Western Carolina University’s next chancellor is David Belcher, a classically trained pianist who is currently a top administrator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Belcher, 53, will start his appointment July 1. His base salary will be $275,000. Belcher was one of three candidates recommended to UNC system President Tom Ross by the university’s 16-member selection committee. The UNC board of governors last week signed off on Ross’ pick of Belcher, a Barnwell, S.C., native.
The names of the competing candidates were not disclosed.
“David Belcher brings to the task more than two decades of academic and leadership experience at highly respected public universities,” Ross said in a nomination speech streamed live via video from Chapel Hill to WCU. “At each step along the way, he has proven himself to be an energetic and effective leader who encourages strategic thinking, promotes collaboration and inclusiveness, and makes student success a university-wide responsibility.”
Ross said he was convinced Belcher has “the right mix of experience, skills and passion” needed in WCU’s next chancellor.
New chancellor faces challenges
Belcher will replace John Bardo, who, with nearly 16-years as WCU’s chancellor, put a distinctive personal stamp on the university and the surrounding community.
Bardo leaves an “enduring and permanent legacy,” said Steve Warren, chairman of the WCU board of trustees.
Enrollment at WCU went from 6,500 to 9,400 during Bardo’s tenure; buildings —14 — were built or renovated. These include 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.
Additionally, however, Belcher inherits a university facing at least $8.6 million in budget cuts from the state, probably more; and a possible leadership vacuum as six or so of the university’s top administrators — provost and finance chief, among others — have left or retired. Even WCU’s marching band director, Bob Buckner, is leaving after this year.
Joan MacNeill, a member of WCU’s board of trustees, said all three candidates submitted for Ross’ consideration would have been excellent choices to fill the university’s top post.
“We had an impressive group to choose from,” she said.
An opportunity for the arts?
Brad Ulrich, a trumpet professor at WCU, wasn’t much interested in attending the chancellor-naming ceremony last week. He was busy, and there didn’t seem much point to his being there. Then Ulrich heard a rumor: the new chancellor was a classically trained musician. And, a top-drawer one, at that — Belcher went to the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, one of the finest institutions of its kind in the U.S.
“With this kind of leadership, the arts could really explode in this area,” Ulrich said, who is helping lead a push to turn WCU into the first ‘All-Steinway School’ in the University of North Carolina system.
Institutions with this designation use only pianos designed by Steinway & Sons, and such an effort requires WCU to replace 50 or so pianos in the school of music. Since Belcher is a pianist, Ulrich said he hoped and expected the new chancellor would appreciate efforts to bring what many consider the finest-crafted pianos in the world to Cullowhee.
Like Ulrich, Will Peebles, director of the school of music, and Bruce Frazier, who teaches commercial and electronic music, expressed optimism that the arts at WCU and in the community might receive even stronger support. Both men watched the video stream from Chapel Hill after, like Ulrich, learning a musician would become their new boss.
“I’m very excited about the possibility of having someone who is sensitive to the arts, and of the very important role it plays in the community,” Frazier said afterwards, adding he was even more excited about what Belcher’s appointment might mean for WCU’s music students.
And, within minutes of the announcement, word had indeed spread through the music department, and the students seemed suitably impressed by the news.
“I didn’t really know if it would go more toward (supporting) the football program,” said Nicole Segers, a tenor saxophone player from Lexington.
Segers explained she had been concerned that UNC administrative leaders, and the university’s board of trustees, would search for a chancellor with skills to specifically build WCU’s football program, which hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2005.
“I think it is good news,” added Ethan Dyer, a baritone saxophone player from Gastonia, of Belcher’s background in the arts. “Even though Bardo really supported the marching band, the music department seemed overshadowed.”
For his part, however, Belcher said he is a chancellor for “everybody,” and not just a spokesman for the arts.
He emphasized the importance of supporting the football team at WCU, because, he said, that’s a large part of the college experience for students and the community.