Chancellor search committee hears from UNC System President-elect, campus

Tom Ross, President-elect of the UNC System, has one simple requirement for the committee tasked with helping find the next chancellor of Western Carolina University—deliver him a superhero.

Ross used the words “Superman” and “Superwoman” in summarizing his desired characteristics and qualifications for WCU’s new chancellor on Nov. 16 in a message to the 16-member chancellor search committee—made up of members of the WCU Board of Trustees and faculty, student, staff, alumni and community representatives—as part of a series of meetings seeking input from the campus community on what they would like to see in WCU’s new chancellor. Ross told members of the group that their task in the weeks ahead was the most important thing they would ever do for Western Carolina and specified characteristics he believes are important for WCU’s incoming chancellor. John W. Bardo announced last month he is stepping down on June 30 after 15 years as chancellor.

“What I am looking for, first and foremost, is a leader with integrity,” Ross said. “It is critical to this institution, it is critical to the University of North Carolina system, and it is critical to this region that the leader be a person of integrity.”

Other characteristics he believes are important for WCU’s incoming chancellor are: an understanding of the university’s mission; an ability to work in the complex environment of higher education; a leadership style that is transparent and inclusive; exceptional people skills and ability to communicate with students, faculty, staff, alumni, local leaders and state officials; comprehension of UNC Tomorrow, the long-range strategic plan that addresses North Carolina’s needs and how its public universities can help meet those needs; knowledge of the role of higher education in economic development and in a civil society, and the specific role that WCU has played in serving the Western North Carolina region; willingness to help in fundraising; and appreciation of the changing demographics and the value of diversity.

“It’s probably best summarized as Superman or Superwoman, and all I am asking you to do is get them to me by July 1,” he said.

Ross thinks the committee should find a leader who also will be an advocate for those who work at the university.

“In today’s University of North Carolina, we are not able to do what we really should be able to do to reward faculty and staff for the work that they do. If it were not for committed people at this place who are going into the classroom every day teaching, who are providing the support for students through student life, through the business office, through the admissions department, everywhere on this campus, if it wasn’t for their commitment, we wouldn’t make it,” Ross said. “A chancellor has to understand that and has to value those people and, within whatever restrictions he or she has, make life as pleasant and as good as possible.”

On Monday, Nov. 22, the committee heard from WCU students, faculty, staff and local community members on their hopes for Bardo’s successor in forums held in the campus theatre from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The faculty and staff, whose forums were at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively, stressed that the new chancellor should make transparent financial decisions in the wake of state budget cuts and preserve the school’s commitment to academics.

“What we’d like to know is that we are on the same journey,” said Leroy Kauffman,head of the Department of Accounting, Finance, Information Systems, and Economics. “One of the intangibles for a faculty member is to know we are suffering together. We know how much of our respective department’s budget has been cut, but it’s not always easy to find what other cuts have been made. We need a chancellor who is transparent and has integrity.”

Dr. Mark Loyd, head of the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resources, and Anna McFadden, director of Educational Leadership and Foundations, agreed.

“If cuts are made, we would like to know they’re even,” Loyd said.

McFadden added, “I would like the person coming in to look at the funding model—what’s coming in and how it should it be allocated.”

Many also wished that the man or woman who takes over at Western Carolina have a sense of the area and acquire the unique cultural and environmental aspects of the region so he or she can relate to the people and understand what makes Cullowhee.

“I would like to see a chancellor who can make a connection to Cullowhee and be excited to be here,” said Gibbs Knotts, head of the Political Science department. “I know it is highly unlikely that we will find someone from Western North Carolina, but if the new chancellor can realize why most of us love Cullowhee and don’t want to leave, they won’t want to leave either.”

Maryann Peterson, assistant director of the WCU Writing Center, echoed his sediments.

“We need someone who can see the potential in our backyard,” Peterson said.

The discussion transitioned from what the campus community would like to see in Western’s new chancellor to the hope of what the chancellor could accomplish at the 3 p.m. student forum. Students expressed their want for a chancellor who will consider environmental sustainability in building new parts of campus and realize that college is more than the classroom, requesting more activities to keep students on campus and also better dining options.

“With the focus the past few years being on expanding campus, I would like to see the new chancellor have a strong environmental outlook,” said graduate student Vincent Gendusa. “The university needs to make sure they are not hurting our local habitat. We also need healthier dining options.”

Jared Hopkins, Vice President of the Student Government Association, wants a chancellor who will connect with students.

“I think we should have a chancellor that is outgoing and gets a grasp of the community,” Hopkins said. “He or she should also engage students and create a university-wide emphasis on the importance of a student as an individual.”

Senior Tucker Horne, who is also the station manager for WCU’s student operated television station, feels like, “a lot of the students really don’t enjoy this campus.” He hoped the new chancellor would encourage changes in the athletic department.

“I think if we had students engaged in athletics, that is important to keeping students here on the weekends,” Horne said.

For individuals who could not attend one of the forums, the committee designed a website,, as an additional opportunity for voices to be heard through an online questionnaire. The committee will look at all the feedback they received and meet on Dec. 1 and 6 to develop an official position description and leadership statement for WCU’s new chancellor. After Dec. 6, the committee’s search process enters a “quiet phase” as the executive search firm Baker and Associates begins the process of recruiting, evaluating and screening candidates.

The committee will meet again Jan. 27 to set the format for interviews of prospective candidates, with additional meetings in February and March to narrow the list to between five and 10 candidates, followed by off-site interviews. The goal for the committee is to complete its work and recommend its top choices to the WCU trustees so that the board can forward the names of at least three nominees to Ross, who will present his recommendation to the full UNC Board of Governors for final consideration and approval at its April 8 meeting.