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This time, WCU passes academic integrity test

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..)

Memories of WCTC’s feline director of all things theater

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..)

Who controls what’s taught? Donation sparks debate over academic integrity

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.”

WCU enjoys a surge in popularity

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.

All that brass: WCU’s Trumpet Festival is quickly becoming an international affair

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.

Southern Comfort Food

By Michael Beadle

Long before the days of microwaves and fast food meals, there was the slow-cooked stew, a Southern standard prepared in vast pots over an open fire. These stews included tender meats, fresh vegetables, secret seasonings and a day’s worth of preparations that would bring out an entire community.

WCU trustees OK fee increases

Western Carolina University’s board of trustees unanimously approved proposed tuition and fees for the 2008-09 academic year, including increases to support operational costs for a new indoor recreation center currently under construction and to begin meeting student requests for enhanced campus health services.

WCU forges ongoing relationship with Canton

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

With a new town board, a new town manager, and a growing influx of young Asheville commuters looking for affordable housing, the town of Canton is setting itself up for some major changes — and students from Western Carolina University want to help.

Island music in the mountains: Western Carolina University’s gamelan orchestra helps share the music of Malaysian culture

By Michael Beadle

A few days before Halloween, strange sounds were coming from room 451 in the Coulter Building on the campus of Western Carolina University.

Giving nature a helping hand: Western Carolina University’s Forest Sustainability Initiative unites students with landowners to help maintain the future of forests

By Michael Beadle

Peter Bates inspects a trio of cucumber trees growing closely together on a 20-acre tract of woods in the Balsam Mountain Preserve in Jackson County.

He checks to see if one of the trees died from a chainsaw cut known as “girdling,” in which a partial cut is made around the tree trunk. It’s a forestry management practice used these days. The idea is that some trees have to die so that others will survive, thus maintaining a healthy and productive forest.

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The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.