The move is not a negative reflection on board members’ contributions over the years, said Chancellor Kelli Brown, but is rather an attempt to better leverage their talents and enthusiasm for the good of the university.
“Western’s alumni and friends have a long tradition of supporting the university not only through financial contributions, but also by giving of their time and talent,” she said in an emailed statement. “Going forward, our alumni and friends will continue to assist by connecting us with employers for internships and job opportunities, advocacy and philanthropy in support of our students, academic programs and co-curricular activities. This will result in the type of meaningful interactions with the university that our alumni and friends have told us they desire.”
Then-Chancellor David O. Belcher created the 30-member Board of Visitors in 2014 to serve as an advisory board to the chancellor. Members were to serve as advocates and ambassadors for the university; support its mission, vision and strategic plan; make it a philanthropic priority; and provide the chancellor and trustees with advice on critical issues.
“We began a year ago thinking about the purpose of the Board of Visitors,” Interim Vice Chancellor for Advancement Jamie Raynor told the trustees’ Committee for Administration and Trusteeship June 5. “I don’t bring this to you lightly.”
However, said Raynor, membership has decreased as members have resigned, come up against term limits or received appointments to other boards, and meeting attendance has declined as well. As of March 2020, the board had 23 members in addition to the five ex-officio members, and of the 23 only 17 were considered to be regularly active members. That number was likely to dwindle further over the summer due to term limits requiring additional members to roll off on June 30. Twenty of the 23 members attended the October 2019 meeting, and the same went for the April 2019 meeting. The meeting before that, in October 2018, drew only 16 members.
During the October 2019 meeting, Brown, Division of Advancement staff and other university leaders discussed the issue with Board of Visitors members.
“It became evident that they all hold an immense amount of professional knowledge, diverse skills and great pride for WCU,” said Raynor. “It also was clear that the areas in which they are passionate are varied and span across all areas of the university.”
According to draft minutes from the October 2019 meeting, the conversation began when Board of Visitors Member Mark Benge asked Brown how she planned to use the board within her administration.
“The BOV was started by Dr. Belcher. Will it continue?” Benge asked, the draft minutes show. “What changes will you plan on making to the BOV?”
Brown then replied that the university needs to figure out how best to utilize the board and that she has been looking to see how similar bodies are used at other institutions.
“We can make this group whatever we want it to be,” she is paraphrased as saying in the draft minutes. “WCU is exploring the possibility of creating a new position for Alumni Affinity programs. The Board of Visitors are like the university’s messengers. WCU needs to provide members talking points so members have WCU information to talk to others about.”
She then asked members what they most want to do as a board. The question drew a variety of answers, ranging from advocacy to interaction with students and professors to acting as an ambassador for the university. Some board members noted that the board has a lot of talent to offer but that it is not being utilized and that re-engaging board members should be a goal, the draft minutes said.
“After meetings between WCU administration and the Board of Visitors leadership, we were all in agreement that disbanding the Board of Visitors was in the best interest of the university and the members of the Board of Visitors,” Board of Visitors President Bruce Moore said in an email. “Most of the board members have already been placed on other boards that better fit their skill set.”
As of July 1, former Board of Visitors members are serving WCU by sitting on the Foundation Board of Directors, Catamount Club Board of Directors, and various college and department advisory boards.