I hope you had a good break. Several things have happened at the end of the semester of which I thought I should make you aware.
On the day before graduation, we closed on the 280 acre parcel that will constitute the bulk of the Millennium Campus. The accumulated total land area now added to the campus for this purpose is slightly over 344 acres. These acquisitions more than double the size of the campus.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Tom McClure for staying with this project over the course of five years. Bringing this project to closure was very difficult, involving court actions and lengthy negotiations. Without his perseverance we would not be in the position that we are today.
Because of the importance of this project to the future of the University and the region, there will be a major program and announcement in February. An invitation will be sent to the campus so that interested individuals can attend.
We will publicly kick off our planning process for the Millennium Initiative at that time. Eva Klein and Associates will help lead development of the plan. I have begun having conversations with organizations such as Advantage West and the State Department of Transportation to begin the development of partnerships that are necessary to bring a project of this magnitude to fruition. Please understand that this is a long-term project that may take twenty or more years to complete. However, it is a very important part of our development plan for the University, and it has the potential to have a profound effect on the future of this region.
I hope that you will attend the February meeting and that you will take part in discussions regarding this important development stage in the future of this institution.
I have also established the Chancellor’s Internal Advisory Committee on Economic Development which is charged with assisting the Chancellor in creating Western Carolina University’s regional economic development strategy including the Millennium Initiative. The committee is expected to help further develop and refine our institutional frameworks for commercialization and regional capacity building. A key deliverable of this committee will be a series of white papers on issues, constraints, and opportunities for economic growth in our region.
I also wanted to make you aware that Western has received full funding for four endowed professorships for which we will seek approval and matching funds from the state. The gifts in-hand total more than $1.25 million. The state will match approved professorships on a dollar for dollar rate bringing the total value to $2.5 million. We will announce these professorships this spring once each is approved by the Office of the President. This will bring the total number of state-recognized endowed professorships to 12.
We have worked with the affected departments regarding three of the professorships. The fourth professorship could be placed in any of several departments. This is a professorship in Regional Development with an emphasis in tourism and entrepreneurship. I will ask Provost Carter to put together a multidisciplinary search committee to seek candidates once the plan for this position is approved and funded by the Office of the President.
SPA Salary Adjustments
Earlier in the year, Vice Chancellor Wooten and I identified $125,000 to be used for the purpose of SPA salary adjustments. A salary study of SPA employees has just been completed and the adjustments for those individuals who are eligible will be included in the January paychecks retroactive to July 1, 2004. I want to thank the Staff Forum for their recommendations and assistance with the salary study. As the legislature convenes this month, I will continue to press for support for increased salaries for university employees.
Budget, Tuition and the Legislative Session
If you have been following the news clips, you realize that Board of Governors Chairman Wilson has called for a freeze on tuition and he has asked the Board of Governors to look closely at its tuition policy. This discussion is in its early stages and I will keep you informed regarding any changes.
The legislative session also promises to be complex. The state revenues are increasing, but the one-time funds that were available to support last year’s budget have been used up. Additionally, the hurricane damage was very significant and it will play a role in the budgeting process.
With all of this in mind, I want to make you aware that we have several key priorities on which we are going to work: 1) full funding for enrollment growth; 2) salaries for all employees; 3) fringe benefits; and 4) full-funding for the inter-institutional health initiative (including our School of Health and Gerontological Sciences).
Regardless of the outcome of the legislative processes or the decisions regarding tuition, we need to have a coherent budget plan. This year, I will try a somewhat different process to see if we can make the budgeting process “more transparent.” I will work over the next several weeks with a “Budget Policy Advisory Committee” composed of Provost Carter, Vice Chancellor Wooten, Executive Council, the SGA President, and the chairs of the various advisory groups (Staff Forum, UAC, and Faculty Senate). The purpose of this group will be to advise me on institutional preferences regarding the distribution of discretionary funds. I will ask them to discuss such issues as the balance needed between new SPA positions and the need for promotion and in-range funding. I also will request that they give me feedback on major concerns with infrastructure and equipment. This will be a free-flowing discussion and a summary of the key points will be published for the campus after each meeting.
This group will not be involved in individual budget decisions, those will go through normal channels. The purpose of the committee is to help me understand more fully the broad policy questions that we should be addressing with the budgeting process.
The review for our reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is underway. The review presents a critical opportunity for us to chart Western’s future and to capitalize on our outstanding accomplishments related to student enrollment, new educational offerings, campus construction projects, faculty initiatives, technology, distance education and our service to our region. Campus committees with representatives from across the university are being formed to conduct the internal analysis of our performance relative to the areas identified by SACS.
The SACS Review is being directed by Carol Burton, currently director of Western’s Teaching Fellows Program. I hope you will provide your support to her and to the reaffirmation of accreditation process.
For the spring term, Western continued to see enrollment growth over past spring semesters. As of January 19, there were 7,771 students enrolled for classes representing an increase of 9.6% over last spring term when 7,026 students enrolled for classes. Undergraduates comprise 6,267 students, an increase of 10.1% over last spring term. Graduates comprise 1,504 students, an increase of 7.6% over last spring term.
Again, I hope that you had a restful break and that you have a great start to your semester.