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Campus News

Dean of College reflects on academic departments, campus culture

Gabriel Sistare, staff writer

The Wabash National Study is a survey conducted at liberal arts colleges across the United States. Its purpose is to investigate critical factors that affect the outcomes of a liberal arts education.

This is the first year that Warren Wilson students have participated in the survey.

The survey included questions asking students what their preferred major was, how they spent their time in their last year of high school and life accomplishments that are most important to them — such as raising a family, influencing the political structure, and creating artistic works.  The survey also asked what a college education means for the students.

The data from the survey was compiled and presented at a campus-wide community meeting on April 6.

Paula Garrett, vice president for academic affairs, reflected on some of the results from the survey taken by Warren Wilson students.

The results from students’ intended majors showed a significantly higher number of students in the Fine Arts, Humanities, and Languages — all as a group — and the Natural Sciences, than any other area of study.

Garrett said that there is no doubt that the Natural Sciences at Warren Wilson get a lot of emphasis. An emphasis, she said, that is well deserved.

Garrett said that the College should look through the academic programs and find which programs ought to be emphasized more.

Acknowledging the large interest in the arts, Garrett noted that the college has upgraded two part-time art positions into full-time positions and is working on receiving a $25 Million dollar grant for the undergraduate writing program.
Garrett said that she wants to understand the quality of every program and understand any resource issue that they may have and then work with the Advancement Office to raise the funds that are needed.

The survey asked students what they did during their last year of high school. According to the data, more than any other liberal arts institution, Warren Wilson students read for pleasure and used a library for research.

Garrett thought it was thrilling to hear that so many first year students read for pleasure, but she said she didn’t necessarily know what to do with the data.

“They are willing to read, but maybe they want more say in what they read,” said Garrett.

Garrett thought that maybe the College should be making sure that what students do read is worth their time.

The results from one question that seemed to stand out for Garrett was the fact that dramatically fewer Warren Wilson students wanted to raise a family than students from any other liberal arts college interviewed.

“Is it a laissez-faire reaction to traditional family structures?” Garrett wondered.

Garrett suggested that the campus should have a conversation about “having it all,” mentioning how many faculty and staff members on campus are managing to raise a family along with carrying out the requirements of their job.

Garrett was interested in finding out what made students answer the question the way they did.

“Is it a political position,” said Garrett, “or they don’t think of themselves as wanting the responsibility.”

One question asked students to show their level of agreement with statements that included, “I enjoy taking courses that challenge my beliefs and values,” and “Learning about people from different cultures is very important part of my college education.” The results showed that Warren Wilson students seem to commit to an open-minded philosophy.

Garrett said that she wanted to know a little more about this question. She thought that students on campus are hungry for a real debate.

“I wonder about our [Warren Wilson] ability to get a genuine debate going,” she said. “I worry a little bit that we make it too easy for them.”

Garrett thought that students should seall of the other side and know how to really argue it.

In general Garrett thought that the College needs to find out what students really want from their time at Warren Wilson.

Garrett mentioned that Warren Wilson is caught between an image — mentioning the stoner character Jeff Spicoli from the film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” — and the actual reality of the College.

Garrett said that she wants to make sure there is sufficient rigor and does not want the College to get too confused by the image.

“We want to makes sure that our smartest students are getting what they need,” said Garrett.

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