This weekend, the Board of Trustees will decide upon the fate of Warren Wilson’s business program. Those who want the program to stay have already done, more or less, everything they can to advocate for it, having spoken extensively with the administration and collected well over 200 signatures on a petition which they plan to present to the Board of Trustees.
In light of the upcoming decision, the Echo was given access to a collection of documents and audio recordings regarding the closure of the business department. They were sent anonymously to business students, with the intention that they be used to support the maintenance of the program. Three of the most informative documents are a 2013 consultant’s report, a 2010 report about the history of the program, and documentation of the program’s current grants and endowments. By sharing this information, the Echo hopes to provide students with greater clarity and insight into the situation concerning the business department.
Written by Kim Burke of Guilford College, the intention of the consultant’s report was to investigate Warren Wilson’s business program, articulate its unique value, and pronounce the greatest successes and regrets of the program. When Burke compared the program to business programs in other small liberal arts colleges, she found that it had fewer faculty members and was the only program that didn’t employ a faculty member who had a Ph.D or DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) in business. By interviewing students and employees, Burke found that students were upset about the constant restructuring of the major in the previous two years. Faculty expressed a concern that the program was “nobody’s baby.” Students expressed a desire for increased rigor in the major. Both students and faculty stated that they thought business was under-promoted as a major. Many faculty members and all of the students Burke spoke with, especially international students and athletes, thought that Warren Wilson needed to continue business as a major.
Primarily, Burke recommended that the major increase its rigor and breadth, create a partnership with a local university’s MBA program, integrate business classes into non-business majors, and possibly create a business economics program. Secondarily, she recommended that the program create an advisory board, interact more with the business community, and create a course on business ethics. When business students requested Burke’s report in one of the recorded meetings, he answered that “it’s a fairly frank report. I’m a little concerned that that report may reflect some of the discussion backwards, in ways that may or may not be constructive.”
Another document from 2010, entitled “Business and Economics at Warren Wilson College” by Professor Susan B. Kask, served as a historical summary of the business major at Warren Wilson. According to the essay, business has been taught at Warren Wilson for over a hundred years, since the school’s beginning as the Asheville Farm School. In 2000, influential businesswoman and then member of the Wilson Board of Trustees Helen Powers gave a large endowment to the department to help reaffirm its value and to enhance it by creating more of a focus on sustainable business, environmental management, and social justice. Kask’s essay also said that, when the essay was written in 2010, the program had graduated 187 students. Supposedly, some of these business graduates have obtained prestigious occupational titles, such as president, CEO, and professor, and have found jobs in places such as International Consulting, Marketing and Advertising, Health Services, the World Bank, and the Secret Service.
According to the budget reports sent to business students, the college has more than $2 million set aside to be used specifically by the business department. In the audio recordings of meetings between President Solnick and business students, Solnick mentioned that he was working with originating donors to agree upon acceptable ways that this money could be used once the business program was closed.
While being consulted on the above mentioned documents, business students Samuel Webber and Benjamin Wall expressed their frustration with the way the administration has handled the situation with the business program.
“It just seems hasty. It seems like they haven’t communicated,” said Webber. ”If they told me why they wanted to close the department, and I felt like someone was being honest and sincere with me, I wouldn’t have gone out and had this petition. I would have gone, ‘Well, you know, you’ve got some good reasons.’ [But] why they want to close the department, I’m still not sure.”
“There are mistruths,” said Wall. ”I know that 110%, but they are intricately woven into this complex web of legitimate points and actual facts.” Examples of mistruths, he said, are Paula Garrett’s severe undercounting of the number of currently enrolled business students and Solnick’s claim that he could not allow students to view Burke’s consultant report due to inappropriate comments it contained about faculty members, even though it appears, to Wall, to contain no such information. Regardless of whether or not the business program is closed, Wall plans to leave Warren Wilson next year due to discontent with the college’s administration.
Solnick remains incontrovertible. ”The reason we are closing the business department,” he told the Echo, ”is because we looked at strategies for enhancing the business education to students interested in business and entrepreneurship. These strategies involved deeper investment into the business department. And therefore, what we decided to do was re-conceive how we serve students interested in business and entrepreneurship, the way many other small liberal arts colleges do–with pre-professional advising, internship, and articulation agreements with other colleges, and encouraging students to major in a strong major that’s not a business major. Enhancing the business department as a business department was just something we didn’t have the resources to do.”