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WCU launches ambitious $40 million campaign

Western Carolina University Chancellor John W. Bardo has officially launched the first comprehensive fundraising campaign in the university’s 118-year history, a drive to raise at least $40 million in private support to help meet a renewed emphasis on academic quality.


Bardo’s announcement of The Campaign for Western came during his State of the University address, “Esse Quam Videri,” which took place on Tuesday, Feb. 20. The title is borrowed from the North Carolina state motto, which means “to be rather than to seem.” In his address, only the second State of the University speech in his nearly 12 years as WCU chancellor, he focused on excellence — and the steps necessary to continue raising the academic bar at Western.

One major step in enhancing the institution, Bardo said, is to supplement existing resources with additional private-sector support through the campaign, whose theme is “Creating Extraordinary Opportunities.”

“The people of North Carolina have been very good to their universities, but excellence requires additional resources — especially focused resources that address specific quality questions,” he said.

Bardo told the faculty, staff, students and community members assembled in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center for the address that the university has been in a “silent phase” of the campaign for two years. As the effort now enters the “public phase,” it will continue to focus on three top priorities — merit-based scholarships to recruit the very best students available; program support to help faculty members and academic programs continue to push for excellence; and endowed professorships to attract seasoned, accomplished scholars to campus.

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The university’s goal is to complete the campaign during the 2009-2010 academic year, Bardo said.

“Initially, a formal fundraising study said that Western would have to stretch to raise $20 million. The university had never attempted to raise that level of funding before, so this seemed like a very large number,” he said. As the university progressed through the two-year silent phase of the campaign, he said, “We came to believe that both the need and our potential were greater than that.”

The additional resources that the campaign will bring to Western will enable the university to take the next steps in improving its overall quality while maintaining its traditional emphasis on meeting the educational needs of the people of Western North Carolina and the rest of the state, he said.

Citing The People’s University, a recent book by Bruce Henderson, WCU professor of psychology, Bardo said that Western and institutions like it educate the majority of the nation’s public four-year university students — and those universities hold the key to future prosperity.

“Western is, and always has been, the people’s university. We have always been focused on the needs of the people for education, for research and for support in the form of public service,” he said. “But quality has to be defined in regard to the needs of the people as they change. We need to preserve yesterday, but we can’t afford to live in the past. The people need us more today than they ever have, and they are asking for our help.”

To provide that help, Western must teach its students well and in such a way that students can apply knowledge in a variety of situations; must conduct research and scholarly activity relevant to the people of the region; and must focus increasingly on engaging with the people of the region to help solve problems, he said.

The number of people in the region and the types of issues in need of university attention are changing dramatically due to the growth of residential developments in Jackson and surrounding counties and the rising cost of housing, Bardo said.

The university intends to assist with that problem in two ways through its plans for the Millennial Initiative, a comprehensive regional economic development strategy made possible by the 2005 acquisition of 344 acres of property adjacent to the main campus. First, Bardo said, a $46 million, 140,000-square foot allied health and gerontology building planned for the new property would be the cornerstone of a new neighborhood that could include an “active adult” condominium complex for retirees and affordable housing options for faculty and staff.

Second, Western’s goal of creating mixed-use neighborhoods of interest through the Millennial Initiative is designed to enable the university to partner with private industry and government partners to conduct research and development into scientific and technological innovations that have commercial applications.

“This region — and this county specifically — are in the middle of a major development boom that by some accounts is expected to continue for at least the next 15 years,” Bardo said. “Given our role as a public university, we must be concerned about the impact of all of this change on the people of the region. Our regional responsibilities have never been more important than they are today.”

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