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New WCU boss calls for strategic plan



7/20/2011 - New WCU boss calls for strategic plan
by Jon Ostendorff - Asheville Citizen Times

Western Carolina University's new Chancellor has a plan - to make Western North Carolina a hub for opportunity!

              ASHEVILLE -- Western Carolina University must focus on the needs of the region and the state and find opportunities where it can make a difference, its new leader said Tuesday.

 To get there, said Chancellor David O. Belcher, WCU will need input from a diverse group of students, faculty, staff and the public.

He plans to announce a yearlong strategic planning process Aug. 17 at his opening university address.

Belcher, who is starting his first year as WCU's top leader, isn't under any assumptions that North Carolina will have extra money to make the plan a reality. The plan must also take into account funding, he said.

Lawmakers cut the university system by $414 million this year, which has meant a 16.4 percent budget reduction at WCU. Some students may not graduate on time because of fewer offerings of required courses.

"We cannot be all things to all people," Belcher said in a meeting with the Citizen-Times editorial board. "We simply don't have the resources."

But what WCU can do, he said, is figure out where it fits. He hopes to have a final draft of the strategic plan to WCU trustees by June.

This will be the third time Belcher has worked on a strategic plan. He was part of two such efforts at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, where he was provost. He finished the last one just days before leaving for his new job at WCU.

At Little Rock, the most recent strategic plan resulted in five goals including student success, external community partnerships and a focus on doctorial research.

He said he's going into this process with an open mind and expects that some aspects, such as success of students, might be similar but most will be tailored to WCU and the needs in Western North Carolina and the state.

Two key ideas set under the previous administration will be under review, he said.

The Millennial Campus initiative, for example, will have a study commission to make sure resources are targeted to the most critical needs.

The campus was to be a technology-driven center, akin to Research Triangle Park in the Raleigh-Durham area, on 344 acres across N.C. 107 from the main campus. Construction is already underway with a new $46.2 million health and human sciences building.

The Town Center, which could accommodate as much as 270,000 square feet of commercial, housing and office space on the new campus, will also be reviewed.

The idea is to create a college-town-style Main Street on the Millennial Campus. WCU, which has about 9,00 0 students, would provide the design it wants, list services it needs and hire a developer to build the project.

Outgoing WCU Chancellor John Bardo drew criticism two years ago when he told faculty that the Town Center might have chain stores, such as a Barnes & Noble or a Moe's Southwest Grill.

There are few businesses around the campus now. Students during hearings with trustees on selecting a new chancellor cited a lack of amenities.

Belcher said he wants development to come to the area around campus but he's not sure yet what it should look like. He said amenities for students, their families and alumni are important.

But, he said, the bottom-line is that money is tight and WCU must spend its resources wisely.

"We have to be very careful in terms of making sure that we are focusing on not just anything that comes along that might be a great idea but what really is sort of at the heart of the university's mission and core," he said.

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