“The university needs consistent leadership now. And I can’t promise I can give that, given my age,” said Bardo, who turns 62 this month. “It’s the right time for the university, to have someone else be here to see this next phase through.”
Bardo said he is leaving next summer because WCU has lost or will lose four to six key leadership positions within two years. He said he believes a younger chancellor is needed to shepherd in this next phase for the university, and that his age might diminish the caliber of hires WCU could expect in filling the vacant, or soon-to-vacant, positions. These include the provost (second-in-command) and the university’s vice chancellor of administration and finance.
With his 15 years as WCU’s top leader, Bardo has far exceeded the career span of most university chancellors. The average tenure for a University of North Carolina chancellor is four-and-a-half years; nationally, the average is seven years.
Bardo plans to take a year of research leave before joining the faculty. What exactly he will teach has not been decided, said Bill Studenc, senior director of news services for the university.
“(Bardo) has worked on multiple fronts to establish WCU as a catalyst for sustainable economic development,” said Erskine Bowles, president of the UNC system, who announced his own retirement plans earlier this year. “In the process, the campus has attracted national recognition for its ongoing efforts to incorporate civic engagement and community outreach into the undergraduate experience.”
People surprised by chancellor’s decision
On campus, the reaction of students was more muted.
“It is still Bardo, right?” asked Jordan Driggers, who recently transferred back to WCU after a stint attending N.C. State University in Raleigh. “I knew he was chancellor back then, but I wasn’t sure if it had changed.”
Driggers, a junior majoring in construction management, said he couldn’t foresee that a new chancellor at the university means much for the student body at large.
“He controls certain things. Like tailgating for games,” Driggers said.
Lisa Maddox, a sophomore art major from Rutherford County, said she didn’t know much about Bardo.
“I’ve seen his face a few times, that’s all,” Maddox said.
But staff member Caden Painter, an energy management specialist for the university who grew up in Waynesville, said he was saddened to learn Bardo would step down.
“I’m very surprised,” Painter said. “It was very sudden. I really think he has done a lot of work to put WCU on the map.”
Betty Allen, president of WCU’s alumni association, also hated to hear that Bardo would give up the chancellorship.
“I’m just so appreciative of all he has done for my alma mater,” said Allen, who became a high school teacher after attending WCU.
Looking for another Bardo
Since Bardo became chancellor, student enrollment has grown from 6,500 to more than 9,400.
The university built or made major additions to 14 buildings during that time, including five new residence halls, a dining hall, a campus recreation center, the Fine and Performing Arts Center, and a high-tech Center for Applied Technology. The university expanded its student-union, launched women’s soccer and softball programs, and renovated athletics facilities on campus.
In 2005, the university bought 344 acres of land across N.C. 107 from the main campus as part of the Millennial Initiative. It doubles the size of the campus, though development of the new tract hasn’t started yet.
A news release from WCU issued this week touted the university, under Bardo’s leadership, for gaining national recognition for being among the first in the nation to require incoming students to report to campus with their own computers, and for adopting an innovative tenure policy for faculty that goes beyond being published in academic journals.
The new tenure model is based on a book by Ernest L. Boyer titled, “Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate.” In his work, Boyer proposed scholarship should include discovery, integration, application and teaching.
This pushes a university to become externally engaged with the community it serves, according to advocates, which fits Bardo’s mission over the past 15 years to increase the influence and economic impact of WCU in the region. The next chancellor of the university also must buy-in to the Boyer model, said Warren, the head of WCU’s governing body.
“This will be central to our selection,” he said. “We want to continue the mission of the university as it has been defined by John Bardo and the board of trustees.”
WCU’s rash of retirements
WCU has seen several top leaders retire or move on in the past year, setting the stage for a new era in administration that Chancellor John Bardo believes would be better led by someone else.
Former Provost Kyle Carter became chancellor of UNC-Pembroke on July 1 and has yet to be replaced. Chief finance officer Chuck Wooten is nearing retirement.
Additionally, Rich Kucharski, WCU’s attorney, retired earlier this year. Former assistant legal counsel Mary Ann Lochner replaced him. Pat Brown, dean of educational outreach, also retired earlier this year. Even WCU’s band director is leaving: Bob Buckner, who transformed the university’s marching band into a nationally recognized show-stopping act.