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Administration Proposes to Cut Business Major

by Jackson Bicknell, staff writer

In February the Board of Trustees will vote on the fate of the business department. Cartoon by William Kissane

Helen A. Powers was a former member on the Board of Trustees, a chair for the college’s finance and development committee as well as a large proponent for the Warren Wilson business program. Powers is responsible for the Helen A. Powers Business and Economics Scholarship and the Helen Powers Research and Project Grants awarded to students in the sustainable business major. Powers also served a charitable role in the business department at the college.

On Nov. 8, Powers passed away at the age of 88, and it seemed as though the spirit of the business department had gone with her.

Four days after the passing of Powers, on Nov. 12, business majors at Warren Wilson received an email from Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Paula Garrett. “I need to inform you that I am recommending to the Board of Trustees that we close the undergraduate business program, that we ‘teach out’ the program for all of you that are here now,” Garrett wrote.

I received the news while I was working on my accounting homework with sophomore Ben Walls. This was the first time I had heard any indication that the business major would come to a close. After taking a break to discuss the news, Ben and I sat down to finish our business homework and realized that we couldn’t. Having registered for business classes about a week prior and realizing that my major will cease to exist after this year was too much of a distraction.

I am a current business major that came to Warren Wilson in the hopes of leaving the school with a degree in sustainable business. Prior to transferring to the college I was an art major. I was attracted to the uniqueness of this school and its emphasis on the art of craftsmanship, farming and creative writing. Being in a location where you are constantly changing gears and using different parts of your brain to transition from school, to work, to play, to service, I thought my artistic needs could be met at a school that breeds, demands and expects creativity in its everyday functions. When I sat down and scrutinized my interests while mapping out a potential major, I thought of my interests in becoming a psychologist, filmmaker, an artist, or maybe even an architect. I began searching for a major that could accommodate all of my interests. It became clear to me that my career path might be more entrepreneurially based. I quickly realized that business is at the core of everything. But I didn’t want to become a business major at any college. I wanted to be a business major at Warren Wilson College.

The news from the first email from Garrett had people frightened, perplexed and wanting more information. This email was the first public indication that the business program would cease to exist. Faculty first heard the news about the business program in a faculty meeting that took place hours before Garrett sent out the email. Faculty and students were not included in the discussion prior to the decision to terminate the program. “Our accrediting body is very clear on who does and doesn’t make decisions about the curriculum,” said Garrett in an interview Nov. 19.

The idea that this decision was made solely for financial reasons is a misconception. Every so often Warren Wilson looks at the top liberal arts colleges for comparison sake. This process is called benchmarking. Through Garrett’s observations, those top schools to which she compared Warren Wilson, all had economics departments that would lead into a one year MBA program.


“There are so many facts that I want to share, but I can’t,” said Garrett. “It’s complicated. It isn’t solely a budget decision or a numbers decision. It’s about finding a way to better deliver an education to students that puts us in line with the best small liberal arts colleges,” said Garrett.

Nov. 13, after the email was sent out, Ben Wall quickly organized a group of dozens of business majors, minors and other students invested in the program to talk about ways that they can fight the proposed closing of their department. And the next day in their classes, many business majors voiced their concerns.

Senior and business major Chris Marshall, currently working on his thesis, said, “In my senior year, it does not feel right at all.”

“What about those people who cannot see themselves in any other major but love Wilson?” said Hannah McMerriman.

Garrett stated in the email to business majors that “the College will honor its commitment to you by offering you the classes you need to finish your major here.”

According to Garrett, the contracts will most likely be short and contingent upon student interest in the business program. “We have already heard from practitioners in the field who have some interest,” she said. “Me and Ben Feinberg are going to start having those conversations pretty rapidly. We know what this year looks like, but we aren’t sure what next year will look like. But we will try to figure out who is teaching what very rapidly.”

But is this short-term type of teacher who we want to include in our thoughtful community? Will they be as invested in their teaching, and in the mission of the college, in the same way that other faculty members are?

I transferred from a large University to Warren Wilson for my sophomore year. I felt as though the size of the institution drew the focus away from the unique and personalized education that I so badly craved. I felt as though I were on a conveyor belt being handed credits by my teachers so I could graduate and receive my diploma. “Teaching out” seems similar to this.

Enrique Timas, a junior business major said, “There is no point receiving a business major from a school that won’t have a business program. For those who aren’t into any other major, does it only makes sense for us to leave?” said Timas.

On Monday, Timas announced that he, among other business majors on the basketball team, will be transferring from Warren Wilson.

The termination of the department brings up an important question: Who are we losing as a result of this decision?

The business department has attracted students from all over the world. Eight out of the 30 international students are business majors. The department is also more diverse than most other majors in terms of race and ethnicity. But, with the closing of this program, Warren Wilson may lose some of that diversity which it is arguably already lacking.

In the past, a student from Ireland has received a scholarship from the British Council N.I. for the Study USA program. The scholarship allows students the chance to receive 24 business credits as well as six elective credits. John McCaul is from Northern Ireland and is currently attending the college through the Irish American Scholars Program. McCaul, who recently spoke to the British Council, says, “Indeed, if the business department is discontinued, the British Council will no longer be able to offer Warren Wilson College as a choice on its list of colleges,” said McCaul.

Now business majors are faced with the difficult decision of where to go from here. Shall we transfer? Shall we change majors? Shall we finish out our degree as the major is “taught out”?

Hayden Holbert, a freshman, says that “a large part of my enrollment in the college was due to the existence of a sustainable business program.”

Holbert and his father run a farm in Wisconsin that began six years ago. He explains the large disconnect between the consumer and supplier. “Growing vegetables wasn’t the issue, it was selling them.” Holbert’s decision to become a sustainable business major was based on his interest in educating himself in small business practices. A reason why so many small farms are driven out by larger corporations like Monsanto stems from a lack of understanding how business works.

“If you don’t understand business, you can become a pawn to someone who does,” said Holbert.

The majority of Wilson students didn’t enroll to become educated in running a large corporation. In fact, within the department’s framework, students are taught sustainable business practices that many corporations fail to implement. Thus, Holbert said, “If you want to fight against it, you need to have an understanding of how these corporations run.”

What will the future of Warren Wilson hold? A drop in retention? A school of economists? A conveyor belt?

Although the sustainable business program may be viewed as small, there is a strong following full of tenacious individuals motivated to make something of their own and use their business skills and language to help them be the change in the world that they wish to see. In the words of Paula Garrett, “The entrepreneurial spirit of our students is incredible.”


4 Responses to “Administration Proposes to Cut Business Major”

  1. The cartoons y’all have been publishing are great!

    Posted by Morgan | November 20, 2013, 4:40 pm
  2. As an alumna, I am disappointed by and concerned about this decision. I majored in English at Warren Wilson, and didn’t take any business classes. I wish that I had; they could have rounded out my education. A month or two after graduating, I went on to work for an electricity and communication provider. Over time, I developed enough environmental stewardship programs to create a new position, the company’s first sustainability focused job. I have fantastic mentors who taught me business principles. I am very lucky.
    I went to Warren Wilson to learn how to change the world. I gained a lot of valuable experience, and I have recycled several Wilson concepts and programs in my day-to-day work, like the creation of a Company Free Store, a LEED certification, and a Corporate CSA program. Wilson was worth every penny. However, if the college is serious about preparing students to change the world, the business school is one of the most important tools in the war chest.
    The reality is that idealism and creativity are not enough to change the world. If you want to be an effective change agent, then you must understand financial principals. You must be able to think in terms of ROIs, markets, and tangible benefits. I cannot emphasize this fact of life enough: business is the language you must speak.
    You may care about the environment/social justice/education/insert your cause here/ from a deep and meaningful place. That passion will carry you through the discipline you must have in applying business principles, but passion by itself is not enough.
    When I talk about my company’s programs, I talk in dollars as much as I talk in emissions and intangibles because sustainability is good business. That Company Free Store? We are still studying the trend, but our office supply purchasing costs are down over 20%. The LEED certification? It has an ROI (return on investment) of less than one year. Our CSA is a new business model that is win/win/win for the company, employees and the farm. What could Wilson accomplish if it encouraged this sort of thinking? This is what makes the majority of people get on board with your cause.
    Wilson should find a way to keep its business major, and even add an entrepreneurial track. We need to train the next generation of change agents to understand the reality of the world. We can go a step further and teach students to be their own bosses and to make their dreams a reality. We have so many entrepreneurial graduates doing great things; we can continue and expand on that trend.
    We need passionate students to be literate in the world’s universal language: business. Without this basic knowledge, I am concerned about Wilson ability to not only compete, but also deliver on its promise to change this world for the better.

    Posted by Elizabeth Hammitt | November 20, 2013, 6:04 pm
  3. This makes me so sad because this spring semester I am returning after a leave of absence. After my little “sabbatical” I realized my most logical option to accommodate what I want in my life was the sustainable business major. I finally know what I want and now it might not be an option at the one school I have ever imagined myself at. The crowd of people in this major are also very important to the school, considering how small the school is as a whole. The administration needs to really contemplate the consequences to come for the student body if the option of a business major is cut out- because a great teacher passed away? I just thought that detail made it so much more disrespectful. What would Paula Garrett think?

    Posted by Molly Colvin | November 27, 2013, 2:31 pm
  4. Very disappointed to hear of this decision . I’ve supported this campus since getting my degree ( economics ) in 1971. Whatever happened to a balanced education ? I must rethink my commitment to what was an amazing college.

    Posted by Thomas Hertner | January 29, 2014, 2:44 am

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