There are no words sufficient to express the magnitude of the loss of our beloved chancellor, David Belcher. The sad fact of the inevitability of his passing on June 17 following his decision to go on medical leave at the end of 2017 does absolutely nothing to lessen the sting of our heartbreak. Chancellor Belcher changed the culture of Western Carolina University, and he touched the soul of everyone he met.
With a razor-sharp sense of humor, an intense focus on the pursuit of excellence and an abounding love for students, Chancellor Belcher has re-energized our Western Carolina University community. If you had the chance to know him, you admired him. If you had the opportunity to work with him, you respected him. If you had the honor to call him friend, you loved him. He brought us leadership, which made us stronger. He brought us transparency, which instilled us with trust. He brought us music and laughter, which gave us joy. His stamp will forever be on this campus, in this region and in our hearts.
David Belcher broadened our institution’s reputation, raising its profile across the state, the region and the nation. He guided the university through a period of unprecedented growth and success – always recognizing the shoulders of previous leaders upon which he stood, constantly acknowledging the hard work of the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends in helping to transform WCU.
And now it is up to us – all of us across the Catamount Nation – to continue the incredible forward momentum that WCU experienced under the leadership of David Belcher. During his final remarks to the Board of Trustees back in December, the chancellor told us that it was time to pass responsibility for leading WCU on to others, including a new chancellor. And he told us that, with the leadership team in place, both in Cullowhee and at the University of North Carolina System, he knew WCU would be well cared for.
At that meeting, David expressed his confidence in our collective ability to shepherd this university as it moves forward. And he left us with a long list of items that he hoped campus leadership would attend to when he was gone – enrollment growth, infrastructure improvement, academic excellence, student success and the many other things he discussed on numerous occasions. In fact, he said, “I trust you to do this.”
Of the Board of Trustees in particular, David asked us to keep in mind our fiduciary responsibilities as the university’s policy and oversight board as we work to move WCU toward its future. He reminded us that we must enable campus leaders to inspire Western Carolina University with excellence, integrity and passion. And he closed with what became his signature line: “With your continued passion, support and commitment to this university, there is no limit to what you can accomplish.”
In our many conversations over the last year, Chancellor Belcher emphasized the importance of our working together to continue the momentum of our university. The best way to honor David’s legacy is to support and encourage our new chancellor in every way possible when that leadership role is filled by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, and to help her or him enhance the success of WCU. As you may have heard, the finalist put forward for UNC Board of Governors approval withdrew from consideration for the position in mid-July. Our search has been put on hold while the Board of Governors conducts a review of the process used to search for and hire chancellors across the UNC System, and we anticipate learning about changes to the search process in September.
Yes, we truly are sad that David Belcher is no longer walking this path with us, but we take great comfort in the fact that he expressed his confidence that our university remains in good hands – the hands of all of us who bleed purple and gold. The future for Western Carolina University remains bright, and I look forward to working with Interim Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar and, eventually, our new chancellor, in this wonderful business of changing lives.
Patricia B. Kaemmerling ’71
Chair, Western Carolina University Board of Trustees