Mariah Parker, Echo Online Writer
Professor of Religious Studies Tsering Wangchuk recently announced that he will be leaving the college after this spring semester.
Wangchuk will be joining the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco at Berkeley in the fall, continuing to research and teach courses in Buddhist and Himalayan studies.
“I have loved San Francisco for a very long time,” Wangchuk said. “I visited about ten years ago and the diversity of a big city really attracted me – there are so many religions, cultures, races and languages present. The Tibetan community there is also very active.”
When the University of San Francisco contacted Wangchuk about an open position in their Religious Studies Department, he decided to seize the opportu- nity to finally return to the city he loved.
Wangchuk has enjoyed the ideological diversity of Asheville, but the absence of a strong Tibetan community has been a small drawback from him. Born and raised in India, Wangchuk has many years of close personal experience with Tibetan monks and looks forward to rejoining a community of similarly spiritu- ally minded individuals.
The decision to leave the Warren Wilson community has not been easy, however.
“I love the mountains, I love the laid-back attitude in Asheville and I love the students here,” Wangchuk said. “The quality of education and ideals we adhere to are all great things that you can’t really find anywhere else. This community is a jewel and I’m going to miss it, but there are ups and downs with any decision. I’ve had to look at it from different angles and use my best judgment.”
Having completed his post- graduate studies at the Univesity of Virginia, Wangchuk feels con- fident in transitioning from a small liberal arts college to large public university.
“I’m used to the atmosphere of a bigger university,” Wangchuk said. “At the University of San Francisco, the largest classes there are still about 40 students and the smallest are very close to the size of classes at Wilson. The biggest transition for me will be returning to life in a big city, but I’m excited for the learning experience.”
Warren Wilson’s Religious Studies Department is sad to lose Wangchuk’s personal experience with Eastern thought and academic insight into Tibetan literary texts.
“It’s been amazing to have someone with a Western edu- cation and personal life experience with Tibetan monks,” said Jeanne Sommer, chair of the Religious Studies Department. “I wasn’t surprised that he got snatched up by another university; it’s the risk you take when you hire the best.”
Wangchuk’s departure from the college has raised questions about the future of the Religious Studies Department and the Buddhist studies concentration.
“We plan on taking the next six to eight months to figure out what would best serve our students,” Sommer said. “Whether the new professor will teach Buddhist studies, social ethics and religion, environment and religion or another sub-topic, we want the new hire to be able to address the broadest spectrum of student need and interest and I’m not convinced that a new Buddhist studies professor is the best way to meet that need.”
The college plans on hiring a part-time professor until the Religious Studies Department comes to a consensus about their goals for the future.
Sommer is optimistic about the greater academic diversity that part-time professors would offer students of religious studies.
“Postponing the hire of a full- time faculty member gives us time to rethink the future of that open position,” Sommer explained. “There are so many interesting people in the local community that could offer a class. We’ve also entertained the idea of hosting rotating scholars in different issues; we’d have a Muslim studies professor one semester and Jewish studies profes- sor the next. That way, we could provide our students with the broadest academic opportunity possible.”
Wangchuk will still lead his study-abroad course in India this summer. As of yet, it is unclear whether or not the department will offer courses in Eastern thought and religion next fall.