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A new chancellor for Western Carolina University will be announced this Friday during the N.C. Board of Governor’s meeting in Chapel Hill, with live streaming of the event to be viewed on campus in Cullowhee.

The announcement by UNC system President Tom Ross is set to take place from 10:30 to 11 a.m. His announcement will be streamed for viewing at Blue Ridge Conference Room.

A chancellor-selection committee recently submitted top candidates’ names to Ross, who gets the final pick. Those names of finalists were not made public.

Longtime Chancellor John Bardo, 62, announced in October he planned to retire July 1. He has spent more than 15 years as WCU’s top leader.

Bardo said he is leaving because WCU has lost or will lose four to six key leadership positions within two years, signaling the arrival of a new guard. He said he believed a younger chancellor was needed to shepherd in this next phase for the university, and that his age might diminish the caliber of hires WCU could expect in filling the vacant, or soon-to-vacant, positions. These include the provost (second-in-command) and the university’s vice chancellor of administration and finance.

Bardo has far exceeded the career span of most university chancellors. The average tenure for a University of North Carolina chancellor is four-and-a-half years; nationally, the average is seven years.

Bardo plans to take a year of research leave before joining the WCU faculty. Current plans call for him to join the faculty in the College of Education and Allied Professions, WCU spokesman Bill Studenc said in an email to The Smoky Mountain News last week in response to questions about Bardo’s future role:

“His specific assignment is to be determined and will be based upon where he can be of the most service to the university and upon the outcome of his research,” Studenc said.

The salary range for a chancellor is $236,979 to $379,180, plus use of a 7,000-square-foot house (currently being given a nearly $300,000 facelift) including utilities, grounds keeping and a housekeeper. The chancellor also is given free use of a car. Bardo’s base salary is $280,000.

Of the many forms of entertainment readily at our fingertips, from television and movies to YouTube and the many vast and varied wonders of the rest of the internet, reading is probably still the most liberating.

Picking up a book not only takes the reader to another world, it gives them a hand in creating it. To read is to draw your own landscape, compose your own soundscape, shape the features of the characters yourself, the way that only you see them, with the writer as your hopefully expert guide. More than watching TV or going to the movies or perusing the endless pages of the web, reading is, at its essence, a creative pursuit. And that’s what makes the relationship between reader and writer so unique — it’s co-creative in a way that little other entertainment is.

Cultivating that relationship is the special draw of events such as Western Carolina University’s annual Literary Festival, an event that pulls together authors and poets from around the region and around the nation, giving them a venue to interact with their readers, past, present and future.

ALSO: Literary festival ‘invaluable’ teaching tool for WCU professors, students

Mary Adams, a professor at WCU and director of the festival, has been putting the lineup together for years. Each time, she tries to get a good mix of new and old, of regional and national, to offer readers access to some of their favorite authors as well as exposure to some excellent writers they may never have read otherwise.

This is partially what the festival is about — instilling a love and appreciation for reading in both newcomers and veterans, kindling excitement about written words by revealing the creator behind them.

One of this year’s featured writers, author Susan Vreeland, is a well-known novelist whose historical fiction is often rooted in art history. She believes that this is one of the most important and gratifying things about readers and writers meeting, peeling back the layers and exposing the story that lies beneath the story on the page.

“I’m telling them the story behind the story,” said Vreeland. “That’s what authors can offer, how they came to write the books what motivated them to.”

Vreeland, whose works have been made into movies and performed on stage, believes that the reader — or actor — interpretation of the writer’s work is an essential part of what makes literature, literature.

She gave the example of an actor portraying one of her short stories. He came to her, curious about whether she meant his character to be a constant teaser. No, she said, she hadn’t, but if that’s what he saw in it, it is what he should portray.

“That was a surprise, kind of a delightful one where he saw maybe more than I remembered,” said Vreeland. “It’s the viewer’s participation and you don’t want to deprive them of that.”

Adams, the festival’s director, said that she hopes this is just what festival-goers will be exposed to, meeting the writers and hearing their stories, putting a face on what might otherwise just be words.

“I would like people to read more and to have contact with the people writing the real books today, that people can come away with a greater love for reading,” said Adams.

Alan Weisman is another best-selling author gracing the festival this year. His most recent book, The World Without Us, explores what our planet would be like if humanity disappeared from it.

Weisman said that, especially in writing this particular book, the experience and interpretation of the reader was vital to him.

“I did not want to write another environmental book that gets read only by environmentalists,” said Weisman. He knew, he said, that average readers aren’t usually enticed by environmental tomes, and part of his mission in writing the book was to bring those readers into the dialogue.

“They find them [environmental books] scary, or they find them depressing or they find them overwhelming,” said Weisman. “Our mission [as writers] is to reach as wide an audience as possible, that it would be attractive or irresistible or seductive to that big readership out there.”

And, as the book is now in 34 languages and has long remained a bestseller, the strategy seemed to have worked.

The response to it, Weisman said, was somewhat surprising to him, but what his readers have drawn from the book and brought to the table in discussions around the country and the world is the resilience of life on earth.

“I have given countless talks, and it’s crossed a lot of boundaries — I’ve spoken to all different types of religious groups, I’ve been on Catholic radio programs, I’ve spoken to Mormon audiences, and ultimately, I think readers find out that life is this incredibly wonderfully powerful resilient force that always comes back no matter how messy things get,” said Weisman.

As a writer, he said, he’s been surprised by the wide range of people that responded to his work and pleased by their reactions.

“I really hoped that readers would take from all of that is not the message that this world would be better off without us, but if we would just lighten up on nature, we’d give it a chance to do the things that it does so beautifully,” he said.

And it’s venues like the Literary Festival that allow readers to glean those insights from writers, making the reading experience deeper and richer.

For writers, the chance to interact with their audiences, they say, improves and informs their craft, allowing the creativity of the reader to spill over into the work of the writer.

So many writers became so because they began as avid readers, so rubbing elbows with fellow and future bibliophiles is, to many, a privilege.

“I was so curious about so many different things,” said Weisman, which is why he became a writer to begin with.

Vreeland was a high school teacher with three decades of education under her belt before she turned to writing, and she sees her writing as an extension of her educational career, it’s next incarnation.

That’s why, for her, the reader is so important — they are, essentially, who she is writing for, and to expose them to new art, new time periods and new understanding is, she says, a great gift.

The greatest part of what she does, said Vreeland, is the knowledge “that something I write could reach into a person’s mind and heart and uplift that person and broaden his thinking and his understanding of life and humans.”

That understanding, she said, is the goal of writing and a contribution to culture that will last as long as the word is printed on the page.

“Each time we bring our readers imagination to the fore, each time we stimulate our readers’ imagination so that they live in another time and place,” said Vreeland, “that’s another step upwards for the human race.”


Spring Literary Festival

WCU’s ninth annual Spring Literary Festival will feature Cathy Smith Bowers, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Fred Chappell, Délana Dameron, David Gessner, Elizabeth Kostova, Don Lee, Bret Lott, Lee Martin, Ginger Murchison, Susan Vreeland, Frank X Walker, and Alan Weisman, as well as the Gilbert Chappell Distinguished Poet’s panel, with Distinguished Poet Mary Adams.

When: April 3-7

More information:

Samantha “Sam” Gampel, a sophomore at Western Carolina University, wants to write novels and earn her living as a professional writer.

So in Gampel’s book, there’s nothing quite like rubbing shoulders with real working-for-a-living writers such as the ones headlining this year’s literary festival at the university. This is learning in action for students such as Gampel, and the festival, she said, hugely enriches her experience of attending school in Cullowhee.

“I think it is amazing to get all of these writers to come here,” Gampel said. “And it really opens your eyes to some you hadn’t heard of before.”

WCU’s literary festival runs April 3-7. The Visiting Writers Series has 13 authors featured this year, providing an opportunity to combine hands-on learning with classroom teachings that excite not only students such as Gampel, but professors at WCU, too.

ALSO: A meeting of the minds: Bringing together readers and writers

“It’s invaluable,” said Deidre Elliot, an associate professor in the university’s English Department and director of the professional writing program.

That’s because professors can assign readings by authors, then — tah-dah — students can meet and talk to the authors firsthand. They can ask questions, and learn directly about both the craft of writing and how some writers successfully make livings practicing their craft.

“It is totally enjoyable (for a student) to see the real person who was in a textbook,” Elliot said.

Catherine Carter, a fellow associate professor of Elliot’s at WCU and director of English education, said there are a variety of ways she and other faculty incorporate the festival into teaching students.

“The most usual are that we assign students to read some of the authors’ works and discuss them in class, and encourage — or, on a few occasions, beg, bribe or threaten — students to come to readings,” Carter said. “This is good not only because there’s something kind of cool about authors who are still alive and who are right there in the flesh … but because the etiquette of reading itself is worth teaching.”

The etiquette being such niceties, Carter said, as refraining from texting or playing games on cell phones while the authors read.

Carter also likes to encourage local teachers to bring students from the area high schools.  “We had a class down from Summit (charter school in Cashiers) last year, and that was really nice,” she said.

In fact, WCU will reserve local classes and their teachers some seats at the readings, particularly those held during the day, to encourage participation in the festival.

Mary Adams, a WCU associate professor who oversees the literary festival, said whenever book orders for classes are due, she pins fellow professors down on which attending festival authors’ books they’ll teach.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying to find a theme that works,” she said.

This year, for example, an English class is focused on the figure of the vampire in literature and popular culture — poetry, fiction, nonfiction, television, film and the Internet. One of the books being read is Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian,” a tale of three generations of historians on the track of the original Dracula. Kostova’s book was the fastest-selling debut novel in American publishing history, and the author is set to speak Sunday, April 3.

Meeting and hearing the authors they read in class, Adams said, “makes a huge difference” for students, “and it is very moving to the authors.”

This is a big reason why the literary festival, which has a fairly small budget, is able to attract well-known writers, she said. The authors can depend on the university to pack in interested and engaged audiences.

It’s not a bad job, really. There’s a nice house, more than 7,000-square-feet, that’s currently undergoing a nearly $300,000 facelift. You don’t have to pay for utilities, grounds keeping or for a housekeeper. Then there’s the salary, ranging from $236,979 to $379,180. Oh, and free use of a car.

So perhaps it’s not that surprising a whole lot of people apparently want to become Western Carolina University’s next chancellor. Longtime leader John Bardo exits the scene in fewer than four months. He’ll leave July 1 after more than 15 years on the job.

Steve Warren, WCU’s board of trustees’ president, indicated the search is progressing well and is in the homestretch. He said the 16 members of the search committee (which he also chairs) believe they will have Bardo’s replacement hired when the position officially opens. A search firm started with a pool of 22 candidates; the committee has since winnowed that to an unspecified number.

The committee has been tightlipped about exactly who they are talking to about the job, but Warren said during a recent trustees’ meeting that the candidates are of extremely high caliber.

“In terms of the quality of the candidates we have reviewed, they are just outstanding,” Warren said, then added, “everyone wants to play for a winning team.”

The chancellor-to-be has to meet some towering expectations, including interpreting what the board of trustees mean by “the importance of a successful athletics program” (the football team went 2-9 this fall, with the last winning season in 2005); the unique culture of Western North Carolina; the relationship between WCU and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; WCU’s “passionate dedication” to teaching and learning; and so on, according to a job description.

What’s absent from that shopping list is mention of the difficulty any chancellor is going to face given the anticipated cutback in state dollars. The university is preparing for $8.6 million being slashed, tumbledown from a state facing a more than $2 billion shortfall.

Bardo has been dealing with much of that financial fallout now. The university is cutting 10 positions this spring and another 15 come July 1.

“I’d rather deal with it myself than to leave it for the next person,” said Bardo, who told the university’s board of trustees this month that the two most difficult parts of his job are telling parents when a child has died, and informing faculty or staff they no longer have jobs.

Bardo makes a base salary of $280,000.

Pop-opera performer and 2008 winner of television show “America’s Got Talent,” Neal E. Boyd will open the 2010-11 Galaxy of Stars Series with a performance 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at the Fine and Performing Arts Center on the Western Carolina University campus.

Opening the show will be WCU musical theater students, under the direction of program head Bradley Martin, performing selections from “I Love a Piano,” an Irving Berlin revue, and “Seven Deadly Sins,” an exploration of good and evil.

Boyd grew up overweight, biracial and bullied in a single-parent, financially stressed home in rural Missouri. Opera dropped into his life unexpectedly when a school project required his brother to listen to the Three Tenors.

“The moment I heard Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Jose Carreras, they just blew me away,” said Boyd, also a tenor, who as a youngster already was a fan of popular music.

Boyd performed throughout his childhood, college years at the University of Missouri, where he studied music and graduated in 2001, and beyond. As an adult, he always kept a day job; he was an insurance salesman when he began appearing on “America’s Got Talent,” a reality show on NBC television where contestants compete for a million-dollar prize and a show as the headliner on the Las Vegas Strip.

He released his debut album, “My American Dream” from Decca Records, in 2009, with selections that ranged from popular to show tunes to opera to hymns. In March, Boyd performed for Barack Obama when the president visited Missouri.

This is the sixth season of Galaxy of Stars performances, featuring world-class theater, music and dance staged in the FAPAC and presented by the College of Fine and Performing Arts. The second performance of the season is Friday, Sept. 24, by the Hunt Family, a mother, father and seven children who perform Irish dance and play original, Celtic, bluegrass, inspirational and popular tunes.

Ticket prices for the Boyd performance, sponsored by Holiday Inn Express in Dillsboro, are $25 for adults; $20 for people 60 years and older and WCU faculty and staff; $15 per person for groups of 15 or more; and $5 for students and children. Subscriptions for the entire Galaxy of Stars Series still are available and cost $130 ($40 for students and children).

828.227.2479 or

A $300,000 federal grant awarded to three community colleges will help ready a Western North Carolina workforce for the rapidly growing green technology field.

Some 400 students are expected to enroll in programs supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission grant at Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges.

Since 1998, clean energy jobs in North Carolina have grown by over 15 percent, while jobs in other fields have increased by only 6 percent. Officials say focusing on green job training is already a must in preparing students headed into the working world.

“It is incredibly important for the future of our state and country,” said Janet Burnette, interim president at Southwestern Community College.

Donna Tipton-Rogers, Tri-County college’s president, said this particular field was especially relevant with Murphy located close to major auto manufacturers in the South.

“It fits in great,” said Tipton-Rogers.

At a press conference held at Western Carolina University last week, the $300,000 check was officially presented to the Southwestern Planning & Economic Development Commission, which will work with the community colleges to develop the training program.

Rose Johnson, president of HCC, said the ARC money would be put to work as soon as the next semester begins. In all, $794,000 will be invested in the green training initiative, with local sources making up the difference.

The Appalachian Regional Commission works to promote economic development in 13 Appalachian states.

With a persistently high unemployment rate in the area, ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl pointed out the important role of higher education in bringing prosperity here.

“In an economic recession, one point that always comes out is the level of education has a direct impact on the level of income,” said Gohl. “It’s essential for a competitive workforce to be well-trained and well-educated.”

U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler emphasized the importance of not only creating green technology, but also creating the workforce necessary to implement it locally.

“We develop it, we produce it, we sell it — all in America,” said Shuler.

Governor Bev Perdue added that the grant would help bring Western North Carolina jobseekers up to speed.

“The world has morphed,” said Perdue. “We have a really deep and abiding commitment to going green.”

Green funding for colleges

The $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant will help three community colleges expand training in green jobs. Here are some ideas on how they plan to use it:

• Haywood Community College plans to use its share of the grant to fund equipment and instruction for low impact development, green building technology and weatherization.

• Southwestern Community College will focus on low impact development, alternative fuels, weatherization and sustainable energy.

• Tri-County Community College will invest its grant on teaching students to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.

Western Carolina University hopes to create a new commercial hub to bolster life on campus and serve the larger Cullowhee community.

The university wants to carve out 35 acres from the main campus to create a “Town Center.” Building sites would be leased to restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores — and ideally even a specialty-style grocery store, according to WCU Chancellor John Bardo.

As the name implies, Town Center could fill a void in Cullowhee’s current makeup.

Convincing businesses and developers to come to Cullowhee at set up shop in the new Town Center will obviously be the biggest challenge, especially given the economy. Private investors willing to wade into the commercial marketplace are testing the water cautiously and choosing their new ventures wisely.

But not to worry, Bardo said.

“All economic downturns sooner or later go away, and this one will as well,” Bardo said.

A conceptual vision for Town Center was unveiled at a meeting last week as part of a pitch by the university community to the nearby town of Forest Hills to expand its town limits. Being part of an incorporated town is essential to pulling off the Town Center development, according to Bardo (see related article).

Far from being an actual plan, the illustrations were merely intended to sell people on an example of what Town Center “could be,” said Chadwick Roberson, an architect and principal at PBCL Architecture.

The university’s next step is to hire a consulting firm that would delve into specifics: what exactly would buildings look like, how would they be laid out, what types of businesses would be recruited, and so on.

Bardo envisions a mixed-use development with condos as well as shops. Town Center may house a few university functions, like the graduate school or admissions office. But there would be no classroom buildings or dorms, for example.

Bardo said the university would ask Forest Hills to adopt wholesale the university’s design for Town Center. A blanket approval for Town Center as a “planned unit development” within Forest Hills would be good for 20 years, eliminating the need for each new business or building to get individual approval from the town.

Curt Collins, owner of a small organic farm in Cullowhee called Avant Garden, questioned whether the Town Center would become a repository for corporate chain stores.

“I don’t want to see Applebee’s or Chili’s or even McDonald’s,” said Collins said.

Bardo countered that those may be precisely the businesses that could afford to build stores and pay rent, and so barring them from Town Center would be unwise.

“We wouldn’t do that. We couldn’t agree to that as a university,” Bardo said.

A meeting that could lead to a completely new personality for the Cullowhee area will be finished by the time this hits the presses, but I’m hoping that the meeting gives fresh momentum to efforts to transform the Western Carolina University community.

A meeting was held last night (Aug. 3) between the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE) and the leaders and citizens of the town of Forest Hills. The Cullowhee group presented a formal proposal to Forest Hills to annex a portion of the community near the college. The move would effectively create a college town, putting portions of the Cullowhee community into the Forest Hills town limits. The move could pave the way for alcohol sales in bars and restaurants, and would offer strong land-use planning and access to state and federal grant money.

Such a move would be a stretch for both Forest Hills and the university community. Forest Hills has only 347 registered voters and was created as an enclave from the university. It is a haven where residents try to keep out some of the problems associated with college students, like loud parties and single-family residences crowded with 10 students and 10 cars parked in the street and yard.

Annexing around the university would give Forest Hills control of its destiny. It could create commercial and residential areas, working with the university as it plans for growth and change. There are lots of examples — Chapel Hill (UNC), Boone (ASU) and Greenville (ECU) — of small North Carolina towns working hand-in-hand with the local universities to create unique, livable and cool college towns. This is an opportunity to start down a similar path.

For many WCU professors and administrators, creating a lively business district around the college has been a long-time dream. Brian Railsback, an English professor and head of the Honors College, said he envisions old Cullowhee with new businesses and walkways and paths along the Tuckasegee River. Almost everyone who has ever spent time at WCU has had similar thoughts, imagining what old Cullowhee could be with some fresh investment and new businesses.

There is apparently a lot of support from the university for incorporating areas around WCU. The college town feel would certainly help attract students and professors, along with giving Jackson County and Forest Hills new sources of sales tax money.

In the end, this is really about fulfilling potential that has languished for decades. Forest Hills, WCU and the larger Cullowhee community are great places just as they are. But they could be much, much more. Here’s hoping this new dialogue opens some doors that have been shut for way too long.

To help offset the impact of budget cuts recently authorized by the N.C. General Assembly, Western Carolina University will raise in-state undergraduate tuition and fees by 17.5 percent effective for the fall semester.

University of North Carolina system President Erskine Bowles approved the plan Wednesday, July 14. A special provision of the state budget allows UNC campuses to increase tuition by as much as $750 for the 2010-11 academic year, a measure intended to help address a $70 million cut to the UNC system’s budget.

Western Carolina’s plan would raise tuition by $572.80 for 2010-11, in addition to a $137 increase in campus-initiated tuition previously approved by the UNC Board of Governors.

The tuition increase will maintain a quality student academic experience at WCU and will generate about $3.8 million, said Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance.

Eighty percent of the increase – or $3.1 million – will be used to prevent the loss of 32.2 faculty positions at WCU.

Another 20 percent will go to need-based financial aid, Wooten said.

But WCU is not alone in tuition increases. All campuses in the UNC system are raising tuition.

UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State University both had supplemental tuition increases of $750 in addition to campus initiated tuition increases.

Bowles said additional tuition charges are the only way the system can maintain quality.

“I have long prided myself in being a ‘low-tuition guy.’ A supplemental tuition increase of up to $750 certainly flies in the face of that,” Bowles said. “Nonetheless, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that low tuition without high quality is no bargain for anyone – not our students, their future employers or the state taxpayers. To compete successfully for the jobs of tomorrow, North Carolina must have a highly trained, highly skilled workforce.”

A comparison to public peer institutions nationally, conducted using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, ranked WCU as having the lowest tuition and fees for resident undergraduate and graduate students in 2009-10.

“This is a difficult decision,” WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “However, even with this increase, our overall tuition rates will be low compared to our public peer institutions and other UNC campuses similar to us in size and mission.”

In response to budget cuts and reversions last year, Western Carolina eliminated or froze 94 positions – primarily in administrative areas, Bardo said.

“It is critical that we preserve our core programs, retain our outstanding faculty members, minimize the impact of cuts on class size and class availability, and provide critical student support,” Bardo said.

Typically, students would begin receiving bills for the fall semester later this week. Because of the recent changes, billing for fall 2010 semester will be delayed to allow time for adjustments in financial aid packages, said Nancy S. Brendell, WCU bursar.

Electronic notifications for billing will be sent on Friday, July 23. Students should make full payment by Aug. 13 to guarantee their class schedules.

For more information, visit

A semiformal gala featuring red carpets, bright lights, gallery openings and a Gershwin musical is planned for Friday, Oct. 22, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Western Carolina’s Fine and Performing Art Center.

The venue had its grand opening in October 2002 with a performance by comedian Jay Leno.

Since then, more than 100,000 visitors have passed through the doors of the Fine and Performing Arts Center, which is home to WCU’s Fine Art Museum. The center has hosted events ranging from sellout performances of music, drama and dance to visual arts, music and drama festivals for Western North Carolina children.

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