A time of transition in “the year of the liberal arts”
Wofford College is now almost 160 years old, but during all this time, there have been only 10 presidents! Thus, a transition in the presidency is inevitably seen as a crossroads, and a time to consider where we have been and where we might be going.
In the summer of 2013, President Benjamin B. Dunlap will retire, and the college will move forward under new leadership. As we passed through the commencement season, someone asked me how I thought Dr. Dunlap might be remembered beyond the fact that he and his wife, Anne, obviously are virtuous people who have been well liked across the college’s constituency and beyond.
Here’s a list of a decade’s accomplishments that I drafted quickly and in no particular order.
—Applications for admission to the first-year class grew from 1,551 in September 2000 to 2,871 in September 2011. This important surge has enabled the college to increase its enrollment to almost 1,600 with no adverse effects on the student profile.
—During the first 11 years of the Dunlap presidency, Wofford raised a total of $134 million in gifts and grants. This amounts to an average of $12.2 million per year. The market value of the endowment was $109.9 million in 2000, and even though the recession of 2008 represented a setback, the total now exceeds $160 million.
—Among many campus renewal projects, the restoration and revitalization of “Old Main” at the heart of the historic district was completed early in 2008.
—Wofford continued to build one of the outstanding International Programs among liberal arts colleges, consistently ranking in the top ten of the annual Open Doors Survey. In 2010-2011, 117 students studied abroad for a semester or longer, with 50 percent of them specializing in a language other than English; during Interim, 271 students earned academic credit in other countries.
—Wofford became firmly established as a member of NCAA Division I, with Southern Conference championships in football, men’s basketball, soccer and baseball.
—Curricular changes include new majors in theatre, Chinese and environmental studies as well as a number of interesting interdisciplinary offerings. The Goodall Environmental Studies Center at Glendale is not only a LEED platinum facility, but it also has claimed a series of awards for historic preservation.
—Dunlap signed the Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Subsequently, a campus-wide sustainability audit was funded through the generosity of the late Roger Milliken and conducted by Jeff Ross-Bain, considered by many to the nation’s leading authority on “green building.”
—The Liberty Fellowship became the Aspen Institute’s only domestic partnership based at a college or university.
—Wofford was featured in an important study of engaged learning, “Student Success in College” (2005, 2010). The book grew out of Project DEEP, which chose benchmark campuses based on student scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).
— New centers for learning opportunities outside the classroom were created around the Mungo Center for Professional Excellence and the Center for Global and Community Engagement. Heads of both these centers sit in the presidential cabinet.
—One of “50 remarkable people” invited to make a presentation, Dunlap spoke about Sandor Teszler’s “passionate life” at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference in 2008. The inspirational video went “viral” on the Internet, reaching a global audience exceeding 600,000 people.
Nevertheless, when the long-term impact of the Dunlap years is measured some years from now, it may be that none of these impressive achievements will be ranked as his most important contribution to Wofford. That most likely will lie in the effort he and his cabinet made to take a very good faculty and make it larger, stronger and altogether exceptional.
In 2000, Wofford had 83.4 faculty members (full time equivalent), and the faculty to student ratio was 1:13. The individual academic departments were relatively small and in some cases “tenured-in.” The college needed new professors from a variety of academic backgrounds to complement its senior faculty. The standard teaching load needed to be reduced from four courses to three, and more formal opportunities for professional development and recognition were needed, on campus and off.
By the fall of 2011, the faculty had grown to 136 members (full-time equivalent), for a faculty to student ratio of 1 to 11. They had earned doctoral degrees at no fewer than 69 graduate schools. Prestigious faculty prizes included the Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science and the Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. Dennis Wiseman was named dean of a new Center for Innovation and Learning. A concerted effort was made to make assessment more objective and consistent.
Promising young Ph.D.’s attracted to the setting of a “great college to work for” will influence Wofford students for generations to come. They will serve as the principal guardians of the college’s academic strength. They are the ones who will balance tradition with positive change even as alma mater “proudly stands… as the years go by.”
That’s why I am excited about the coming “year of the liberal arts” at Wofford in 2012-2013. It is a perfect time to meditate together about the key questions such as, “What are the liberal arts?” “What is their place in American higher education?” “Why do they shape Wofford?” “What is their future?”
All of Wofford’s constituencies are invited (and urged), to participate in an important discussion in this year of transition.