By Bill Studenc
Phil Cauley, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, first hit the Western Carolina University campus as a wide-eyed freshman in 1979 and, with the exception of a brief stint in the enrollment office of a Mississippi university in the late 1990s, never left.
A WCU staff member for nearly 40 years and a two-time alumnus, Cauley has donated to the Catamount Club for 37 of those years. He and wife Susanne Healy Cauley also made a planned gift to provide scholarship support to student-athletes in the Brinson Honors College.
Cauley said he is eager to support an institution that has long supported him. He credits faculty and staff with helping him explore classes, pick a major, stoke a passion for literature and writing, connect to cooperative education experiences and internships, and navigate scholarship applications and deadlines.
“I choose to give back to WCU because of those who poured into me when I was a student. I enrolled as an undergraduate without a major, without direction and without a plan,” he said. “I had so many encouragers who poured into me.”
Cauley also found support from fellow students, who helped him obtain a role with The Nomad art and literary magazine; encouraged him to apply for the most prestigious senior honor society on campus at the time, Mortar Board; and urged him to join Western Gold, a student service organization.
He traces his passion for Catamount athletics back to his days as an undergraduate student living alongside student-athletes in Leatherwood Residence Hall. There, he participated in intramural sports, and his hall competed in every season sport and won the league championship. “I lived Western before ‘Live Western’ was our brand,” Cauley said.
“I was a fan in the stands,” he said. “A gaggle of us would go to the games together to cheer on the Cats. As a sophomore, I witnessed Ronnie Carr make history in Reid Gym when he, No. 22, sank the first three-point shot in collegiate basketball history from 22 feet out. WCU’s gridiron run to the NCAA Division I-AA championship game occurred during my undergraduate tenure. My Dad and I traveled back to Cullowhee over Thanksgiving break to watch the dramatic, come-from-behind playoff game against Colgate, and we sojourned to Charleston for the championship game.”
Cauley has held several roles during his decades in Cullowhee – including moving from assistant director of admissions in his first full-time job after graduating to his current position of associate vice chancellor, as well as time as director of alumni affairs, interim associate dean of educational outreach and director of enrollment for graduate and distance learning. He served as dean for enrollment at Mississippi University for Women for nine months in 1997 and 1998 before returning to WCU to become associate director of admissions.
“To me, WCU is more than a place of learning; it is a community of sharing. Becoming a donor was just one additional way to share in the life and lives of the university,” he said. “Sure, WCU conjures up a geographic place in my mind, but WCU evokes images of people. The most recurring theme that I’ve heard over the decades from students, faculty, staff and alumni when asked what makes WCU special is ‘the people.’”
Cauley said one reason he donates to WCU is because he is constantly encouraging students to invest in their education, to be service-minded and to live by the standards contained in the university’s Community Creed.
“I think it’s important that I’m willing to do what I ask our students to do,” he said. “One pledge of the Creed declares, ‘I will embrace my responsibilities as a member of this community.’ Another action statement pledges, ‘I will engage myself in the artistic, cultural and academic life of my university.’ The Creed ends with this punctuated ‘will’ declaration, ‘I will celebrate and express pride in Western Carolina University.’ Giving back to the community that has given so much to me is a tangible way to ‘live the Creed’ – embrace responsibilities, engage myself and express pride.”
Cauley and spouse Susanne, a 1994 graduate of WCU with a degree in elementary education who teaches in the Haywood County School System, in 2018 created the Phil and Susanne Cauley Athletic Endowed Scholarship to support Brinson Honors College students who participate in Catamount athletics.
“I’ve been a fan in the stands to cheer on so many Catamount student-athletes over the years. I had classmates who were student-athletes—in that order: student athletes. They took their studies and their sport seriously. Susanne was a scholar-athlete in high school, and we both love backing the Cats,” he said.
Establishing a scholarship for student-athletes who also excel academically was a way to marry two of Cauley’s passions – academics and athletics – and to underscore the fact that the two “…are not mutually exclusive, but should be wedded,” he said.
“Susanne and I both graduated with honors from WCU, but the Honors College did not exist during our time as students. I witnessed Dr. Brian Railsback conceive and birth the first residential honors college of its kind in North Carolina, and I’ve seen the tremendous impact it has had in the lives of students and in the life of my alma mater. David, our son, just graduated from WCU in May, and the Brinson Honors College played a role in his WCU experience. Sarah, our daughter, currently is a Brinson Honors College student,” Cauley said.
Cauley earned his bachelor’s degree in English from WCU in 1983 and his master’s degree in human resources in 1990, receiving scholarship support to pursue his educational goals.
“Susanne and I both were beneficiaries of the generosity of others who chose to invest in WCU. A generation later, both of our kids have been beneficiaries of the scholarship generosity of others. It may sound like a bit of paradox, but giving back is one way to pay it forward,” he said. “And payroll deduction is the easy button. I began giving early in my professional career, and payroll deduction has helped me not miss giving while not really missing the money. In other words, I don’t have any misgivings when it comes to giving.”
Cauley is among the more than 350 faculty and staff who go beyond their job duties by making financial contributions to WCU and who are recognized as members of the Shetland Society.
One of four giving societies established by the Division of Advancement in 2020 to celebrate the impact of philanthropy, the Shetland Society is named for the Shetland ponies that then-Chancellor A.C. Reynolds purchased in 1912 to haul supplies by cart back and forth from Sylva to campus.
A campaign to increase faculty and staff membership in the Shetland Society is underway through Friday, Oct. 20. For more information, contact Rebekah Cheney, director of annual giving, at 828-227-2868 or via email at email@example.com.