Arts + Entertainment

Western Carolina University is leading the way in a state mandate to cut energy production on college campuses.

WCU has already reached the state target of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by the year 2015, making it the first and only university to reach the goal so far.

WCU Energy Manager Lauren Bishop, who has led efforts to reduce energy consumption on campus, organized last week’s fair on energy and the environment. The goal of the fair was to promote sustainability, which she defined as “meeting the needs of today without compromising future generations.”

The university is doing the best it can to reduce its energy consumption, Bishop said. While WCU had a $4.8 million utility bill last year, that’s $600,000 lower than it had been — a reduction achieved by using natural gas instead of petroleum and taking other steps such as using electric vehicles.

During the fair, WCU Chancellor John Bardo touted WCU’s energy reduction accomplishments. The 30 percent cut in fossil fuel consumption was based on 2002-2003 levels.

Universities account for 52 percent of the state governments total energy use, according to Reid Conway, program manager for the state Energy Office in Asheville, who served as keynote speaker at the event.

North Carolina ranks 12th in energy consumption and is expected to see a 28 percent increase in energy use between 2005 and 2020.

About $200 million was spent on energy in state buildings in 2006.

The state consumed 180.9 million barrels of oil in 2006, he said.

Conway believes the state will make progress thanks to a new law passed by the state legislature that requires power companies to get 3 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2012 and 12.5 percent by 2021. Using renewable resources such as wind, thermal, geothermal and biomass, can improve air quality, Conway said.

More efficient building codes and water conservation also need to be employed in the state to help the environment, he said.

People should be encouraged to conserve energy because it costs $3,555 a year for a family making $10,000 to $30,000, he said.

Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News last week said that he is distancing himself from the budget cut process.

He said he is leaving it up to a “cadre of deans” and the provost to come up with areas that could be cut.

He also said, “My finance guy is going through and looking at everything.”

By having the deans and provost handle the budget cuts rather than himself, he said it is a step toward “decentralizing” the university, which he said needs to be done if WCU grows as much as he thinks it will in the next 15 to 20 years.

A lot of the decisions will be “done away from me,” Bardo said.

Bardo noted that some teachers could lose their jobs. “If we get a 5 to 7 percent cut, there will be layoffs,” Bardo said.

Minimizing the cost of athletic programs is a way the university can save money, Bardo said, adding that the band may not need to go on every sports trip.

To hold down costs, a new position to oversee development of Millennial Initiative projects has been eliminated because it is not considered “mission critical,” Bardo said.

Bardo said the university is trying to be judicious in deciding what is and is not critical. For instance, he said the position of chief diversity officer will remain.

Proposed budget cuts at Western Carolina University are beginning to affect students like Will Furse, who says he won’t graduate on time if summer classes are cut.

The senior construction management student knows he has little influence over the situation.

“There’s nothing that can be done,” he said. “That’s what sucks.”

If it were left up to Furse he said he would cut pay for executives, but doubts Chancellor John Bardo will see it that way.

Bardo has asked each department to come up with scenarios that trim their budgets by 3, 5 and 7 percent. Bardo is preparing the university for state budget cuts likely coming down the pipe, although no one knows yet exactly how much that could be. Bardo wants the scenarios back by March 1.

While Bardo has pledged to defer to the recommendations of deans, the cuts likely mean the loss of professors, which translates to fewer classes and larger class sizes for the courses that are left.

The scenarios will be presented to the university’s Strategic Planning Committee for feedback, said WCU Provost Dr. Kyle Carter in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News.

The university will remain in a holding pattern, however, until state budget cuts — and the federal stimulus package — shake out. Bardo said he will be making a trip to the legislature this week to learn more about the proposed budget cuts.

Until there is a firm number passed down from the state, the university is in “flux,” said Bardo. By coming up with different scenarios of what might happen, hopefully people won’t be surprised, Bardo said.

“We’re trying to be as straight as we can with folks,” he said.

Bardo in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News last week that “A campus is only as good as its faculty,” but layoffs will likely be unavoidable.

“Depending on the magnitude of the budget reduction we could see layoffs,” Carter said.

Some teachers on year-to-year contracts have already been told they might not have a job next year, Carter said.

“My English teacher told me last week she might lose her job,” said Vanessa Abney, a junior. “A lot of teachers are being let go. My friend told me his teacher in theater got fired.”

Losing teachers is hard on students, Abney said.

“Some of us get close to our professors,” she said.

The class schedule for fall 2009 has already been put together with the assumption that there would be fewer faculty and larger class sizes. The current plan calls for 7 to 10 percent fewer classes than this year, Carter said.

Some teachers on year-to-year contracts don’t have their names on the new schedule and they take that to mean they don’t have a job. But if the budget situation improves, WCU will go back and add classes and keep teachers on board, Carter said.

Student Pamela King said if teachers are laid off at the end of the year it will mean larger class sizes, which she would dislike. Even if class sizes increase, WCU will still have smaller classes than most other schools in the state, Carter said. Fifty percent of WCU’s classes are capped at 35 or less, he said.

Carter said the university is “doing all it can” to protect the quality of education. He said the cuts will not be across the board but targeted and that no final plans or decisions have been made, despite some professors being left off the fall class schedule.

There are 582 full-time faculty at WCU. Under a 7 percent budget cut, 31 of them could be laid off, Carter said. He would not identify specific departments that may be cut, saying he would prefer to tell the faculty before they read it in the newspaper.

WCU receives about $95.5 million from the state annually, Carter said. Carter said the stimulus bill may help the state with Medicaid costs, improving the state’s budget situation and lessening the blow of cuts. The hope is that there is a clear picture of the stimulus bill in about a month.

Among other unknowns: Carter wonders what effect the economy will have on students enrolling in college, saying some may hold back because they can’t afford the tuition of $4,400 for in state and about $13,600 for out of state.

The university has already enacted one round of cuts after the state pulled 6 percent of the budget, or $5.7 million. The university is dealing with that by cutting travel, postponing purchases and leaving vacancies open.

Nonetheless, a new dining hall and residence hall remain under construction on campus because those buildings are paid for by fees generated by housing and meals, not state money.

Robert Conley, the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University, is winner of the 2009 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Oklahoma Center for the Book.

An enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Conley is a noted scholar and prolific author, with poems, short stories, articles and 80 books of fiction and nonfiction to his credit.

The Oklahoma Center for the Book, a state affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, encourages interest in books and reading. Named for the center’s first president, the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually and honors Oklahomans who have contributed to the state’s literary heritage. Past winners include Joy Harjo, S.E. Hinton, N. Scott Momaday and Tony Hillerman.

For more information about the Cherokee studies program at Western Carolina University, call 828.227.2306.

Bright colors, vibrant beats and contagious joy flood the room as the African Children’s Choir performs, and their boundless energy is heading to Western Carolina University Jan. 28.

The children from Uganda are eager to educate the audience with cheerful songs and theatrical moments as they share their culture in song and dance with a spirit of hope despite their hardships.

The choir is comprised of vulnerable and needy children, many who are orphans and have lost their parents to poverty and disease.

During Uganda’s bloody civil war in 1984, human rights activist Ray Barnett was compelled to help thousands of orphans and starving children who were abandoned and helpless.

Determined to share the dignity, beauty and unlimited ability of the children he met, Barnett created the choir 25 years ago after hearing a small boy sing. Barnett’s goal was to help the children break away from the cycle of poverty and despair.

Initially, the children traveled from Uganda to tour North American church communities, and now they perform internationally in many different venues, secular and sacred.

While touring the impoverished African children are exposed to a world of new possibilities.

The first proceeds of the choir’s tour funded an orphanage in Kampala, Uganda from which the second African Children’s Choir was chosen.

To date over 700 orphaned and needy children have shared their voices of joy and hope through the African Children’s Choir.

 

Former choir child

Among those voices was Prossy Nakiyemda who sang in the choir in 1995 at the age of 12.

Prossy means “preparation for Good Friday” in Luganda, and now at the age of 25 she is the music director of the African Children’s Choir.

She sings two solos during the concert including “Shadowland,” from the musical “The Lion King” as well as a South African song.

After two years in the choir, she completed her primary level of education and was chosen to go on tour again in high school.

In 2006, she graduated with a degree in journalism and creative writing.

Working as the musical director her duties include teaching 14 girls and 12 boys ranging from ages 8 to 10 to educate the audience about Africa through song and choreography.

There have been changes in the choir since Nakiyemda first performed. With so many differences in the music industry, the choir has become a more theatrical production, Nakiyemda said.

In their performance the children demonstrate how six different African nations dance, sing and dress. Nakiyemda noted the children share “this is how Uganda dances” as well as “beautiful, colorful and joyous costumes.”

Nakiyemda has met a smorgasbord of who’s who among her travels including President George W. Bush as well as first lady Laura Bush several times at the White House.

Nakiyemda has met Bill Clinton among other celebrities including Wyclef Jean, Shakira, Michael W. Smith and Mariah Carey.

The choir has recently recorded songs with Smith, and Nakiyemda was very excited to meet Carey having listened to her songs since she was a teen.

 

The singing selection

Before being chosen to be a part of the choir, the children attend a Music for Life camp.

Camp activities include games, crafts, music and devotions providing them a break from the daily adversity, including disease and poverty, they face at home.

As the children are selected, the choir teams visit their homes to better understand their needs and suitability for the tour.

After choosing the next group of children who will perform in the choir, the members spend about five months at the Choir Training Academy in Kampala, Uganda where they learn the songs, dances they will perform as well as attend school and church and play.

During their time at the academy, the children’s personalities and talents blossom as they are cared for in an environment that fosters knowledge and freedom of expression.

Breaking the cycle of poverty, the choir is committed to helping the children succeed physically, spiritually, emotionally and academically.

Many former choir members are teachers, doctors, and business professionals.

This time, WCU passes academic integrity test

If you want a messy issue with lots of overtones, then let’s talk about academic integrity and the role of corporations on college campuses. It’s a big ol’ Pandora’s box, already open and opinions on the fly everywhere.

Last week our cover story focused on banking giant BB&T’s recent donation to WCU. It seems BB&T’s CEO is a huge Ayn Rand fan. Rand is a philosopher and novelist who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1925 when the Bolsheviks and their rabid, violent form of communism had taken over that country.

Her book, Atlas Shrugged, espouses unfettered capitalism, small government and taking actions mainly for self-interest (let me admit not having read any of Ayn Rand’s books, but I have done some studying of her writings over the last several weeks).

But the big debate here is not over the philosophy of Rand and the thoughts she espouses. It’s about academic freedom and this mountain university that people in this region hold near and dear to their collective hearts.

The million-dollar gift came with a few stipulations. The new Distinguished Professorship of Capitalism at WCU would work closely with the Ayn Rand Institute and “have a reasonable understanding and positive attitude toward Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.” The agreement with the bank also required that Atlas Shrugged be required reading in at least one course and that a free copy of the book be distributed to juniors.

This is what drew the ire of some faculty. Philosophy professor Daryl Hale was among those who criticized the university’s partnership with BB&T, and he became a spokesperson for other disgruntled faculty. “The idea that any donor could have conditions that effectively dictate specific textbooks or course content is something touchy to a lot of folks,” said Hale.

According to WCU officials, the faculty concerns led to the creation of a committee to study the agreement. If the new professor was required to have a “positive attitude” toward Rand, how could they be expected to be critical of someone who is considered a fairly controversial philosopher? And what would that mean in the long run, for a public university to require a professor to have a particular view of any controversial thinker?

The faculty concerns led to some backpedaling by university administrators. No book will be required reading simply due to the donation, and the new language in the agreement with BB&T does not mention the Ayn Rand Institute. In other words, the most controversial aspects of the agreement were removed.

Colleges and universities are facing new funding challenges, and it’s certainly not unusual for businesses and individuals to offer scholarships or to set up endowed professorships. A business major who succeeded is certainly within his right to set up a grant that pays for a low-income student to study abroad. A really wealthy alumni may set up a professorship in special education because he or she suffered from some learning disability. These are accepted forms of philanthropy.

But dictating curriculum is completely over that line. WCU needs to invite corporate support without selling its soul. In this case, the modified agreement seems to accomplish that. But there will be continued pressures to bow to corporate influence, and it is this long-term issue that trustees and administrators — as well as faculty and student leaders — need to remain vigilant about.

(Scott McLeod is the editor and publisher of The Smoky Mountain News. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Western Carolina University’s College of Business recently secured a $1 million donation from BB&T — but not before discerning faculty fought to loosen the strings that came with the donation.

Stipulations attached to the money — namely that business students be taught an ardent pro-capitalism philosophy — raised a red flag for many faculty. Professors took a stand in order to preserve the university’s control over its own curriculum, and in doing so, sparked a debate about the influence of corporate dollars on campus.

More than 25 universities, including NC State and UNC-Charlotte, got a similar donation from the Winston-Salem-based BB&T Foundation. At most of the schools, the donation has come with several stipulations — universities have to set up a course of study focusing on the ideas of philosopher and author Ayn Rand, and make Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged, required reading.

BB&T CEO John Allison is a major Rand devotee. He discovered the philosopher in college and aims to spread her message through the bank’s donations.

“It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete,” Allison said of Atlas Shrugged in a New York Times article.

Rand’s controversial philosophy that espouses capitalism above all else — called objectivism — has been both hailed and hated since her first major novel was published in 1943 (see related article). To many at WCU, though, the issue wasn’t Rand’s philosophy — it was allowing a private donor to dictate the curriculum.

“Among some faculty from a number of areas there was some concern as to whether or not the objectivist philosophy is something we ought to be teaching. I think that quickly got taken over by the thought that that’s not the issue — the issue is whether or not by virtue of someone giving us money we should teach his particular point of view or subject matter,” said Richard Beam, Chair of Faculty at the college.

When word spread of the proposed gift last April, some faculty were concerned. One in particular was Darryl Hale, a professor of philosophy.

“I felt like somebody needed to be a gadfly and raise these issues,” Hale said.

After speaking with various faculty and receiving an estimated 40 emails in support of his stance, Hale became an unofficial spokesperson for those who questioned the donation.

“Many feel very strongly that curriculum is a faculty issue,” Beam said of the opposition. “The idea that any donor could have conditions that effectively dictate specific textbooks or course content is something touchy to a lot of folks.”

Nationwide, some say corporate donations that influence education are becoming more common — and that schools need to be wary.

“It is more and more of a trend. We don’t think it’s a good one, but unfortunately, this is occurring more and more frequently as we’ve seen funding for schools drop across the nation, be it K-12 or college level,” said Tonya Hennessey, project director for CorpWatch, a corporate watchdog group based in Oakland, Calif. “We would always urge schools to tread very carefully in circumstances like this.”

 

Faculty weigh in

In its agreement with the university, dated March 14, 2008, BB&T agreed to give WCU $1 million over seven years. Officials from the College of Business, aware that the bank had made donations to other schools, approached BB&T about the money because they wanted to establish an interdisciplinary business course, “designed for students to explore issues involving ethics, leadership and capitalism,” said Ronald Johnson, Dean of the WCU College of Business.

In exchange for its donation, BB&T wanted “to impact the leadership, ethics and capitalism” curriculum, according to the agreement. Some of the ways it would do so proved to be a bone of contention with some faculty, who didn’t become aware of the terms of the agreement until after it was already signed by university administrators.

The agreement called for the establishment of a new Distinguished Professorship of Capitalism. “The Professor shall work closely with the Ayn Rand Institute and have a reasonable understanding and positive attitude toward Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism,” it stated.

This was a red flag for Hale and others, who wondered how the professor could be critical of Rand’s philosophy if he or she was expected to hold it in a positive light.

“It is clear that s/he will have little academic freedom to analyze critically Rand,” wrote Hale in an email to the chancellor, provost and deans.

There was also concern over the involvement of the Ayn Rand Institute. The organization seeks to further Rand’s ideas, and is viewed by some as espousing radical right-wing viewpoints. Recent opinion pieces and articles on its Web site included “The Danger of Environmentalism,” and “Animal ‘Rights’ and the New Man Haters.” Faculty were cautious of the organization wielding too much power over the new curriculum.

“The concern was that there was an implication, whether intended or not, I can’t say, that the Ayn Rand Institute would amount to a veto power as a selection of a faculty member for the professorship,” said Beam.

Another concern lay with BB&T’s requirement that Atlas Shrugged be required reading for at least one course, and that a free copy of the book be provided to all juniors.

“An outside influence that would require a certain book to be read would probably be detrimental to what we’re about as an educational institution,” said Leroy Kauffman, a WCU professor of accounting and former dean of the College of Business.

Many felt the choice of what book to use in a course should be left to the professor teaching it.

“The idea of an external agency mandating to me that I must include some material I find personally offensive,” said Beam. “That wouldn’t mean I wouldn’t include it, but I want to include it as a matter of choice based on my expertise, directions and goals for the course.”

Faculty brought their concerns to the university administration, which agreed to address them even though the agreement between the school and BB&T was already in place.

Chancellor John Bardo called for the creation of a faculty task force to study the matter. The task force met a number of times over the summer and came up with some changes to the terms of the donation that place the power to determine what is taught at WCU squarely in the hands of the faculty.

“We don’t really look at it as a renegotiation, but rather as an effort to clarify some language that was unclear in the original agreement,” explained Clifton Metcalf, the university’s vice chancellor for advancement and external affairs.

The modified agreement makes no mention of the Ayn Rand Institute’s involvement in the curriculum, instead stating only that the distinguished professor “shall maintain open communications with the Donor concerning his or her role within the College of Business and University and the implementation of the Gift Agreement.”

Another change — faculty aren’t required to use Atlas Shrugged, unless they want to. And the teaching of Rand’s ideas must be accompanied by other viewpoints.

“The University will ask each faculty member ... to consider, in their sole and unfettered discretion, the assignment of portions of Atlas Shrugged and other writings from both pro-capitalist and anti-capitalist perspectives,” the revised agreement states

“It moved (the teaching of Rand) from mandatory to being clearly at the option of the professor, which to me is a significant change,” Beam said.

Faculty were generally pleased with the outcome.

“I think the way they worked it protects the interest of the donor and the integrity of the academic institution,” said Kauffman.

Although the new agreement does little to ensure the teaching of Ayn Rand’s ideas, the BB&T Foundation didn’t seem to mind. BB&T CEO Allison signed the modified document on Aug. 13, and in an accompanying letter wrote, “we understand that these amendments do not change the fundamental purpose and intent of our contribution commitment.”

The university officially announced the donation in November.

In the end, WCU was able to snag the money on its own terms, thanks to a group of faculty who stood up in defense of academic integrity.

Prior to BB&T’s donation, there had never been a widespread debate at WCU over the influence of private donations on curriculum.

“It was not an issue that had risen to general knowledge and hence general discussion in quite the way it did with this particular grant,” Beam said.

The university is now prepared if a similar matter arises in the future. A policy instated last month calls for “a process of faculty peer review of any gifts to Western Carolina University that might affect the curriculum.”

Back in the days when WCU was WCTC (Western Carolina Teachers’ College), I was one of a few kids that hung around “the little theatre” with Mabel Crum, the Chair of the English Department (circa 1950’s). In the absence of a “professional director,” Mabel (we never called her “Dr. Crum” when we talked about her) volunteered for the job and immediately announced an impressive schedule of productions.

Nothing daunted Mabel; she was perfectly willing to take on Shakespeare (“A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream”) Arthur Miller (“The Crucible”) and Sophocles (“Oedipus Rex”). We had a great time. It didn’t matter that we were mostly mountain kids with pronounced nasal twangs. After all, the audience was mostly our peers and no one seemed to notice ... Well, except for the Dr. Hayes, a recently-arrived Rhodes scholar, who stood during the intermission of “A Merchant of Venice” and announced, “Sounds as though the Avon has mingled with the Tuckaseigee.” (Mabel had to explain to the cast that Dr. Hayes was talking about our dialect.)

There were other embarrassing incidents, of course. When I did Tieresias, the blind prophet wrapped in a bed sheet, my eyes taped shut and blacked out with shoe polish (Mabel’s idea), the audience laughed the first night when I delivered all of my lines to back wall. The Western Carolinian mistakenly reported that the current production at the Little Theatre was “Oedipus Wrecks.” Mabel was philosophical about that. “Well, he does, you know ... wreck, I mean.”

And so we bungled on. In “The Crucible,” the half-crazed minister, Rev. Hale, rushed on stage and managed to loudly mispronounced a crucial word, substituting “crouch” for “crops,” as in “the stench of burning crouch hangs everywhere.” In “Sabrina Fair,” the lighted ships that sailed serenely across the bay (on a painted backdrop with movable vessels) began to fall, fluttering to the floor like fat fireflies during Sabrina’s love scene. In “Twelfth Night,” Sir Toby Belch rushed on stage five scenes before his appointed entrance to discover that he was among strangers. After delivering a few lines he bowed and announced, “I will have more to say about this later!” and promptly departed. I envied him his skillful recovery. We sped recklessly on through “Bus Stop,” “The Rainmaker” and “Antigone,” never dreaming that our unbridled fun was about to come to an end.

When, Josefina Niggli arrived, Mabel called a meeting in the WCU “Little Theatre,” and told her little rustic band of thespians that “theatre” was about to become a serious affair. While Mabel struggled through the highlights of Josefina’s astonishing career prior to coming to Cullowhee (two Book-of-the-Month Club novels, an illustrious career in Hollywood, movie and television scripts, etc.), we looked at the large woman who sat like a sleepy Cheshire cat down stage center in an ornate chair (from “Sabrina Fair”) and staring at us (we were in the audience, of course). She was alternating sips of coffee with puffs from a cigarette.

When she finally spoke in a deep Tahullah Bankhead contralto, she said, “Darlings, I’m so gratified to see you.”

We were charmed in the true meaning of that word. We sat like a hapless flock of birds, mouths agape, gawking at this feline woman who spoke in a voice that both whispered and thundered. She talked about her life in Mexico, told anecdotes of famous movie stars (she called Henry Fonda “Hank” and Lawrence Oliver “Larry”). Although we immediately became Niggli disciples, it soon became obvious that our feelings were not reciprocal.

All of us gamely registered for Acting 101 and found ourselves reading nursery rhymes aloud on the stage while Ms. Niggli drank coffee from a thermos and occasionally said, “Read it again, dear. This time pronounce ALL of the syllables.” At the end of the class, she smiled serenely and said, “Darlings, when you speak, I positively shudder.”

She then delivered a long diatribe on how communication was essential to get on in the world, and we appeared to be unable to do so. “How can you teach or work in any jobs that require communication?” When we ventured to ask about the next play, she said, “Darlings, you are a long way from being in any play that I would direct.” Then, she rose and floated slowly up the aisle, leaving us alone on a brightly lighted stage.

Students began to drop out of Acting 101, muttering that the fun seemed to have gone out of theatre. A stalwart handful persisted because they thought that perhaps Ms. Niggli was merely weeding out the “undesirables.” Eventually, Ms. Niggli directed “My Three Angels,” but ended up casting the primary roles from the English Department faculty. Many of us were banished from the theatre (I was among them), and we found ourselves reading one-acts and practicing diction. Ms. Niggli announced her resignation, saying that she found the challenge of molding us into thespians “too daunting.”

When we returned the following semester, a bright-eyed UNC graduate named Charles Barrett sat at the “Speech and Drama” table at registration. “Call me Chuck,” he said. The rumor spread that he had spent the summer as “Sir Walter Raleigh” in the outdoor drama, “Lost Colony.” He announced that he would be doing “Inherit The Wind,” and although the play had a large cast, the two major leads would be “experienced adults.” That meant the roles of Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow) and Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryant) would be played by “Chuck” and a retired insurance salesman who lived off campus. The rest of us would have to be content with character roles and mob scenes.

I was in the Townhouse when I heard that Ms. Niggli was back. “That’s correct,” said Dr. Crum, “She arrived back on campus last night from Baylor. Said she would be content to teach Basic Speech 201 and Fundamentals of Grammar 101.” I got the definite impression that Mabel was as surprised as I was by the return of the Cheshire cat, but she noted that “considering her experience with theatre and film, we are lucky to have her.”

Poor Chuck. He was just beginning a career and had bought a house. He had cast “The Glass Menagerie,” and had a full teaching load ... but he was sharing the theatre with Ms. Niggli, who had decided to teach her classes there. Frequently, when he was directing students, he would turn to see Ms. Niggli, sitting silently in the darkness watching him. At first, he attempted to solicit Ms. Niggli’s opinion.

“Don’t you agree, Ms. Niggli?” he would chirrup, referring to a stage movement or a line interpretation he had just given a student.

“Chuck, darling, you are the director,” she would say and lapse into silence.

After Chuck resigned (he once said that sharing the theatre with Ms. Niggli was like living too close to the sun) and fled to Raleigh and a government job that required him to produce educational films for the state highway department, Ms. Niggli graciously agreed to once more become the head of the Speech and Theatre Department. She quietly moved into the vacant office and began directing again. In a few years, she became the campus celebrity and hundreds of students rushed to enroll in her classes. She often “held court” in her homes in the evenings where she sat in a great upholstered chair while the “Nigglites” sat on the floor around her, enraptured by her stories of James Dean, John Garfield and “Monty” Clift.

Many years later, when I returned to WCU to work on my masters, I dropped by Ms. Niggli’s office. By this time, she was something of a legend and a dozen students attended her every whim. Finding that we were alone for a few moments, I couldn’t resist broaching a question that had troubled me for years.

“Why did you come back?” I said. She laughed and said, “You mean when I renounced you all and fled to Baylor?” She drank her coffee and looked at me as though she were deciding just how much truth she wanted to tell.

“When I got to Baylor, I found a large theatre department filled with notables. They had playwrights and novelists that were far more significant than I! I was not ... unique. That is it, darling. I wanted to be honored and pampered, so I came back to this mountain college and all of these nasal twangs.”

So, there you have it. I guess I was a “Nigglite,” too, and I also sat on Josefina’s carpet, sipping coffee while I listened, enthralled by a magic world through which this remarkable woman moved with ease. She had known Thomas Wolfe, Paul Green and Tyrone Power! But yet, I will always remember Dr. Crum and the wonderful world of drama that existed “before Niggli.” When I grow sentimental about the past, it is usually for that innocent time when my heart quickened and I felt a pure joy at discovering something wonderful on a brightly lighted stage ... before it all became ... serious.

(Gary Carden is a writer and storyteller who lives in Sylva. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

When Callie LaDue started shopping for a college, there was only one school that she had her eyes on — Western Carolina University.

“I liked it because it was a small campus but it wasn’t too small,” said the freshman biology major.

Moving to a small mountain town that was close to her hometown of Charlotte was another reason LaDue wanted to go to Western.

“It’s only two hours away from home,” she said.

LaDue is one of the 1,260 students that enrolled as freshmen at WCU for the 2007-2008 school year. Administrative officials were banking on enrolling 1,550 students but fell short of that goal by a small margin. However, there’s no chance the school will fall short for the fall semester of 2008.

“Our demand far exceeds our capacity this year,” said Alan Kines, WCU’s director of undergraduate admissions.

Workers at the admissions office have been sifting through piles of freshman applications. The university had received 6,388 applications as of Feb. 11, almost double last year’s number of 3,908.

 

A sudden spike

University officials attribute the sudden spike in freshman applications at WCU to a new marketing plan. The university has hired a Virginia-based consulting firm, Royall and Co., to help find students who would enjoy attending the small mountain university for the next four to five years, Kines explained.

The university previously attracted students by search and fulfillment practices, which is a tool that many universities use. When a student takes his or her SAT or ACT, they complete a survey. Based on the results from the survey, university officials would buy student names that meet the university criteria for acceptance. The university then mails information to these individuals to entice them to attend.

Under the new marketing plan, an extensive database owned by the consulting firm is used by admissions officials to fine-tine their search. The database contains the most recent information about students, which allows officials to target those that would be more inclined to attend WCU, Kines explained.

“We are just filling the bucket better,” he said.

Even though the university is seeing a spike in freshman applications, it doesn’t mean the WCU will be overrun with students. The university plans to enroll 1,550 students, which was its goal for last year.

“We are being very deliberate about keeping the class at a number we can house, feed and continue to have a teaching ratio of 14 to 1,” Kines said.

Additionally, the new marketing plan has university representatives hitting the highway in a statewide promotional campaign.

“We are going into areas where we can maximize the message,” Kines said. For instance, the university decided to market itself to students in Wilmington instead of Fayetteville. The move was prompted by information gathered from the consulting firm.

“We are not guessing anymore,” he said.

 

Different reasons

However, the university’s new marketing plan did not entice LaDue to attend WCU. She learned about the Cullowhee campus when she was in middle school.

“I had some family members come here,” she said.

The university is making an effort to increase its out-of-state enrollment. Officials are starting to reach out to students who live in Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida and New Jersey.

By searching for students in North Carolina and out of state — which is increasing the number of applicants — the university is able to be more selective about who it accepts. That means higher-achieving freshmen.

“The bottom line is we want better students to teach,” said Dr. Fred Hinson, senior vice chancellor of enrollment management at WCU.

 

System-wide spike

Western is not the only University of North Carolina system college to experience a surge in applicants. Applicant numbers are also up at Appalachian State University, said Paul Hiatt, director of admissions. Last year the university had 12,946 applications and enrolled 2,725 students. University officials are banking on this number to go up, which is causing them to bump enrollment by a small margin of 50 students.

As of last week, the university had more than 14,000 applicants for the fall 2008 freshman class and officials expect that number to rise.

“It looks like we’re getting close to 15,000 applications, and we may get as many as 16,000,” Hiatt said.

Hiatt also attributes the university marketing plan for the increase in freshman applications.

“We have a pretty extensive marketing approach,” he said.

The university hosts several workshops promoting the school in major metropolitan areas.

“We travel and do mass mailing throughout North Carolina but also the Southeast as well as the Northeast and Midwest,” he said.

Over the past four years officials at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro have seen an increase in freshman applications as well.

“UNCG has enjoyed a steady and robust growth in applications for admission and enrollment over recent years,” said Steve Gilliam, assistant vice chancellor of university relations at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As an example, freshman applications increased 24 percent—from 8,191 to 10,151— in the four-year period from fall 2003 to fall 2007. The size of the freshman class during the same period has increased 19 percent from 2,055 in 2003 to 2,445 in 2007, he said.

And university officials are expecting freshman applications to continue to rise for 2008. The university has received 8,539 applications as of Jan. 31. Last year at this time the university had 8,856 freshman applications and enrolled 2,446.

However, UNCG’s admission policy is quite different than other state university when it comes to freshman class size.

“UNCG will admit all qualified applicants and does not have a limitation on the admitted freshman class size,” said Gilliam.

 

Raising the bar

The academic standard to be accepted into the freshman class at WCU is on the rise as more students want to attend the school.

“We have much higher metric scores in regard to SAT and GPA scores,” Kines said.

Kines said Western is moving to the pool of top state universities, which will give high-achieving students another option for college.

“These kids have a choice of were they want to go,” Kines.

The average SAT score for WCU has risen 37 points from last year. As for GPA, the average for last year was 3.6 and this year students have a 3.71.

Officials say an advantage to high test scores and better students is that professors can teach a much more advanced curriculum.

“Students are better prepared to rise to the level of instruction,” Kines said.

Brian Railsback, dean of the WCU Honors College, says the difference is noticeable.

“The academic profile of the freshman honors student keeps on going up,” Railsback said.

The Honors College accepts 150 students a semester.

“We have raised the GPA requirement to a weighted 4.0,” said Railsback. “This is the highest for an Honors College in the state. Students who are high achievers are looking to Western.”

Railsbacks says more students are looking at WCU because of its professors and the university’s high-profile programs. Those include construction management, education, criminal justice, and health sciences. Officials are also expecting the new motion picture program to also grow quickly, Hinson said.

Requirements elsewhere send students to WCU

However, some freshmen at WCU say they wound up in Cullowhee because they did not get accepted at their first choice college. That’s what happened to Meredith Troutman of Fayetteville.

Troutman, a biology major, wants to become a marine biologist. She wanted to attend UNC-Wilmington but was not accepted. She decided to go to WCU for her undergraduate degree.

“It’s a change of scene,” she said. “I’ve never lived in the mountains, and the people are really friendly.

Since Troutman plans to become a marine biologist she will have to transfer to another school to complete her degree.

“I am going to have to transfer at some point,” she said.

Just as schools like WCU, ASU and UNCG are experiencing a surge in freshman applicants, so are schools like UNC and North Carolina State. Students who used to have the credentials to get in those schools are being turned down and end up at a college that wasn’t their first choice.

Freshman Garrett Powell of Charlotte is at Western because he says “it was easy to get into.”

Powell did not apply to any other state university. He says he liked WCU because it was located in the mountains.

“It’s real laid back here,” he said.

Powell is majoring in the university’s entrepreneurship program. It’s this specific program that attracted him to consider Western for his degree.

“Its not offered at many places,” he said.

The academic requirements to attend Appalachian State University are similar to Western. Students must have an average GPA of 3.8 and must have score of 1,190 on their SAT’s. Admission workers also look at the student’s entire application and make a decision based on a variety of factors, they said.

At UNCG, the average SAT score for the fall 2007 freshmen class was 1,039.

 

Staying is the hard part

At any university, many freshmen tend to drop out of school during their first year. At Western, 12 percent of the 2007 freshman class has dropped out.

LaDue’s roommate has already dropped out. She lives in Walker Hall and says that the dormitory is becoming a lot quieter since the beginning of the school year.

“There are at least six people on my floor that have lost their roommates,” she said.

LaDue says many of her freshmen classmates have dropped out after skipping too many classes.

“You have to go to class if you want to stay here,” she said.

Officials says the dropout rate at WCU is low, but Western is also a small school. Hinson says that more students are staying at Western because they want to be at the university.

“We are getting students who love the town of Cullowhee and want to be here,” he said.

He also says that the school works very closely with students through its advising department to help them when problems arise.

At Appalachian State, about 13. 4 percent of the freshman class has dropped out so far. At the University of North Carolina Greensboro the school had 10.4 percent of students leave after one semester.

 

Changing times

As more students look to WCU to be their alma mater, professors at the school are seeing new dynamics take place in the classroom. At least that’s what Dr. Richard Starnes, professor of history, has experienced in several freshman classes he teaches.

Starnes says the higher SAT and GPA scores are making an impact in the classroom.

“Five years ago the freshman tended to be more drawn from Western North Carolina,” he said. “But now we are seeing a good level of students from outside WNC. We are getting a good mix of urban and rural kids together, which is creating a good mix of diversity.”

Starnes says the new mix of students is creating a synergy in humanities classes

“That diversity is allowing us to explore issues that we might not otherwise have looked at years ago,” he said.

Beth Huber, director of freshman year composition, says first-year students are creating a positive impact in the classroom setting.

“I have seen quite a dramatic increase in academic preparation,” said Huber, who has been teaching English composition for the last three years.

She says more students are taking the subject more seriously and are not missing class like previous freshman classes.

“The students are writing better. I can see it,” she said. “They are working harder and they seem to want to do so.”

“Whatever the process the university is using, it’s working,” she added.

However, Jim Addison, an Honors English professor, says he has not see a change in the student’s academic performance.

“It’s been the same,” he said. Addison has been teaching at WCU for 28 years.

By Michael Beadle

Brad Ulrich was 10 years old when he began playing the trumpet. He’d started with the guitar but picked up his brother’s trumpet to sneak a few notes here and there.

Page 38 of 40

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