would be nothing without WCU.”

“I just hope he’ll be able to accomplish all our dreams,” Hooper said.

WCU alum Betty Jo Allen drove in from Lincolnton to attend the ceremonies.

“I think people have really embraced him,” she said of Belcher, adding that former Chancellor John Bardo laid a “fantastic foundation” for the university.

“But now, this is Dr. Belcher’s season,” Allen said.

 

Five “guiding principles” for WCU:

• Commitment to access to education and student success.

• Commitment to meeting regional needs.

• A pledge to focus.

• An emphasis on excellence.

• A promise to take care of WCU’s employees.

 

David Belcher’s promises for WCU:

• To convene a consortium of WNC community college presidents, school superintendents and leaders from other education organizations such as the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching in pursuit of real seamless education, kindergarten through college degree.

• To make the No. 1 philanthropic priority raising funds for endowed scholarships to make a university education accessible for capable students in perpetuity.

• To organize an annual, summer, regional tour for institutional leaders to ensure that the university stays in touch with the region it serves. Some administrators will be included but leaders more refers to faculty, staff and students.

• To initiate a leadership academy for faculty and staff. This professional development opportunity will not be designed to produce future administrators, though it may.

• To pursue development of its Millennial Campus as a national model for institutions serving rural regions. The university bought 344 acres to serve for private-public partnerships. Belcher has said that he anticipates the arrival of health clinics and doctors’ offices, where students could work and learn in a private-public set-up anchored by the new 160,000-square-foot, $46 million health and human sciences building.

Western Carolina University’s faculty senate took on the hot button statewide political issue last week of Amendment One, the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.

The faculty senate passed a resolution opposing the amendment, which will appear on the state ballot in May.

It wasn’t a unanimous vote: 18 faculty senate members voted for the resolution, four voted against and one abstained. The resolution stated that the faculty senate, which is the top leadership group for WCU faculty, believed Amendment One would constitute targeted discrimination against certain employees and students. Additionally, the resolution stated that the amendment would be antithetical to the university’s mandated policy of nondiscrimination.

North Carolina currently stands as the only southern state without a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Laura Wright, a professor in the English department and director of graduate studies, submitted the resolution. She termed Amendment One “prejudicial legislation,” and said that the decision to seek official Faculty Senate opposition was the outgrowth of a conversation on Facebook with three other faculty members.

Wright noted eight or so Student Government Associations in North Carolina have passed similar resolutions. The issue was to be debated by WCU’s Student Government Association this week.

Karen Starr, a professor in physical therapy, did not necessarily question the resolution’s content but did balk at passing something that purported to speak for all faculty.

“My question is, we are voting on something and we don’t know how they actually feel,” Starr said.

Wright did not object to changing the language specifically to “faculty senate” rather than “faculty.”

There was some discussion about whether to delay a vote, but Christopher Hoyt, a professor of philosophy and religion, said he believed “timing does matter ... if we want to weigh in before the vote and try to contribute to some momentum against this.”

Leigh Odom, a professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders, said she worried that the faculty senate was venturing into a “personal, philosophical and faith-based” matter where it didn’t belong. Odom added that she didn’t believe it was fair to make an “all-inclusive” vote on such a touchy subject.

“Why would this be any different, the majority carries the day. I don’t think it means every single person — there’s certainly room for dissension,” responded Libby McCrae, a professor in the department of history.

Erin McNelis, chair of the group, said in her view debating the resolution was the proper purview of the Faculty Senate. In the past, she said, Faculty Senate had, for instance, passed a resolution supporting the campus newspaper and free speech rights.

“Officially the faculty senate is the voice of the faculty,” McNelis said.

Odom added that the proposed constitutional amendment is “very deep and very personal — you are making a very strong statement.”

“Amendment One is very personal, too,” said Wes Stone, a professor in the department of engineering and technology.

For the first time perhaps in its 123-year history, faculty, staff and students at Western Carolina University are helping develop a priority list that will shape the coming year’s budget.

“This has been a first pass at a new, and hopefully more open and transparent, budget process,” WCU Chancellor David Belcher told members of the university’s faculty senate last week.

Groups of stakeholders in the process — the administration, faculty and students — have been meeting to discuss the next fiscal year budget. The amount of money WCU will get from the state won’t actually be known until this summer. Last year, it wasn’t clear until August. But, Belcher emphasized that he wanted to initiate the process when everyone was still actually present on campus and not wait until dorms and classrooms were empty.

During the past month, two large meetings were held in which a series of framing questions were asked to define the issues facing the university. Belcher described the responses as “fascinating,” adding that they included instructional capacity, research and potential engagement with the outside community.

Educational issues emerged as the No. 1 priority of all involved, Belcher said.

“I think it was a very good process. Personally it was enlightening,” he said, noting that the budget decisions made and the rationales behind those budget decisions would be posted for public review.

Faculty Senate Chair Erin McNelis said for her part the clearest priority that emerged “was about students in the classroom and supporting the classroom.”

She asked if the meeting notes could be made available online, which the chancellor agreed to do.

Belcher did emphasize that the recommendations being reached by members of the administration, faculty and students aren’t necessarily “the gospel,” that WCU administration would have to work within the budget’s constraints. WCU in the past four years has experienced $30 million in cumulative budget cuts.

Phil Sanger, director of the WCU’s Center for Rapid Product Realization, emphasized that in his view “program prioritization” at WCU is key to good budgeting.

“We can’t make good decisions without knowing where to direct our efforts,” Sanger said.

Jason Lavigne, chair of WCU’s Staff Senate, said that in his 13 or so years at the university that this had proven the most enlightening budget process he’d experienced.

If numbers truly tell the tale, then there are a lot of people living in Cullowhee who care a great deal about the future of that community. More than 100 of them turned out last week for a meeting at Cullowhee Valley School on how to handle the challenges and opportunities that speedy growth promises to bring.

Cullowhee, with Western Carolina University serving as its heartbeat, grew 47 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the latest U.S. Census. Cullowhee alone accounted for almost 24 percent of Jackson County’s total population of 40,271 people, despite lacking official town status and having no tangible business district to speak of.  

Speakers at the meeting emphasized that they do not expect Cullowhee’s growth rate to slow anytime soon, and that planning will be key to handling what’s sure to come.

Wanda Kidd, a retired Baptist campus minister at WCU, noted that Cullowhee’s struggle to identify itself was further weakened when the high school there closed in 1988.

“When schools are closing, you have to redefine your identity,” Kidd said, adding that communities can often find that spirit by rallying around other institutions such as volunteer fire departments.

“We need to find how to support that, and maybe find some other ways to hook into that identity,” Kidd said.

She also suggested, to the obvious approval of many in the large crowd, that signs be placed around Cullowhee to help cement the community’s presence.

“I love living in Cullowhee, and I want everybody else to get that sense of community,” Kidd said.

County Planner Gerald Green said that like Western Carolina University Chancellor David Belcher, he has no doubts that more growth in the Cullowhee township is inevitable.

“Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t call my office wanting to talk about new student housing,” Green said.

Clark Corwin, a Forest Hills town council member, said that he believes WCU needs to tie itself not just to younger students, but with older Cullowhee residents “who are vested” in the community: retired faculty and staff, students who stay after graduating, plus people who simply like Cullowhee and choose to make their homes there.

“There is an opportunity to provide services,” said Corwin, noting there could be cultural events targeting this hidden population plus learning opportunities through the university.

SEE ALSO: New chancellor makes inherited vision for Millennial Campus his own

Business owner Robin Lang raised the possibility of a planning board being formed to help guide the Cullowhee community. That received a thumbs down from at least one audience member, Jim Calderbank, who lives in Waynesville but has ties into the Cullowhee community. He called for “one overreaching group or individual” with “competency and experience in community development and redevelopment” rather than a board of people.

Belcher described future growth at WCU as “a foregone conclusion.” But the chancellor noted WCU, at least for now, lacks critical infrastructure such as housing and parking needed to support growth, meaning additional population increases probably will be incremental and not immediate.

This could provide leaders and community members with the necessary time lapse for critically needed planning.

Belcher said that WCU would likely tackle the parking issue by building a parking garage, noting congregating cars in one central location is friendlier to the environment than building several individual parking lots. Off-campus housing construction is sure to take place, too, the chancellor said.

WCU’s chancellor said that Cullowhee and WCU’s futures are inextricably linked.

“And I want Cullowhee to be that community that will help me attract the best and brightest students,” Belcher said, emphasizing that he is “committed … to bringing the university to the table,” and adding his personal willingness to “sit down and talk about these issues.”

 

How important is WCU to Jackson County?

• Recent WCU new construction: nearly $190 million

• Recent WCU building renovations: $50.3 million

• WCU future construction/renovations: $233 million

• Recent off-campus residential apartments: $23.6 million

The driver for growth at Western Carolina University and the Cullowhee could come via the Millennial Campus, but what to do with the 344-acre tract across the highway, and how to do it, remains elusive.

When the university bought the tract in 2005, doubling the doubling the size of WCU’s property holdings, some criticized the move as out-of-keeping with the university’s mission, unrealistic and wasteful of taxpayers’ dollars.

Former WCU Chancellor John Bardo had a sweeping vision for this Millennial Campus: He talked about melding academics, research, private industry, business and student housing into one vibrant entity.

New Chancellor David Belcher has inherited his predecessor’s blueprint, but has a tough job of actually making it happen during these hard-knock economic times. Belcher, however, indicated last week that he might be eyeing private enterprise to help jumpstart the project.

“That will be a great asset for the region, but that kind of development is going to have implications,” Belcher said. “You suddenly have a booming population … businesses will follow.”

The university has the right, under state law, to initiate the type of private development Belcher envisions on this Millennial Campus as long as WCU adheres to its academic mission. Belcher said that he anticipates the arrival of health clinics and doctors’ offices, where students could work and learn in a private-public set-up anchored by the new 160,000-square-foot, $46 million health and human sciences building.

He did not say whether WCU is now actively recruiting such private development.

SEE ALSO: Cullowhee emerges as Jackson's hotspot for growth

The intention is for the health and human sciences building to serve as the cornerstone of a retirement, aging and health “neighborhood.” It would be a place where students and faculty would study and teach alongside a mixed-use area with the Belcher-envisioned private health-care providers, medical-device companies and specialized clinics.

The health and human sciences building is scheduled to open for classes this fall.

Belcher has put together a taskforce to study and think strategically about the university’s Millennial Campus. The group has been meeting since January.

 

Big dreams, little substance: WCU’s Millennial Campus

Seven years ago, using $2.87 million in state bond money, Western Carolina University bought 344 acres of land across the highway. The idea was to build a Millennial Campus, a showcase of how academics, research, private business and housing could be combined to enhance education.

To date the potential of the Millennial Campus has gone largely untapped. The mostly flat tract is home to just a single building: the $46 million health and human sciences building, set to open for classes this fall.

A new education building was next on the list, but has been sidelined because of funding shortfalls in the state budget.

University officials have estimated that up to 75 percent of the land, extending from the property line of the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching past the Jackson County Airport and along Little Savannah Road, is suitable for building. The land is across N.C. 107 from WCU’s main campus.

During the past four years Western Carolina University has been hit with $30 million in cumulative budget cuts, a university lobotomy of sorts that has resulted in larger class sizes, consolidation of some academic programs and restructurings of certain departments.

Tuition this academic year increased by 9.9 percent, or $399. Fees, too, have gone up by some $151 per student this year.

This means one could easily and accurately argue that students at WCU are paying more for less.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why WCU student Andy Miller, who has taken an active role on campus highlighting what budget cuts there really mean, was less than thrilled to learn that his former chancellor is pulling down $280,000 this year for conducting research. John Bardo retired as WCU’s chancellor last summer but has continued to make his full salary.

“Let us say he is doing research, and even that it is great research. I still think it’s unjust and unfair to pay $280,000 for research,” Miller said.

In addition to the large salary, Bardo receives a fringe-benefits package that includes retirement and health insurance. The retired chancellor did have to give up the university-provided car and free house, however. Those perks transferred to new WCU’s new chancellor, David Belcher.

 

‘Demoralizing’ to faculty, staff

Bardo is not the only university chancellor in the state who was able to keep his salary for an additional year after retiring. Chancellors across the state have been entitled to the same benefits. The policy was revised, however, in 2010 by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Board members decided the policy, the one Bardo falls under, was overly generous and did not hold outgoing chancellors and presidents accountable for the money they were earning.

The new policy allows chancellors and presidents who are returning to the classroom six months pay at levels that are in-line with other faculty. It also specifies certain work requirements be met and stipulates that before and after reviews be conducted of any research done.

SEE ALSO: WCU's former chancellor makes $280,000 this year for project research

The change in 2010 only applied to incoming chancellors and presidents such as Belcher, not Bardo and a cadre of other UNC university chancellors and presidents. Specifically, the old policy states that Bardo and these other men and women are entitled to an extra year of salary, paid for by their respective institutions, for a year’s research leave if they meet a couple conditions: They must have served for at least five years and must agree to become a faculty member for a nine-month appointment after their 12 months of research is completed.

Bardo meets that litmus test. He served some 16 years at WCU. And, the longtime administrator said he would return to the classroom to teach as a member of the university’s faculty.

“I do not yet know what I will be teaching. Once that is set, I will begin to do specific work related to those classes,” Bardo wrote in an email interview.

The salary Bardo will receive for nine months as a WCU faculty member isn’t shabby: $168,000, or 60 percent of his chancellor’s salary of $280,000.

That’s more than double the average salary for WCU faculty of $74,215. None of these WCU employees have been given raises in four years, making the current payments to Bardo seem, to critics such as Miller at least, especially egregious in such fiscally austere times.

It’s not just a student finding the large sums of dollars being doled out a bit hard to swallow. Professor Daryl Hale, who teaches in the department of philosophy and religion, described the situation as “demoralizing.”

“But, it’s also demoralizing to hear about any number of football coaches who get in excess of $200,000 for losing seasons, or to be told by the UNC general administration that what really matters are continuing athletic programs, no matter what the exorbitant costs,” Hale said in an email. “And then, faculty are constantly given the lame response that all this comes from ‘different pots,’ which even if true, shows no compassion when it comes from those voting themselves huge salary increases … I guess the bigger question to ask (now I step into my role as a moral philosopher): Is this really the sort of university system or society we want to live in and hand on to our students and children?”

And, Professor Catherine Carter of WCU’s English department raised questions about accountability and what precisely the university can anticipate in return for the $280,000 Bardo is receiving.

“I hope WCU can expect some really amazing research, considering that I can’t get funded to visit Berkeley for a week to work with primary sources and live in a very Spartan dorm while I’m there,” Carter said. “And, I certainly hope that as WCU makes its terms with new faculty and administration, it’ll remember this and choose its priorities accordingly.”

 

Paying statewide

Bardo is part of an older echelon of chancellors who have cost North Carolina and will continue to cost North Carolina — of the UNC chancellors who have stepped down since 1994, six (including Bardo) were granted a one-year research leave under their chancellors’ salary. This money is “to retool before returning to the classroom,” said Joni Worthington, spokeswoman for the UNC Board of Governors.

Worthington said the cumulative total of these retired chancellors’ ending salaries was $1.27 million.   

But, there are more chancellors in the pipeline who fall under the old policy. Of the 17 UNC chancellors today, 12 will potentially have the option of drawing an additional year’s salary when they retire. Their current annual salaries are a combined total $1.9 million.

That said, as of this month, only seven of them have served as chancellor for five years or more, as required under the policy. Two more will cross that minimum service threshold later this year. The other three have another couple of years to reach the five-year mark to qualify.

According to the American Council on Education, the average tenure of presidents and chancellors at American universities is eight-and-a-half years. But even if chancellors and presidents qualify, that does not mean they’ll want to conduct research and then teach.

“It is highly unlikely, based on past experience, that all of these chancellors would exercise their retreat rights and return to the classroom after a one-year leave,” Worthington said.

Here’s the context: of the 17 men and women preceding this latest crop of chancellors, six resigned to accept positions at other institutions, one retired and chose not to return to the classroom; four resigned their administrative positions with fewer than five years of service and were granted leaves of six months or less. Only six opted to return to the classroom after a one-year leave.

Worthington said allowing senior administrators to take a faculty position (with a certain time period to “retool”) when they retire or otherwise step down has been an accepted practice for decades in American higher education.

 

Demanding accountability

In 2003, the board of governors required every university board of trustees to adopt a policy on administrative separation of presidents and chancellors. This was an effort to make UNC campuses more competitive and bring consistency to practices, according to Worthington. In 2005, a uniform statewide policy was instituted, the one now benefiting Bardo.

But following an examination of the policy in 2009, the system decided “that UNC’s policies overall might be slightly more generous than those of public universities elsewhere — both in the length of leaves permitted and their levels of pay — and modified the policy accordingly,” Worthington said.

The new policy isn’t as generous as the old. The leave is for six months, with the possibility of an additional six months if approved by the UNC president. The salary during the leave is to be “commensurate with salaries of faculty members” of comparable rank and experience.

The departed chancellors who take the leave promise they’ll return to classrooms must submit a work plan. This plan is required to include a description of expected outcomes. The plan undergoes review by both the UNC president and board of governors. When completed, the former chancellor is required to submit a “summary report” to the UNC system and the local board of trustees that is involved.

 

What would $280,000 get the university?

• At $12,551 apiece, WCU could pay for 22 instate, full-ride football scholarships each year to help bolster the struggling football program.

• At an average of $74,215 each, WCU could hire almost four faculty members.

• Administrators come at about $62,674, so WCU could hire at least four of them, too.

• Staff are much less expensive at merely $35,316 or so each; WCU could hire almost eight.

 

WCU’s top earners

David Belcher, Chancellor

$275,000

Effective July 1, 2012

Robert Edwards, Vice chancellor for administration and finance

$148,223

Effective July 1, 2011

Beth Lofquist, Interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs

$162,000

Effective July 11, 2011

Sam Miller, Vice chancellor for student affairs

$158,620

Effective Aug. 1, 2007

Clifton Metcalf, Vice chancellor for advancement and external affairs

$154,500

Effective Jan. 15, 2001

Page 22 of 40

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