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Campus academic leaders announce two-phased approach to proposed new center

 

Development of a proposed Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at Western Carolina University will proceed under a two-phased approach designed to address concerns regarding potential constraints on academic integrity raised in a Faculty Senate resolution last fall in opposition to establishment of the center.

Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar and David McCord, chair of the WCU Faculty Senate, unveiled the strategy for moving forward during the Faculty Senate’s meeting Jan. 27. The plan was developed by Faculty Senate leadership and academic administrators from the Office of the Provost following the December approval of establishment of the center by the WCU Board of Trustees.

Phase one of the plan will consist of the creation of an implementation advisory board that will oversee development of the center to ensure alignment with WCU’s mission and core values and that it supports objectives of the 2020 Vision strategic plan.

During the first phase, the implementation group will provide recommendations on the structure and process for establishing a permanent advisory board, the role and membership of that board, and steps to ensure interdisciplinary membership of the group.

Faculty leaders and academic administrators agreed on a structure for the implementation advisory board, determining that it should consist of one faculty member or administrator from the colleges of Health and Human Sciences, Fine and Performing Arts, and Education and Allied Professions, and the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology; two faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences; one faculty member appointed by Faculty Senate; the chair of the Institutional Review Board; one administrator from the Office of Research Administration; two faculty members and the dean of the College of Business; one faculty member from Hunter Library; and one administrator from the Office of the Provost.

The implementation advisory board will consist of: David Shapiro from Health and Human Sciences; Wes Stone from the Kimmel School; Damon Sink from Fine and Performing Arts; Dale Carpenter, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions; Kathleen Brennan and Chris Cooper from Arts and Sciences; Bill Yang representing Faculty Senate; Martin Tanaka from the Institutional Review Board; Andrea Moshier from the Office of Research Administration; Bill Richmond, Ed Lopez and Darrell Parker, dean, of the College of Business; Heidi Buchanan from Hunter Library; and Brandon Schwab, associate provost.

Although he voiced his personal disagreement with the mission and pending funding source for the center, McCord expressed satisfaction with the way the process will unfold going forward under the initial guidance of the implementation advisory board.

“I am really pleased with it. I think it’s a really rigorous process that has maximum faculty engagement,” McCord said. “That board will be charged with establishing the processes by which an ongoing advisory board will be formed and maintained.”

Announcement of the plan came during a lengthy conversation about the center during the Jan. 27 meeting of the Faculty Senate, which in October had passed a resolution stating opposition to establishing the center. Among the concerns raised in an accompanying position statement was financial cost to the university, potential constraints on academic freedom and reputational risks.

In response to the resolution and position statement and concerns from faculty, staff and administrators, the author of the proposal to establish the center, Edward Lopez, the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism at WCU, revised his original proposal. After approval by the Board of the Trustees last December, a request now will go to the Charles Koch Foundation seeking about $2 million in seed funding over a five-year period.

Chancellor David Belcher addressed ongoing concerns to open the recent Faculty Senate meeting. “No one is more adamant about ensuring academic freedom than I am, and the revised center proposal reinforces commitment to academic freedom,” Belcher said. “The question before us in the fall was the distinct issue of whether or not to establish the center; nevertheless, much of the concern from faculty regarding academic freedom appears to focus on the potential source of funding rather than the center itself. Academic freedom is a non-negotiable from my point of view, and the Koch Foundation agrees.”

Belcher also reminded the group that University Policy 104, which governs external gifts that may have academic implications, will be invoked and that a faculty committee will be appointed to review a gift agreement for any possible curricular implications. “If we do this right, if we ensure academic freedom and the center evolves as a source for economic development for this part of the state, I don’t have any worries on that front,” he said.

Belcher also acknowledged that the speed at which the proposal reached the Board of Trustees agenda for approval may have resulted in some unnecessary faculty angst. “In hindsight, it occurs to me that faculty needed more time to grapple with this, to talk about it, to discuss it,” he said. “I think if we had taken an approach like that, it would have allayed some concerns that exist in some quarters that we were rushing toward a predetermined course here, which was not the case.”

Morrison-Shetlar expressed a similar sentiment. “There have been many teachable moments for me over the past few months, and I appreciate the communications I’ve had from people on our discussions,” she said. “I also believe I did not communicate effectively, and for that I apologize. This senate is very important to me and the communication that we have is very important to me. If I’m not providing you with information, please let me know so that we can move forward together.”

McCord said he is still opposed to the proposed center, but that he looked forward to proceeding under the plan that has been developed collaboratively with Faculty Senate leadership and administration. “I’m still standing by my original vote based upon the really high quality of discussion we had here,” he said. “I have great respect for the chancellor. His perspective is different. His responsibilities are different. The world he works in is different and it makes him look differently at the same set of facts from the way I look at it. We can move forward productively.”

By Bill Studenc

Categories | The Reporter


Photos | WCU News Services

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