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Presidents and Chancellors of WCU


1889-1912, 1920-1923

Robert Lee Madison was engaged by the Cullowhee Academy board as their first teacher and principal in 1889. Born in Lexington, Virginian, he was educated at East Tennessee Wesleyan University. In 1885 he first came to the Jackson County area, writing for a local newspaper and teaching school in the Qualla community for several years. His “Cullowhee Idea” in 1893 became the seed that sprouted “normal schools” across North Carolina and resulted in WCU and its mission of service to the region. The school’s name changed several times while he taught here, to Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School in 1907, to Cullowhee State Normal School in 1925, and to Western Carolina Teachers College in 1929. Madison was the campus’s dominant figure throughout these years of growth and served as the school’s president from 1889 to 1912 and again from 1920 to 1923.




Alonzo C. Reynolds, former Buncombe County superintendent of public schools, became president of the Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School in 1912. When Alonzo C. Reynolds arrived in Cullowhee in 1912 to replace Robert Lee Madison as president, he discovered that the school owned no vehicles. To remedy that deficiency, he purchased a small cart and two Shetland ponies that were used to haul supplies from Sylva.  By 1918, the institution revised its curriculum to offer a more broadly appealing six-year program: two years of preparatory classes (grades eight and nine) followed by a four-year curriculum that resulted in a junior college degree. Three degree programs -- in teaching, classics, and vocational agriculture -- were offered; almost all the students continued to choose teaching. Reynolds also improved campus facilities. Electricity and central steam heat were added or upgraded, and a new classroom/administration building named for state Superintendent of Education and CNIS board member J.Y. Joyner was built. The village and farm community of Cullowhee supported the small, growing school. Reynolds Residence Hall is named in his honor.




Hiram T. Hunter oversaw the school’s transition from high school status. Like the two presidents before him, he was a son of the southern mountains and an experienced teacher. Born in Mars Hill, North Carolina, he attended Mars Hill and Wake Forest College, and taught at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and Baylor College before coming to WCU. Hunter presided over a quarter of the institution's first century, a momentous period including the Great Depression and World War II. The high school program was turned over to the county, and in 1925 the institution became a junior college teacher training institution, the Cullowhee State Normal School. In addition to the change in its mission, the school also increased in size with the addition of Dave Rogers’s 65-acre “Town House” farm in 1924. Enrollment increased from about 200 to about 350 students. Dormitory life became a more important feature of the school scene, along with extracurricular activities. Hunter Library is named in his honor.



1947-1949, 1956-1957

William Ernest Bird was born in the Qualla area of Jackson County, N.C., on July 21, 1890. He attended local schools and graduated from Cullowhee Normal & Industrial School in 1915. He earned a B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina in 1917 and an M.A. in English from George Peabody College in the summer of 1920. Bird served as principal of high schools at Wilkesboro and Sylva, N.C. In 1921 he returned to Cullowhee Normal & Industrial School as vice-president. In 1921 his title was changed to dean, a position he held through several name changes of the school until his retirement in 1957. Bird served as acting president of the school in 1947-1949 and 1956-1957. He published the basic history of the institution, The History of Western Carolina College: The Progress of An Idea, in 1963. He also wrote three short volumes of poetry: Lyrics of a Laymen (1962) Level Paths: New Songs by the Laymen (1964), and New Spring Overflowing - More Lyrics of the Laymen (1972). Bird also was a lay-leader in the Cullowhee Methodist Church and officer in the local Rotary Club. The Bird Administration building was built in 1960 and named in his honor. Renovated in 2003, it is now home to the student health center.



1949-1956, 1957-1968

Paul. A Reid was the university’s fifth president. Born in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina he later attended the University of North Carolina where he received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree. After graduation he worked as a teacher and administrator in the public schools before accepting a post as comptroller for the State Board of Education in Raleigh where he served for 2 and a half years before his first tenure as president. His first term as president began in August 1949 and ended in 1956 with Reid resigning in the wake of the death of his wife Madeline Reid in 1955. William E. Bird served as President until Reid returned in the spring of 1957, now married to Nettie Haywood Reid. Reid served as the President until his retirement July 1, 1968. He led the university during a period of transition as well as rapid expansion, with enrollment during his tenure increasing from 600 to 4,000. This collection consists of his professional correspondence from the period of 1949-1960.In 1957, Reid Gym was named in his honor. Through a generous gift, WCU established the Paul A. Reid Distinguished Service Award. This award annually recognizes a faculty and staff member who have show exceptional service that contributes to the general welfare of Western Carolina University and enhances its reputation as a regional institution of higher education.




Alexander Pow, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, studied at the University of Alabama and the University of Denver, and received his Ph.D. in public administration and social psychology from New York University. Before assuming the role of President at WCU, Pow had recently served as a vice president of academic affairs at the University of Alabama. During his time at WCU, the University of North Carolina system was established, consolidating decision making at the system level, and the role of President became that of Chancellor. The university saw a significant increase in grant funding, extensions programs, and new programs such as the Economic Development Center (later the Center for Improving Mountain Living) and the school of Health and Human Services. 



1972, 1974

Frank H. Brown, Jr. was appointed acting president in 1972. Brown was the son of Frank H. Brown, Sr., associate professor of chemistry at the institution from 1908 to 1950, and the grandson of R. Hamilton brown, one of Madison’s “Noble Nine.” Brown served a second time as acting chancellor in 1974.




Jack Carlton received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Louisiana State University and taught at the University of Arkansas, Georgia Tech, and Louisiana State where he also served as Dean of the College of sciences. Before coming to Western Carolina, he was president of Macon Junior College, a campus of the university system of Georgia. During his 16 months as Chancellor, Carlton faced numerous challenges including imposing a one year moratorium on faculty tenure based on declining enrollment, conflicts with University of North Carolina Asheville over competing curriculum offerings, requiring freshmen to live on campus, significantly changing the academic calendar, and decreased confidence from students and alumni.




Harold F. Robinson grew up in rural Mitchell County, North Carolina and attended Mars Hill College before receiving his graduate degrees at North Carolina State University. Robinson taught plant genetics at NC State for 23 years and taught at Purdue University. His immediate goal as chancellor was to revive Western Carolina's pride in itself and in its region. particularly in the areas of the natural environment, the cultural heritage, and regional development. In 1975 the Cherokee center was established on the qualified boundary to offer freshmen and sophomore courses and preparation for transferring to western Carolina. In 1981, the new four-lane highway 107 was completed and a new administration building, later named in honor of Harold F. Robinson, was built at the new main entrance to campus. Robinson retired in 1984 after ten years of service.




Dr. Myron L. Coulter became Chancellor on August 1, 1984. Prior to coming to Western Carolina, was the president of Idaho State University. Educated at the Indiana State teachers College in Indiana University, Coulter was a specialist in elementary education and brought extensive experience with international programs. He emphasized continuously improving effective, innovative teaching. During his tenure as WCU Chancellor, the university established the Faculty Center for Teaching Excellence, later renamed the Coulter Faculty Commons for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in recognition of his support of the center's efforts both as chancellor and, upon his retirement, as Chancellor Emeritus and Distinguished University Professor. Upon his retirement, WCU's Music and English Building was permanently renamed the Coulter Building, housing the university's School of Music, English Department, and Music Recital Hall.  




John Halbert "Jack" Wakeley was vice chancellor for academic affairs at Western Carolina University and served as the institution's interim chancellor during the 1994-95 academic year. During his tenure as the university's chief academic officer, Wakeley was responsible for numerous changes in the academic program, including the addition of WCU's first doctoral degree and a master's degree program in physical therapy. Wakeley led the university in developing a strong program in educational assessment and an increasing emphasis on teaching and learning. He fostered programs to promote and encourage faculty professional development, including support for faculty scholarly assignments.




John W. Bardo was the Chancellor of Western Carolina University from 1995 to 2011. Dr. Bardo holds a doctorate in sociology from the Ohio State University. During his time as Chancellor, WCU made significant strides in becoming a nationally-recognized center for teaching and learning. Under Bardo’s leadership, WCU saw student enrollment grow from 6,500 when he arrived to more than 9,400 in 2011. To accommodate rising enrollment, the university constructed or made major additions to 14 buildings, including five new residence halls, a dining hall, a campus recreation center, the Fine and Performing Arts Center that today bears Bardo’s name and a high-tech Center for Applied Technology. The university expanded A.K. Hinds University Center, launched women’s soccer and softball programs, and renovated every athletics facility on campus, including the addition of west-side stands to WCU’s formerly notorious one-sided football stadium. With the 2005 acquisition of 344 acres of property across N.C. Highway 107 from the main campus as part of the Millennial Initiative, the university doubled the size of its campus. That property is now home to the Health and Human Sciences Building. The university gained national recognition for being among the first institutions in the nation to require incoming students to report to campus with their own computers and for adopting innovative tenure and promotion policies that reward faculty members for their scholarly activities that go beyond traditional teaching, research and service. It was during this time that the university created the residential Honors College, which has grown to become one of the largest in the United States. WCU focused attention on sharply increasing admissions standards and developed a top-ranking program in undergraduate research.




David Belcher was Chancellor from 2011 to 2018.  His message – “We are in the business of changing lives” – became both an inspiration and a challenge to those sharing his commitment. He energized his university community to work with regional leaders to serve the needs of Western North Carolina, an effort that resulted in WCU all-time highs in student achievement, enrollment, retention and graduation rates, in student and alumni engagement and in philanthropic giving. His legacy at WCU includes support and implementation of two pivotal statewide initiatives that will greatly enhance public higher education in WNC: the NC Promise tuition program that dramatically lowers student college costs and his efforts toward the successful passage of the Connect NC Bond, which included $110 million in funding for WCU’s Apodaca Science Building, a state-of-the-art STEM facility that will prepare students for 21st century professions. In addition, his support for the consolidation of WCU economic-growth oriented graduate and undergraduate programs at a new instructional site in Asheville represented an unprecedented strategic investment in economic development opportunities for the WNC region. Prior to his appointment at WCU, David served at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, and at Missouri State University, first as coordinator of keyboard studies in the Music Department, then as assistant dean and dean of the College of Arts and Letters. Belcher and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for additional collaboration between WCU and the Eastern Band and an instructional credit agreement designed to increase the number of Cherokee students enrolled at the university and to strengthen Native American student organizations on campus. In December of 2016, WCU’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename Central Drive Hall in honor of the unique history and heritage of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. On July 2, 2018, the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees unanimously approved the naming of the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts. The academic unit is home to the Western Carolina University School of Art & Design, School of Music, School of Stage and Screen, and Bardo Arts Center. This recognition honors the late Chancellor's education as a classically trained pianist and his impact on higher education and the arts at WCU and across Western North Carolina. The WCU community mourned the loss of Chancellor Belcher who died June 17, 2018 at the age of 60 after a more than two-year battle with brain cancer.




Alison Morrison-Shetlar was interim chancellor at Western Carolina University from 2018-2019 after serving as provost and  vice chancellor for academic affairs from 2014-2017, as well and being a professor of  Biology at WCU. Morrison-Shetlar has more than 33 years of experience working in higher education at eight institutions in three countries, in both public and private universities. Morrison-Shetlar became the University of Lynchburg’s 11th president in July of 2020.




Dr. Brown took office as the 12th Chancellor of WCU in July 2019, becoming the University’s first permanent woman chancellor. She previously served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Georgia College & State University. Since her arrival, Chancellor Brown has highlighted several priorities: an institutional emphasis on quality and excellence; a commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence; and a focus on the University’s role as an engine of economic development for its communities. Under Chancellor Brown’s stewardship, WCU continues to capitalize on the opportunity to be a thought leader regarding how regionally engaged universities can maintain a student-centered focus, with high levels of teaching innovation.


All images courtesy of Special Collections, Hunter Library Western Carolina University except for Thomas C. Buchanan, courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest.

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