by Chase Cerbin, Staff Writer (ccerbin@wwc)
A governance task force was assembled last spring to evaluate the efficiency of the Warren Wilson governance structure. The committee, comprised of students, faculty, staff, the board of trustees and current school president, Sandy Pfeiffer, began meeting over the summer.
“We first met in person – face to face – once,” said Philosophy Professor John Casey, a long-time advocate of the current shared governance structure. “We also had one telephone-driven conference call.”
At the first meeting, task force members discussed the history an roles different governmental bodies at Warren Wilson.
“To be honest, I think a lot of people were unfamiliar with how the other structures work,” said student representative and junior Lacey Cunningham. “For instance, the trustees didn’t know what Student Caucus talked about, they didn’t understand staff and faculty body, so the first meeting was primarily educating each other on how [various governmental bodies] work and the history.”
During the first meeting, the task force was broken into two groups. The first group researched schools similar to Warren Wilson.
“We began looking at different schools that we have things in common with,” said Assistant to Registrar Marion Yeager. “We chose residential schools that were similar in size that offer a liberal arts education.”
The group first discussed schools which were affiliated with the same organizations as Warren Wilson. Colleges from the Appalachian College Association, Work Colleges Consortium and North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities were all researched in terms of size, residency and endowments.
Eventually the group narrowed it down to four schools which they deemed most similar to Warren Wilson: Davidson, Middlebury, Earlham and Berea. All of the schools had, according to Yeager, “some kind of shared governance.” These schools will be discussed further at the next task force meeting in September.
“This is just a background study,” explained Yeager. “We want to see what works, in terms of governance, on these campuses, and what does not. This is not intended to be hugely earth-shattering. Our bigger concern is hearing from campus and seeing what does or or does not work.”
The second group from the task force considered how to collect student input.
“I was in a group that brainstormed ways to get the campus involved in the process,” said Cunningham. “I think we were productive and we are starting to see signs up around campus [where people can voice opinions]. There are also details on the inside page.”
Task Force Chair Alice Buhl mentioned that “each person will have an opportunity to participate in the task force review process in three ways.”
The first opportunity for communication is already visible. Students are encouraged to write their opinions on large signs around campus, each headlined with questions such as “What works?” “What doesn’t work?” and “What could work?”
The feedback will be reviewed by the task force and a survey will then be posted online for students’ viewing. After the survey information has been reviewed, small groups of students, faculty, staff and possibly trustees will meet.
All of the information will be evaluated by the task force at the end of September. “This is an ambitious schedule,” admits Alice Buhl. “But it’s vital for us to include campus thinking and ideas in our work this fall.”
As for the final outcome, there have been speculations on when changes, if deemed necessary, will be voted upon.
“There is this thing in the background, a tentative schedule,” said Casey, “that is trying to get this to be voted on by trustees at a certain meetings. Basically the idea is that we get this all figured out and approved by the end of this semester. That flat-out can’t be done.”
While students, staff and faculty do have a chance for input, the final outcome will be voted on solely by the board of trustees.
“I remain hopeful that we will actually do a good job of asking in what ways…governance at Warren Wilson [needs] to be improved,” said Casey. “[We should] ask ourselves, is that a matter of changing or adjusting the system we got, is it a matter of getting a whole new system? On the basis of that answer do one or the other.”