Western Carolina University Chancellor Kelli R. Brown has announced the relocation of the university’s chief diversity officer and its top community and economic development liaison from the Division of Academic Affairs into the Chancellor’s Division, and a new annual review process for the university’s strategic plan.
Brown has asked Kim Winter, dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions, to lead a working group of faculty and staff tasked with putting together a process of reviewing the university’s strategic plan on an annual basis and developing a system of metrics and measurements. The move is designed to provide increased flexibility in the strategic planning processes and allow the university to respond more quickly to changes in the external environment that affect the institution.
The two organizational changes are designed to send a strong signal that diversity and inclusive excellence, and regional outreach and economic development are institutional priorities of the highest level, Brown said.
“Our efforts in the area of diversity and inclusive excellence and in helping meet the needs of our external community are not within the purview of just one person or one single unit of campus,” she said. “They are, in fact, responsibilities that are university-wide in scope.”
Effective May 1, Ricardo Nazario-Colón, who has served as WCU’s chief diversity officer since June 2016, will report directly to the chancellor. Also effective May 1, Arthur Salido, executive director for community and economic engagement and innovation at WCU since May 2017, will report to Chief of Staff Melissa Canady Wargo, whose units are part of the Chancellor’s Division.
“One of the most significant changes in the revisions to the university’s ‘2020 Vision’ strategic plan that were approved in 2018 was the addition of a new strategic direction focused on inclusive excellence,” Brown said. “Our nation’s rapidly changing demographic profile demands that we intensify our efforts around diversity and inclusive excellence.”
In addition to bringing Nazario-Colón in the division, Brown also announced her plans to form a blue-ribbon panel to look at initiatives and activities the university has undertaken over the past few years “to examine what has worked well and what could work better and to develop new strategies.”
Moving Salido and his outreach responsibilities into the Chancellor’s Division is in support of the strategic plan’s commitment to regional, economic and community engagement, Brown said. Aligning the position under the chief of staff will allow Salido to strategically leverage his activities with other external affairs units, such as government relations, marketing and communications, which also report to Wargo.
“It is part of our mission to act as an engine of economic development, and we must ramp up our work to advance the Western North Carolina region that we were founded to serve,” Brown said. “While helping the region grow, we must ensure that it grows strategically and sustainably, being ever mindful of the potential impact of development on our beautiful mountain home.”
Similar to the blue-ribbon panel on diversity and inclusive excellence, Brown has asked Wargo and Salido to bring together in the fall a wide array of university and off-campus partners to outline the university’s regional and economic development efforts over the next five years, and set appropriate goals and the strategies to meet those goals.
Providing economic development assistance to the region and its communities has become especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused numerous businesses to close or reduce operations and has had a dramatic impact on municipal and county coffers because of lost tax revenues, Brown said.
“Western can and should be a strategic partner in helping to lift up our region,” she said.