Thank you all for being here today. You were invited here to help us mark a defining moment in the history of our institution. Today begins The Millennial Initiative.
In many ways, it also represents the culmination of a 115 year journey by this University that began in a two-room school house on a hill in the southern Appalachians.
I want to start my remarks today by quoting the opening paragraph of Curtis Wood's and Tyler Blethen's 1989 history of the University because I think that it is important that we set a context for today's discussion:
In early August 1889 a young Virginia school teacher assembled his eighteen students in a simple frame structure in the Cullowhee Valley community of Painter. The building where the school met was designed to have two rooms but as yet had no partitions. It was unpainted and unfurnished except for a few long benches and a blackboard. It was not the teacher's first class of students nor was it the first session of the small academy. But in a real sense it was a true beginning, for the teacher had found a home for his vision, a vision of a school to prepare teachers for rural and village classrooms. In later years he would call it “the Cullowhee Idea.” In the context of the state of educational needs and resources at the end of the 19 th century, his classroom would have an influence far beyond the small community that it first served. In the century to follow, the mountain school would influence the development of teacher training, pioneer the idea of the regional university, and touch the lives of many thousands of people.”
I read you this paragraph because it is Robert Lee Madison's conception of the “Cullowhee Idea” that is at the heart of today's meeting. Madison understood that people supported education for a purpose. The people of the valley who brought Madison to the mountains did so because of their abiding “spirit of progress, ambition, and change for themselves and their children.” And, it is in that spirit that we are here today.
What is the essence of the Cullowhee Idea? Education is here to serve the needs of the people. At the time of the founding of the University, those needs were mostly focused on classical education and teacher training. As time moved forward, the needs broadened and the institution responded by adding programs in the arts and sciences, business, technology, health and other applied sciences. The curriculum changed, the students changed, but the core concept remained intact: Western was here to support the needs of the people for a relevant, current education that promoted their economic, social, and cultural welfare.
Today we gather to celebrate the Cullowhee Idea and to share with you the next steps in its implementation. We are calling it the “Millennial Initiative.” This initiative is squarely based in Western's tradition, but at the same time, it reflects the current, and we hope future, needs of the people we serve.
First, you should be aware that this initiative is the result of a great deal of work by many people over the last ten years. Faculty, staff, and students have come together to build a strong university in Cullowhee rooted in the notion that the best education for the 21 st century involves linking high quality educational practice to the real needs of people in the region and state. So, relevant, high quality education is the single most important component of the “Millennial Initiative.”
Second, through the Millennial Initiative, Western is renewing its commitment to the people of the Western region of North Carolina to promote their economic wellbeing.
In 2000, the people of North Carolina passed the largest bond issue to support higher education in the history of the country. During the campaign for that bond issue, I heard from the people of the mountains—from Rutherfordton, to Asheville , to Murphy— a common concern and desire. They wanted their children to be able to live in their communities and not have to leave the mountains to find high paying jobs. On behalf of Western, I pledged that we would do everything in our power to make that possible if the people would provide the resources we needed to support the education of their students. They responded and every county in the mountains voted for the bond issue. The Millennial Initiative is an effort by Western to keep its promise. Through this concerted effort we will continue to try to position the University to help bring good jobs to the mountains so that our children can stay here, our families can remain strong, and our communities can prosper.
Now, I want to share with you the key elements of what we are attempting to develop with this initiative.
First, today we are publicly announcing that Western has purchased an additional 344 acres contiguous to parts of the current campus. This land runs approximately from the Cullowhee Airport to the part of campus that houses NCCAT. Much of this land can be built on and it will provide important expansion potential for traditional university teaching, research, and service activities for years to come.
Second, today we are formally beginning the public process of planning for the potential designation of part of the land as a “Millennium Campus.” Please understand, this is not an announcement of a Millennium Campus. That designation is the result of an involved planning process that must culminate in approval and designation by the Board of Governors. However, for us to effectively plan for a Millennium Campus, we need to engage many people in the process and conversation. We need to hear from community leaders, business leaders, and campus constituencies so that we can understand both their dreams for such a campus and the likely realities. The plan must be both realistic and focused. At the same time, it needs to carry a vision of what is possible here in the mountains.
To assist us with this process of planning, we have engaged two firms: Eva Klein and Associates will assist us in developing the conceptual and marketing plans for the campus and Woolpert and Associates will assist us in preparing the master plan. Leading the internal team that will work on developing the concept is Dr. Paul Evans, director of the Center for Regional Development. Paul, who is a Western alum, joined us last year and he has begun to assemble a very strong team of faculty and staff to support regional development.
Once we have developed the plan, we will submit it to the Board of Governors for consideration and possible approval. Once approval has been gained, we will begin formal development of the Millennium Campus.
What is a Millennium Campus? Well, some of you may be familiar with university technology parks. You also may be familiar with the Centennial Campus at NC State. The Millennium Campus will be related to these types of concepts but it will have some very strong differences. Foremost among these differences is that the mix of specific activities will reflect both Western's mission and location.
Legislation for the Millennium Campus was originally authored on this campus by Tom McClure . UNC modified the legislation and made it applicable to all campuses in the system. I am pleased to say that it received full bi-partisan support in both houses and it was approved by Governor Hunt. The Millennium Campus legislation allows universities to enter into public-private partnerships with businesses that support development of the University while promoting economic development. We might, for example, encourage businesses to locate on the campus that link to our engineering and technology, molecular sciences, forensic sciences, health, or computer science programs. We are looking for a mix of activities—involving housing, services, and academic functions—to support development of the campus and the region.
Should the legislature approve funds to construct our new health and gerontology building, it will be located on the Millennium Campus with the expectation that it will draw around it health-related businesses that find it advantageous to be near a university.
So, as you see, planning for a potential Millennium Campus is a very important component of the Millennial Initiative, but it is only one component.
The Millennial Initiative represents a different way of thinking about the university. It involves looking at the institution's entire master plan to allow development of “neighborhoods of interest” in which educational and outreach programs are co-located to promote and improve the education of the student while supporting development of the region. We are trying to create logical linkages so that our students not only learn in the classroom, but they are able to effectively apply that learning to real problems in business, social services, science, health, technology, and education.
Through the Millennial Initiative, we will be celebrating the engagement of our faculty, staff, and students with the communities in the western region to promote their welfare and quality of life. A campus is a part of the equation, but high quality engagement is at its center. Engagement with the region is the essential characteristic of the Cullowhee Idea and it is embodied in the Millennial Initiative.
Finally, I think that it is important that we recognize that the Millennial Initiative is not just focused on economic development. Economic development is a tool to promote and retain a high quality of life in the mountains. We know that as the world changes our students and the people of the mountains will need to be able to change with it. So, the Millennial Initiative includes a strong emphasis on excellent basic education in the arts and sciences and it celebrates both the cultural and artistic history of the peoples of this region.
Through the arts and sciences and the fine and performing arts, students develop strong intellectual and cultural skills that can lead them to both understand the world in which they live and to adapt to changing times.
So, planning a possible Millennium Campus will formally begin today. We hope that you will agree to take part in focus groups, public meetings, and discussions regarding the potential for such a campus. At the same time, I hope that you will take part in furthering the broader Millennial Initiative to assure that this defining moment in our history will continue our tradition of service to the people that is embodied in the Cullowhee Idea.