Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Where True Greatness is Born

We spent a great deal of time focusing on the visual image of the university. While the visual image is important, it is not the essence of the process. What are most important are the words that we use to describe ourselves and the university. These words will be used in all of our publications, in all of our ads, and they need to drive our development.
-John Bardo, 8/13/2008

After trying for some years to pretend that Sylva is Western Carolina University’s hometown, WCU has apparently decided to build one instead. University officials have developed the concept of a “town center,” which they contend is what’s needed to satisfy students’ needs so they don’t have to shop in Sylva. We have to admit that we’re puzzled by the idea of a commercial center being developed by a university. We thought WCU’s business was education.
-Sylva Herald editorial, 12/18/2008

Bardo Square Mall, Cullowhee NC

I’ve spent some time studying the public pronouncements of Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo.

It wasn’t easy.

I’m sure you could find a handful of people who’ve spent even more time than I have perusing his speeches. My sympathies go out to them.

Bardo’s stilted sentences and heavy reliance on buzzwords make the first impression on the casual reader. Beyond that he expresses a vision for this place that has no grounding in this place. To the extent that he can find anything admirable in Western Carolina, it is the sprawling mess you find from Asheville to Hendersonville.

If only we could implant a big box retail ghetto between Sylva and Cullowhee - like the one on Airport Road near I-26 – then that would be a splendid thing, indeed. It would demonstrate that we are recognizing our rightful place in Charlanta. Or so says Bardo.

Now that he has brought WCU to the top tier in academics, Bardo can devote his time to economic development, "public-private" partnerships, selling off academic freedom to the highest bidder...that sort of thing. In these boom times, he’s itching to put on the ceremonial hard-hat, fire up the ceremonial bulldozer, and raze Camp Lab School to make way for a strip mall.

By the way, I have a funny story about Camp Lab School. The powers-that-be at WCU have requested that North Carolina taxpayers spend $3 million (from 2009-2015) to renovate Camp Lab School. Renovate it first, and THEN demolish it? Is that the plan? But don't take my word for it:

"You want fries with that?"

Cullowhee has been hungry for a quality dining venue, such as Moe’s Southwest Grill and soon, thanks to John Bardo, we’ll have one. But that's not all! The Bardo vision includes a complex of 300,000 square feet. (By comparison, Biltmore Square Mall contains 500,000 square feet. Should we surmise that the Bardo Square Mall will be slightly more than half as successful as the Biltmore Square Mall?)

Enough of my anecdotes, though. Bardo has the benefit of something called the IEF, which can fabricate surveys and studies to validate the pre-ordained conclusion that Moe’s…and Barnes and Noble…will free us from the darkness of our ignorance. Given the firepower at Bardo's command, how can anecdotes (or common sense) stand up against the weight of statistical certainty?

The founder of Western Carolina University was a poet. And as with John Bardo, his words reflect his thinking. It would be easy to dismiss the sentimentality of a poem by Robert Lee Madison, but it does reveal his connection to this place, his love of the mountains, and his respect for the people who have made their lives here. Should John Bardo take the time to read Madison, I suspect he would find him totally incomprehensible, which makes Bardo's megalomania even more ominous.

It's a mountain thing, John, you wouldn't understand.

I yield the floor to Robert Lee Madison:

Mayhaps, you look with scornful smile on this humble place of stay-
A cabin of logs, with rude board roof and chimney of sticks and clay;
Mayhaps, you pity the pioneer, the housewife patient and worn,
The children's youth to poverty doomed, with want and toil to be borne.
But ah! do you know the Kingliest hearts in palaces rarely 'bide?
The noble of the earth, the pure, the true are oftenest those denied
What station or name or wealth might give, their dwelling a lonely cot,
Their parents devout, industrious, plain, contented with their lot.
Such unpretentious abodes as this where dwell the poor and obscure
Have fostered the dreams of genius, nurtured the noble whose names endure.
And though you smile at the primitive style of this home you deem forlorn,
The world some day may journey this way to see where true greatness was born.

My, how times have changed in Cullowhee! (By the way, while we're on the subject of unpretentious abodes, $572,800 has been requested for a palatial...I'm sorry...a partial renovation of the chancellor's residence. I don't know if that request has been granted.)

And, oh, this. I was wondering why the WCU administration, circa 2009, seems to care so little about Jackson County. Why this craving for shadowy schemes that leave the taxpayers holding the risks and unknown "entrepreneurs" making off with the potential "opportunities?" I thought Ayn Rand preached "every man for himself" so why is WCU getting into the business of aiding and abetting strip-mall developers?

Now, after reviewing the roster of the WCU board of trustees, I understand why education is taking a back-seat to slimy "deal-making" and grossly unrealistic strip-mall development in Cullowhee (as described in a Sylva Herald article last month).

No doubt the enterprising characters looking to cash in on their political "good will" have already latched on to the "possibilities" awaiting them in Cullowhee. And no doubt they're in their own element rubbing elbows with this WCU board:

Ms. Genevieve W. Burda
P.O. Box 1570
Mars Hill, NC 28754
Retired Entrepreneur
Appointed by Governor
May 6, 1999 to June 30, 2001
July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. Rick Carlisle
Dogwood Equity
316 W. Edenton Street
Suite 110
Raleigh, NC 27603
Venture Capital and Former N.C. Secretary of Commerce
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. Gerald Kiser
101 Harbison Boulevard
Columbia , SC 29212
President/Owner Paladin Interiors and Design, Inc.
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mr. George W. Little
650 Fort Bragg Road
Southern Pines, NC 28387
President, George W. Little & Associates, Inc.
Insurance Consultants – Brokers
Appointed by Board of Governors
June 9, 2006 to June 30, 2009

Ms. Joan MacNeill (Chair)
PO Box 40
Webster, NC 28788
Community Leader
Appointed by Board of Governors
February 18, 2003 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. Stephen Metcalf
PO Box 1694
Asheville, NC 28802
President of the Policy Corporation Inc. and Former NC State Senator
Appointed by Board of Governors
July1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Mr. William Ted Phillips, Jr.
6621 Wilbanks Road
Knoxville, TN 37912
Owner of Phillips and Jordan Construction Company
Appointed by Governor
May 5, 2000 to June 30, 2001
July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2005
July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2009

Dr. Betty Siegel
1000 Chastain Road
Mail Drop 9106
Kennesaw, GA 30133
President Emeritus
Appointed by Board of Governors
September 12, 2008 to June 30, 2011

Mr. Steve Warren (Vice Chair)
PO Box 7216
Asheville, NC 28802
Attorney, Long, Parker, Warren & Jones, P.A.
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mrs. Teresa Williams
14114 Timbergreen Drive
Huntersville, NC 28078
Community Leader
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mr. Charles R. Worley (Secretary)
PO Box 2232
Asheville, NC 28802
Attorney and Former Mayor of Asheville, NC
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
Appointed by Governor
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Ms. Rosemary Wyche
2801-304 Glenwood Gardens Lane
Raleigh, NC 27608
Vice President of Development for NCCBI
Appointed by Governor
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

Mr. Michael Frixen
Student Government Association
University Center
Cullowhee, NC 28723
Student; SGA President
Elected by WCU Student Body
May, 2008 to May, 2009

Mr. Steve Warren (Former Chair)
PO Box 7216
Asheville, NC 28802
Attorney, Long, Parker, Warren & Jones, P.A.
Appointed by Board of Governors
July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2007
July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011

See also:


Chuck Connors said...

It is past time for the rail and the tar and feathers!

Anonymous said...

450k for the provost's office as well..(to go along with the 500k residence renovations...hmmmm

Hill Billy Rave said...

Hmm. 300,000 Sq Ft? The last time I was in Biltmore Square Mall, it was nearly empty. I can't see such a facility maintaining exsistance in Cullowhee.
Is it really needed? Most likely not.

GULAHIYI said...

SOME people think it is desperately needed...the people who stand to reap the profits from this thing getting built. The university is being very cagey about divulging information on this boondoggle. Politics as usual...

Anonymous said...

If one begins to tally the costs of the Bardo years it becomes absolutely frightening. Let's start with $30 million for the Fine Arts Performing Center; a nice facility to be sure but generally venues of this size need to be productive 250 nights a year to justify their cost. The FAPC, which would have fit with the mission of UNCA much better, is active at best 100 nights per year and that's if you include functions like gallery days.
Of vourse the original purchase price does not include furnishing or other appointments which were mysteriously left out of the original budgets and done by special appropriation. And one might also want to look at the costs to TWSA and Jackson County's stressed water and sewer systems which have been essentially overwhelmed by Bardo's projects. Conservative estimates are that the system will need $40 million dollars or more within the next five years - hopefully that won't be siphoned off to support the types of development Bardo favors but will go to support failing local infrastructure.
The cost of the 300 plus acres of the old Bryson farm wasn't cheap especially when one factors in the lost tax revenue to Jackson County Yes, I know sales tax from students buying stuff more than makes up for that - excepy try making those numbers work. Well actually the IEF has in some very creative statistical hoop jumping.

Bardo has touted all the grants he's gotten but many, like the recent grant fromm BB&T which calls for an additional match of $500K to support the "gift", actually create red ink. Once we were going to be the new Biotech center and then the home of the finest construction management program in the country ( aprogram that did receive a huge start-up gift but then when you create a program from whole cloth and have to buy and steal faculty it does get expensive).
Most of Bardo's brave new world is facade or movie set, a Potemkin Village with no real substance and no benefit to the taxpayers that have underwritten his massive ego trip.
He touts his ability to attract a better class of student and his recruiting now focuses almost entirely on the Orange/Mecklenberg/Wake area. This is in direct contradiction to the vision and mission defined by Dr. Madison. This is a redundancy the state cannot afford and worse it fails our mountain students and communities.
The blame, of course, must be shared with the Board of Trustees. Other than Chairman MacNeill virtually none of the trustees come from or reside in the mountain counties WCU is supposed to serve. For a sense of Mrs. MacNeil's commitment to local community one need look no further than the steep slope development they've designed to blight their home community of Webster.
In Bardo's previous stops in Massachusetts and Jacksonville he did virtually the same thing - huge expenditures on fancy building with very little academic substance to show for the price.

Anonymous said...

wow someone knows a lot about BARDO