Faculty regent reflects on term

Barbara Burch, who served as WKU Provost, faculty regent, professor and more, died around midnight on Jan. 5 according to the Warren County coroner’s office.

Rebekah Alvey

For Barbara Burch, who has served in multiple roles on campus, Oct. 27 was scheduled to be her final Board of Regents meeting as faculty regent.

Burch served as faculty regent for the standard three years. As faculty regent, she attends University Senate meetings and serves on the Board of Regents as one of the three constituent positions.

The current faculty regent election results have been thrown out, after ineligible voting by part-time faculty members. The University Senate will hold a third election on Friday, with the new faculty regent being sworn in at the Dec. 9 Board of Regents meeting. Burch will remain the faculty regent until that time.

From 1996-2010, Burch served as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and was briefly interim president in 1997.

“I didn’t really ever think about becoming a faculty regent,” Burch said.

While coming back from a meeting a couple of days before nominations for faculty regent were due, Burch said she received many emails and voicemails. When returning the calls, she found out Robert Dietle, faculty member and current interim director of the School of Journalism and Broadcasting, wanted to nominate Burch for the position.

“I’ll never forget it,” Burch said.

During that election, Dietle said there were not many faculty members who were eligible to run for faculty regent, and he was worried about a lack of response. When considering Burch, he said he thought she would be successful in the position because of her previous roles and knowledge of the budget and administration.

Burch accepted the nomination and was the only nominee that year. Burch said she was stunned, but considered the position to be an honor and a privilege.

Burch said she suspects people were eager for the faculty voice to be better heard at that time.

At a Board of Regents meeting on Oct. 31, 2014, the board swore Burch into her new position. She said the job of a regent is an important and difficult one that requires a lot of commitment, responsibility and time.

“For a regent, in general, their commitment to the university is absolutely the highest,” Burch said. “But it’s different when you’ve lived inside the university and participated in it, and you kinda know it from ‘A to izzard.’”

While every regent brings different skills to the board, Burch said the faculty regent uniquely represents the perspective of the faculty. Additionally, she said she felt as though her position as provost helped her understand other aspects of the university.

During her three-year term, Burch said there had been several accomplishments. She said one was serving on the presidential search committee and selecting Timothy Caboni as WKU’s next president following Gary Ransdell’s 20 year presidency.

She said there was a lot of difficulty and scrutiny throughout the process, due to the discussion of having an open or closed search. Burch said this made selecting the right president more critical.

“I am very proud of work the board did; I’m appreciative of the the participation and contribution that others made and the trust that was given to the board,” Burch said. “But at the end of the day, I’m very pleased to be a part of that decision.”

Burch said this is an exciting time at WKU, and the past three years have been very transitional. She said she was also excited about Caboni’s drive to improve communications with faculty and transition to a system of shared governance.

Burch said faculty and staff were previously drivers of a university, but over time, participation has diminished.

Burch said the idea of shared governance has always been important to the university but has become more challenging to implement. However, she said the board and president are committed to the idea of including faculty voices in decision making.

“I am very proud of work the board did; I’m appreciative of the participation and contribution that others made and the trust that was given to the board.” – Barbara Burch

Looking forward, Burch said three primary challenges are facing WKU.

She said the first is the financial crisis and rising costs at WKU, which she said concerns many people. Burch said making sure college stays affordable should be an extensive discussion on the board.

Dietle said the next faculty regent needs to insist on a more realistic and sustainable budget rather than approving “fantasy numbers.” Patricia Minter, who served as faculty regent for seven years before Burch, said the current financial issues were “entirely preventable.”

Burch said another challenge is improving student success and retention, which was a lengthy discussion at the Board of Regents retreat over the summer. Burch said student success is vital to a university’s mission and they can’t afford the number of students who drop out or transfer.

Lastly, Burch addressed the need for more appropriate faculty compensation. Under Ransdell’s administration, she said there was a big push to make the campus a beautiful place rather than addressing the needs of faculty and staff.

Dietle said faculty and staff have not had raises in 10 years, while the budget has increased “substantially.”

Burch said the next faculty regent needs to be competent in knowing how to bring forth the faculty voice while staying involved in the strategic planning process.

Due to the delays in results, Burch will be attending the next Board of Regents meeting as faculty regent and said she is unsure when the next faculty regent will be sworn in.

After 21 years at WKU, Burch said she doesn’t want anyone to think her stepping down from this position means she is leaving. After spending an extended period in higher education, she said she is extremely committed to student success.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].