Editorial: Don’t beat up Belcher

As I’ve been following and writing articles on the program prioritization recommendation list for nearly the entire summer, I have noticed several themes from this whole process.

First, I can safely say I never want to see the words “program” or “prioritization” again.

Secondly, I believe the reaction toward Chancellor David O. Belcher from alumni and students is a bit too harsh.

Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly agree that cutting 10 programs was not only a shock but unfair. Aside from the high number of cuts, some of the lost programs, like women’s studies, were a controversial move on Belcher’s part. For the past several weeks, I have read the multiple comments found on The Western Carolinian’s Facebook page as students and alumni rallied in outrage over the loss of several education programs, a foreign language program and the only gender studies offered at Western Carolina University. I support most of these comments as well. Alumni should stand up for their alma mater and feel free to express their concern, praise or disapproval of where the University is heading. They are the ones who send checks, cheer for various athletic teams and encourage future college students to check out WCU. Their voices are just as important as current students, faculty and staff, if not more so because they can look back and reflect on what Western Carolina was when they were students.

While interviewing the various program leaders before the announced cuts, they all stood firmly in the belief that their program would be saved for any number of valid reasons. In fact, I had never heard such passion in an interview from previous years. Their quotes speak of the caliber of employees that Western Carolina has brought to its doorstep. Who wants to take a class with a professor who won’t fight for the subject he or she is teaching? However, the bottom line was that the numbers didn’t add up.

Now, before we all storm over to the H. F. Robinson Administration Building with torches, scythes and pitchforks to demand justice, take a moment to consider this! While Belcher called the shots, his hands were tied. All of the blame should not fall in the Chancellor’s lap when it is partly the fault of today’s students. Belcher stressed repeatedly in his final report that Western Carolina needed to focus on enrollment rates, and when looking at the programs, he saw very little interest in the 10 he cut. With the state’s budget the way it is, Belcher can only pull so many rabbits out of a hat, so he made the tough choices for the betterment of the University. Isn’t it better to cut programs that receive little student interest than registered student organizations or funding for groups that help students like the Counseling Center? To make up for the state’s lack of support for education, the University needs to focus on the enrollment and retention rates that Belcher discussed. This means that programs with low numbers don’t have a leg to stand on.

This brings up the question: why aren’t students interested in seeking master’s degrees in education? Why is women’s studies ignored by our society? I highly doubt it’s because WCU is offering less than superb programs in these areas, so it brings to light extremely complicated questions of today’s society and how students perceive education. Could tuition rates across the nation be too high for them to even consider continuing their education? Suddenly, teachers are facing the harsh truth that master’s degrees hold little merit for them. Do students believe that women’s studies and foreign languages like German aren’t worth their time? The issue extends much further and deeper than the assumption that Belcher doesn’t care about education programs or disregarding WCU’s original identity as a “teacher’s school.”

While the news of the lost programs is hard to swallow, I would like to take a stand for Belcher’s sake. So far, he has proven himself to not only be a strong and worthy chancellor, but he also connects with the students on a personal level by interacting with them on a regular basis in many types of settings. He must have lost sleep over this decision, but his reasoning is sound and backed up by the financial strain of the state’s budget cuts.

If you want to rally and pick a fight, I suggest a strongly worded letter campaign to our state representatives and local government so that Belcher never has to make decisions like this again. Personally, I’d much rather write a headline reading, “Chancellor approves 10 new programs at WCU.”