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Chancellor search committee selects 10 candidates for interviews, sets schedule

The committee leading the national search for the next chancellor of Western Carolina University has narrowed the pool of candidates down to 10 contenders who will be invited to participate in off-campus interviews set for Thursday, Jan. 31, through Saturday, Feb. 2.

The committee, working with the Buffkin Baker executive recruitment firm and Lynn Duffy, senior associate vice president for leadership and talent development for the University of North Carolina System, met for nearly four hours Monday, Jan. 14, at the Ramsey Regional Activity Center to evaluate the current candidate pool.

Members of the chancellor search committee, including (from left) community member Gorham Bradley, former Student Government Association President Katherine Spalding and Keith Corzine, assistant vice chancellor for campus services, meet at the Ramsey Center on Jan. 14.

The meeting marked the fifth gathering of the reconvened committee since the announcement last July that the finalist selected for WCU’s position had withdrawn from consideration, putting the search process on hold. The search resumed in September as the committee set a new timeline for a second round of candidates, interviews and visits to campus.

The deadline for receiving nominations and applications for WCU’s top position was Jan. 4, with a total of 58 candidates expressing interest in serving as the university’s next chancellor. In the days following the closing of applications and nominations, members of the search committee spent hours poring over letters, resumes and curriculum vitae in preparation for Monday’s marathon meeting, said Bryant Kinney, co-chair of the search committee.

“Thank you all for spending your last two weekends-and-a-half going through all of this material,” said Kinney, who also serves as vice chair of the WCU Board of Trustees. “I know it is a labor of love, but it is labor nonetheless.”

In addition to discussing individual candidates and qualifications – discussion that occurred in closed session in accordance with the state’s open meetings laws, which permit public bodies to go into closed session to consider the qualifications of prospective public officers or employees – the committee has scheduled three days of off-campus, face-to-face interviews with the 10 candidates.

During the interviews, which also will take place in closed session, committee members will ask each candidate questions that incorporate themes and issues heard during a series of public forums that were held last year in Cullowhee, Cherokee and Asheville to enable WCU’s constituent groups – faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members and fans of intercollegiate athletics – to have a voice in the search process.

During the Jan. 14 meeting, the committee agreed to decrease the total number of questions it would ask each candidate and reduce the complexity of the questions in order to leave more time for candidates to answer the questions, said Patricia Kaemmerling, search committee co-chair.

“We got a lot of feedback from the committee that the questions during the last interview process were too long,” said Kaemmerling, who also is chair of the WCU Board of Trustees. “Let’s not have us do the talking, let’s have them do the talking.”

Following the off-campus interviews, the committee will narrow the field to a smaller number of candidates to bring to campus for visits in February with selected students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and community members. Participants in those sessions will be required to sign nondisclosure agreements to protect the confidentiality of the candidates. Dates and times for those sessions will be scheduled after the airport interviews.

Regional members of the UNC Board of Governors will be invited to sit in on the campus visits to allow some interaction with the candidates before the full board votes on a finalist.

The committee will meet again Wednesday, Feb. 27, to review feedback from participants in the campus visit meetings and select three finalists to bring forward – in unranked order – to the WCU Board of Trustees for consideration at the next quarterly meetings of the full board and its committees, set for Feb. 28 and March 1.

After evaluating the committee’s slate of candidates, the trustees will recommend the unranked candidates to Dr. William L. Roper, interim president of the UNC System, for consideration or will return the slate of candidates to the search committee for further action. Following his evaluation of the candidates, Roper will then recommend one finalist to the UNC Board of Governors for approval.

The WCU search committee is working toward the goal of having a new chancellor named by the end of the current academic year. It is seeking a successor to David O. Belcher, WCU chancellor who died June 17, 2018, after battling brain cancer for more than two years. Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar has been serving as acting (now interim) chancellor, and Carol Burton, WCU associate provost for undergraduate studies, is serving as acting provost.

The committee’s 21 members include representatives of WCU’s trustees, faculty, staff, administration and students, as well as alumni and community members, and one non-voting member from the UNC Board of Governors – David Powers, who serves as that board’s liaison to WCU.

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