Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Tuckesegee Reader and is republished with permission.
By Giles Morris
Tuckesegee Reader Co-Publisher
CULLOWHEE–– David Belcher, Western Carolina University’s next chancellor, took some time to speak with members of the local media prior to his introduction to the campus community recently.
Belcher fielded questions from the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Smoky Mountain News, The Sylva Herald, and the Tuckasegee Reader.
The result was a far-ranging conversation that touched on his vision for the university, his leadership style, his musical background, and his commitment to inter-collegiate athletics.
On WCU’s situation
“I think that Western’s got a lot of great stuff that’s already gotten started here. There’s momentum. They’ve raised admissions standards. There’s been enrollment growth. And I’m very excited about Western’s commitment to Western North Carolina. That’s really part of its built-in mission… that it will serve the 17 counties in the west of the state. There’s a lot of good things that have evolved from that over recent years, so I think there’s a very good foundation that’s been laid.”
On that state budget crisis
“This is not a North Carolina issue. This is a national issue. Universities across the nation are having to figure out, ‘Okay, here’s where our missions are and here’s where our goals are… what can we do and what can’t we do?’”
On community engagement
“I’ve been involved a lot in my current university doing this very thing, bringing the campus community and the external community together to look at strategic decisions about where the university will go moving forward. I feel like I can bring that here. That’s some experience I bring in engaging all of the constituents in a sort of collective vision.”
On his management style
“I believe in a very collaborative and consultative management style. In the strategic planning processes that I’ve mentioned and also in the budgeting processes that I’ve utilized in my current position in Arkansas, I’ve set up systems that really engage everybody in the decision-making process.”
On inter-collegiate athletics
“I think a strong inter-collegiate athletics program is a key part of campus life… It really helps to ground students in a place. If you look at the national dialogue going on about higher education, one of the things people are really concerned about is how many students actually persist through to graduation. And part of the research indicates that students who are grounded in student life in a place tend to graduate at higher rates, so that’s important.”
On WCU football
“The football program has been struggling here in recent years, and I’m fully committed to working as hard as I can to do whatever I can to help that program turn around. I’ve been spending some time with the athletics people here at Western. They’re committed to that program. We have a new assistant coach coming on staff this year. I know we’ve had a good recruiting season. So I’m very hopeful about it.”
On forming a leadership team
“I will be coming into a leadership situation here with some really good people. There are already some really good people in place. But one of the sort of accidents of fate is that there happen to be several openings simultaneously. So what I anticipate is that we will be going through in the next couple of years some important national searches to bring in some excellent people who fit with Western Carolina University.”
On his performing arts background
“It’s my expertise that I bring to the table. Every single chancellor or president of a university brings something. It’s going to be English here, physics here, psychology or political science here. Mine just happens to be music.”
“My job is to be the chancellor at this institution for all of the disciplines, so I don’t favor one over the other. Of course I have a love. Of course I love music and I love the arts. I come out of that background. And I think they are very important to the life of a university, but I will not favor them.”
On his last piano performance
“The last time I performed a big concert was about a year and a half ago, and I had to get up at four in the morning for 10 weeks in a row to be able to pull it off. I played the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata. I’m a pianist. It’s a fistfull of notes for about 35 minutes.”
“My focus in my job has to be my work as an administrator because that’s what I’ve been hired to do. I find that I miss the piano. I miss performing and occasionally my wife and I will do things like fundraisers for the university.”
Watch video highlights from the interview at the Tuckesegee Reader.