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WCU preps for visit from new UNC president

WCUWestern Carolina University leaders are getting ready to roll out the red carpet for the impending arrival of Margaret Spellings, the incoming president of the state’s public university system, who will be touring WCU campus on March 10.

Spellings has pledged to visit the campuses of all 16 public universities during her first couple months on the job. WCU will be her second visit after officially taking office on March 1. 

“I want to underscore how important her visit is going to be,” WCU Chancellor David Belcher said at a faculty senate meeting earlier this month. “It does give us an opportunity to tell her how great we are and the role we play in this part of the state.”

The timing of Spellings’ visit — just her second week on the job — will coincide with WCU’s quarterly board of trustees meeting. That’s the main reason WCU landed the second spot on Spellings’ statewide campus tour: to put her here when the trustees are also in town.

Belcher told the faculty that this was its chance to have a rare one-on-one with the University of North Carolina president and invited them to be candid.

“It also gives us an opportunity to share our concerns with her. I know I plan to do that in my meeting with her,” Belcher said. “Tell her what you love about Western and tell her what concerns you. That’s why she is here.”

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WCU faculty have formed a working group to develop a cohesive message they want to convey and impart to Spellings during their audience with her, from the priorities on their own campus to larger concerns about the mission of higher education in the state.

Belcher said it’s an honor to be second in Spellings’ 16-campus tour. But WCU likewise won’t have the benefit of seeing how the visits played out at other campuses.

“We are going to be guinea pigs here,” Belcher said. “I have great confidence it will go quite well.”

Spellings’ appointment as the UNC president has been met with opposition from some quarters in the university system, including protests from students and faculty. Critics fear Spellings won’t defend the university system from attempted interference by conservative lawmakers in Raleigh — as her fired predecessor did — and that her view of higher education is too utilitarian. 

Spellings was the U.S. education secretary under President George Bush from 2005 to 2009, his education advisor when he was the governor of Texas and head of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

Spellings’ selection led to division on the UNC Board of Governors last fall and the forced resignation of the Board of Governors’ chairman.

Spellings will make more than $800,000 a year.

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