The UNC system Board of Governors is scheduled to vote on the matter during its April meeting.
WCU Chancellor David Belcher recently told his Board of Trustees that the proposal’s chances look good.
“I’ve gotten no negative pushback on that whatsoever,” Belcher said during a trustees meeting in March.
The WCU trustees endorsed a proposal in late 2012 to lease the 344-acre tract to its endowment fund for 99 years for the amount of $1. The move was in line with the Millennial Initiative the university had initiated a few years prior.
“As we begin to enter into agreements with partners in the Millennial Initiative, this would provide us with the speed and flexibility we need to meet the expectations of potential partners who would like to develop projects with us,” Joan McNeill, former chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, said at the time.
The Millennial Initiative is WCU’s strategic effort to connect the worlds of education and business, of public and private. Faculty and students would theoretically learn through hands-on experience with research firms, health care clinics and start-up companies.
Such a public-private campus is not unique to Cullowhee — both North Carolina State University and UNC-Charlotte have them. This type of model was authorized when the N.C. General Assembly passed the Millennial Campus Act in 2000.
WCU would also not be the only university to lease tracts to an endowment fund. The arrangement shelters the activity conducted on such campuses from the public eye, offering businesses the privacy desired.
Also, as a state entity, the university would have more permits and regulations to abide by than the endowment would.
In August 2012, WCU’s Millennial Initiative Select Committee — a body appointed by Belcher — recommended leasing the land to the endowment fund. The committee’s report noted that WCU should “be mindful of the fact that any engagement with public-private partners has to be both nimble and quick, as the pace of private development exceeds that of the regular course of business in the academic world.”