I’m starting this campus update on the first day of semester break (Saturday), after students have made it home and begun recovering from a busy semester. As I walked from home to office this morning, I again realized how still this place becomes during breaks. A few days of relative quiet are fine, but all of us living on campus prefer the buzz of activity when students return. In the meantime, here are some reflections on the semester just over and the one ahead.
MAJOR GIFT TO THE COLLEGE
Despite a tough economy, the fund-raising arm of the College is doing fairly well. Richard Blomgren and his staff have noted increasing numbers of donors, and they and I are often on the road meeting new and old friends of the College. Plus we occasionally get a stroke of good fortune. As mentioned on the front page of Friday’s Asheville Citizen-Times, we received a gift of nearly $1 million from the estate of a Presbyterian minister and his wife, Robert and Pauline Ware. The Wyoming couple admired our mission and dedicated their estate to the College. Also last week, we received about $160,000 in another gift commitment, as well as a $50,000 grant to support our sprinklers project in residence halls. It was a good semester for gifts, but the challenge never ends to raise funds for scholarships, the physical plant, and other needs.
Many of you are working hard to complete actions plans that emanate from our 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. The President’s Advisory Council (PAC) and I are directing the effort, with the help of the College’s research, planning, and assessment staff. Below are some of the actions already in motion or completed:
- starting a sustainability speakers series
- finding funding for more endowed scholarships
- writing successful grant proposals
- starting the first phase of a new Bonner-funded program
- soliciting proposals from firms for a fund-raising campaign
- strengthening connections between Career Services and our alumni
- completing a periodic review of the Work Program
- forming an Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees
- starting a Warren Wilson College Dean’s List
- having the “Triad Deans” meet regularly to discuss Triad integration
- purchasing software to track success on planning and assessment
- working on a marketing video about the history of the College
- developing a list of WWC benchmark colleges for academic comparisons
- completing an enrollment plan for the Board of Trustees
- proposing a new model for the student service requirement
- starting funding for the Activism Task Force
- implementing the Governance Task Force
- planning a service learning speaker series for the spring
- developing a Triad Learning Portfolio
- developing an interactive service database to connect with the community
- scheduling outside speeches to be given by the president about WWC
- seeking a partnership with a North Carolina HBCU (historically black university)
- planning more interaction between trustees and the campus
- increasing leadership opportunities for students on work crews
- implementing an environmental management system
- addressing deferred maintenance issues
- starting a student crew to raise awareness on substance abuse and health issues
- adding professional staff to residence halls
- developing a retention plan for the College
- exploring expansion of transportation options to Asheville
- developing a revised and integrated General Education program
- setting “learning across the Triad” educational objectives
- establishing capstone senior projects for all majors
- setting specific goals in all academic departments
- continuing the process of assessing the entire curriculum
- implementing a new faculty evaluation process
CAMPUS REPORTS, POLICIES, AND TASK FORCES
Here’s the status of a few campus initiatives and reports:
*Alcohol Policy Proposal: The Board of Trustees is reviewing this proposal and preparing a formal response for me to discuss with campus next semester.
*Sustainable Food Policy Proposal: I’ve responded positively to the proposal and have invited the chair of the Local Foods Task Force that developed it to discuss next steps with the PAC and me.
*One Mission, One Land Report: I met last week with the Land Use Task Force about next steps in addressing issues of the report. The task force will meet the rest of the year to deal with immediate concerns related to our land.
*Work Program Review: I’ve met with Ian Robertson about the completed review and have discussed how our Strategic Plan will address some points mentioned in the report.
*Governance Task Force: You’ve been receiving regular updates on the work of the Governance Task Force, a group established by the Board of Trustees and chaired by Trustee Alice Buhl. The task force is preparing to lead a community meeting on February 2 to discuss progress.
AWARDS AND HONORS
Among the awards and honors received by the College and its members, here are just a few from fall semester:
*Chloe Stuber received a Community Impact Student Award from N.C. Campus Compact for her stellar contributions to service at the College and in the region.
*Mallory McDuff received a highly selective faculty fellowship for next year from the Appalachian College Association.
*Alumna Katie Spotz was recognized as a “Woman of the Year” in Glamour Magazine for rowing solo across the Atlantic on behalf of clean water causes.
*Two WWC volunteer groups were given the Pisgah Forest Volunteers of the Year Award for arduous work on several camping sites at Mt. Pisgah.
*Our MFA in Writing Program was tied for the #1 low residency program (out of 46) in rankings published by Poets and Writers magazine.
*Warren Wilson received the inaugural Second Nature Award for Institutional Excellence in Climate Leadership, presented at the 4th annual meeting of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.
IDEAS FROM MEETINGS WITH STUDENTS
Besides having an “open door” to faculty, staff, and students, this semester I began holding open weekly meetings with students—mostly in the Sun Room in Gladfelter. I’ve enjoyed these sessions, during which many good ideas were discussed. So I’m ending this report with a few questions that arose during these sessions and other meetings with students. I should add that some issues below are already being addressed:
- How can we strengthen the academic experience at Warren Wilson?
- Would retention improve if first-year students were in all dorms?
- Is it feasible to offer more meal-plan choices?
- Can we offer students more “healthy” options for weekend activities?
- Should the student perspective be included in faculty contract evaluations?
- How can students evaluate staff as well as faculty each semester?
- Can activism work be included as part of the service requirement?
- Can Public Safety work more closely with residence halls staff?
- Would a pub/café be a good addition to campus?
- Why are some more religious students made to feel uncomfortable here?
- How can we embrace a more diverse set of political views?
- Can we improve the helpfulness of some campus offices toward students?
My discussions with students were all constructive. I came away realizing that one way to define community is as follows: working together to improve the College, while respecting and learning from differing points of view. Let’s keep doing that.