Western Carolina University announced Thursday, Sept. 22, the launch of a new center focused on issues revolving around economic development in North Carolina, especially in its western region.
Seed funding for the project comes from a $1.8 million gift commitment from the Charles Koch Foundation.
“The gift to the university from the Charles Koch Foundation will enable the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise to move forward with supporting student and faculty research projects,” WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said in announcing the gift. “The center will take a multidisciplinary approach to the study of free enterprise and its implications for economic development in Western North Carolina and across the state, with the involvement of faculty and students from across the academic disciplines.”
The center was proposed by Edward J. Lopez, WCU professor of economics and BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism. Its work will include scholarly activity, research, policy analysis, educational endeavors, thought leadership and community outreach. Its activities are expected to include research seminars, workshops and other scholarly events; a guest speaker series; training programs for school teachers; presentations by students and faculty at professional conferences; and scholarship support for affiliated students.
“The foundation was impressed by the vision of Dr. Lopez to foster cross-disciplinary student and faculty research projects on the subjects of economics, free enterprise and economic development,” Parker said. “We appreciate the foundation’s ongoing support of Dr. Lopez’s leadership and look forward to future research on timely and important topics related to economic development through the lens of faculty and staff scholars from a wide variety of disciplines.”
The announcement comes after a WCU faculty committee tasked with reviewing the gift agreement determined that the donation comes with “no direct curricular implications.” The committee, in its written report to Belcher, also offered three recommendations designed to ensure ongoing oversight and review of the center.
Chaired by Bill Yang, associate professor of engineering and also chair of WCU’s Faculty Senate, the five-person committee presented its findings to Belcher on Monday, Sept. 19.
“I thank the ad hoc committee for its serious and thorough review of the gift agreement. The robust conversation generated by this gift is a vital component of an intellectually healthy university, and the level of faculty involvement in and ownership of this process has been extraordinary,” Belcher said.
The gift agreement includes a statement on academic freedom. “The donor’s gift is intended to help contribute to an environment at the university where ideas can be exchanged freely to the benefit and well-being of individuals and society,” the agreement states.
“The parties shall not take any action that has the effect of infringing on the independence or integrity of the university or on the academic freedom of its personnel,” the document reads. “The parties affirm that matters of curriculum, university personnel and center activities are the sole purview of the university’s faculty and administration.”
The agreement also expressly prohibits the gift from being used “to influence legislation, to influence the outcome of any election, for a political campaign or intervention, to carry on any voter registration drive or any other purpose that would jeopardize the parties’ institutional independence, integrity, or donor’s tax-exempt status.”
The committee that reviewed the gift agreement was assembled earlier this year under University Policy 104, which calls for faculty review of external gifts. That came in response to concerns raised by WCU’s Faculty Senate last October. Lopez revised his proposal to address those concerns.
The WCU Board of Trustees, at its December 2015 meeting, unanimously approved establishment of the center as recommended by Belcher and Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar.
The following month, Morrison-Shetlar and David McCord, then-chair of the Faculty Senate, announced a two-phased approach to establishment of the center. Phase one of the plan consisted of the creation of an implementation advisory board to oversee development of the center to ensure alignment with WCU’s mission and core values and that it supports objectives of WCU’s strategic plan.
That initial phase also included plans for the second phase – establishment of a permanent advisory board, recommendations for the role and membership of that board, and steps to ensure interdisciplinary membership of the group.
Funding for the center is expected to be distributed by the foundation over a five-year period. The contribution is considered “seed funding.” The center is expected to be self-sufficient and to identify other sources of funding for its continued operation.
To see the gift agreement, click here.
By Bill Studenc