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Athletes aspire to pro ranks: Small university still packs big punch in spring sports

Western Carolina University softball star Mollie Fowler painfully remembers the day her shin broke in half playing shortstop.

She dove for a ball and collided with the second baseman’s cleat.

Drama like this plays out on the athletic fields at WCU almost daily, and with the springs sports season in full gear there is plenty of action to see.

Attending sporting events at Western can be an inexpensive outing during these tough economic times. Spectators have lots of options to choose from including baseball, tennis, track and field and golf.

The Smoky Mountain News spoke with the top athletes in each of the spring sports to learn a little bit about them, and some of them aspire to go pro.


Men’s and Women’s Track and Field

WCU track star Manteo Mitchell started running competitively in high school after he broke his arm playing football the second game of the season of his senior year. Prior to breaking his arm he said he had scholarship offers to play football at some of the top colleges, but was out of the picture after his injury.

The track coach at the high school thought he had a chance to get a scholarship for running. The coach was right, as Mitchell landed a scholarship to run track at WCU.

His track career at Western has been impressive, netting him school records in the 200- and 400-meter dashes.

Now his career at Western is coming to an end this semester, and he says he wants to run professionally.

“A lot of people think you can’t make a lot of money on the track professional circuit, but you can if you play your cards right,” Manteo said.

Manteo said his cousin is a professional runner who trains in Atlanta, was signed by Adidas, and ran in the Olympics in Beijing last summer.

He said his cousin was a part of the relay team that dropped the baton in the Olympics. It was not his cousin that dropped the baton though.

Manteo said his ultimate goal is to run in the Olympics. The next one will be in 2012, and he said he will still be young enough to compete.

He is inspired by himself and God to perform the best he can on the track, he said.

If going pro doesn’t work out, Manteo will have his degree in sports management with a concentration in athletic administration to fall back on. Going back to his old high school in Shelby to run the athletic program there might be fun, he said. But eventually he would like to work as an athletics administrator on the college level.

Unlike Manteo, women’s track and field star Janét Carothers does not have ambitions to go pro.

“I’m ready to get into the real world and get a job,” she said, adding her major is recreational therapy and parks and recreation management.

That is not to say she couldn’t make it if she tried. She has set two school records, and the team won the conference title last year.


Men’s and Women’s Golf

Hailing from Sweden Desiree Karlsson is one of the top players on the WCU women’s golf team. She has made herself comfortable as a Catamount athlete having been on the golf team for three years. She is one of three Swedish players on the team.

Universities in Sweden don’t have athletic programs for students, she said. So she visited Cullowhee and liked the small size of the university and the natural beauty of the Smokies.

“I liked the southern hospitality,” she said. “I’m not used to that.”

Karlsson, like track and field star Manteo, wants to go pro in her sport after she graduates. Her plan is to get on the Futures Tour or European Tour and try to work her way up to the LPGA, she said.

Playing golf professionally pays well, she said.

“If you’re in the top 20, you’re living good,” she said.

Since she was 14 she has been playing golf, but she joked that her dad had plans for her since birth.

“I took my first step with a plastic golf club,” she said.

The greatest accomplishment of her golf career so far is being named freshman of the year at WCU, she said.

Golf has also afforded her the opportunity to travel to England, Portugal, Spain and Italy to play in tournaments, she said.

To continue her successful career she needs to improve on her biggest weakness — bunker shots, while the best part is putting.

Golf is a mental game, she said, adding that she doesn’t curse much on the course but does play head games with herself. For instance, she has told herself that if she does not play well she will deny herself food, and it works.

As a woman golfer she has no problem admitting that men are better at the sport because they are stronger. But she said, “The women are getting better and showing they can beat male players.”

WCU men’s golf star Dustin Furnari also aspires to play pro golf. Furnari came to WCU from St. Augustine, Fla. and plans to go to South Florida after graduating this semester to play professionally.

But he admits that it will be tough to make it on the pro tour and will get his master’s in business administration to fall back on.

Originally from Miami, where golf is king, Furnari grew up playing with his dad. Golf in the mountains is different compared to courses in Miami that have a lot of wind from the ocean, he said.

The golf courses in this area are nice, he said, noting that Tiger Woods was having a course built near Brevard and Phil Mickelson was having course named after him in Cashiers.

Furnari has hit two hole in ones in his career, and can drive it over 300 yards, but the key to being a strong golfer is having a strong short game, hitting wedges and making putts, he said.



Right fielder J.C. Lyons hopes to join two other WCU grads who are currently playing professional baseball.

Lyons, a senior from Marietta, Ga., is the team captain and spoke with The Smoky Mountain News on Sunday just after a 10-5 loss to Georgia Southern.

“Hopefully I’ll get to play pro ball,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get a shot at the draft in June.”

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jared Burton played for WCU from 2000-2002 and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mark DiFelice was a Catamount between 1995-98, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Daniel Hooker.

A faithful man, Lyons said if it doesn’t work out it wasn’t in God’s plan, and he will apply his sports management degree. And if he doesn’t go pro, it’s not like he doesn’t have his glory days to look back on. The proudest moment of his baseball career to this point is being named team captain.


Budget Cuts

WCU tennis star Amanda Massey said state budget cuts mean the team doesn’t get new uniforms and travel is limited.

WCU Athletic Director Chip Smith agreed that travel has been cut back and instead of staying over night in hotels, teams are leaving the day of their matches. As the economic decline continues, the goal is to not cut any staff or scholarships, said Smith.

The WCU athletic program has a budget of about $6 million, he said.

WCU announces faculty layoffs

Under a budget cut scenario announced last Friday (March 13), 31.75 employees will be laid off from Western Carolina University due to state budget cuts.

WCU is anticipating the state cutting the university’s appropriation by $7.64 million, or 8 percent, due to the national economic downturn.

State appropriations make up half of the university’s budget.

The university’s Board of Trustees met on Friday for its regular quarterly meeting and discussed the budget cuts.

Chancellor John Bardo said the university needs to come out of the budget crisis a more focused and stronger institution. The university also needs to maintain the quality of the student experience, he said.

Cutting employees is difficult, Bardo said.

“These are real people,” Bardo said. “They’re not just jobs.”

Many of his staff members are laying awake at night thinking about the people who are going to lose their jobs, Bardo said.

The chancellor said one of his goals was to not lay off any of the blue collar workers on campus. Those workers come from Swain, Macon, Jackson and Haywood counties and their entire families are associated with the institution, Bardo said.

Staff Senate Chair Jed Tate said an emergency assistance program to help laid off workers may be established. Tate said he thinks the administration did the best it could to make the cuts with as few layoffs as possible.

Tate added that those who will be laid off will be notified this week.

Overall, 92 jobs were eliminated campus-wide, but 53.75 of those were already vacant.

Another 6.5 positions currently funded by the state will be transferred to a category of employment supported by student fees or other sources of funding. The remaining positions are currently filled, and those employees will be laid off.

That number could change, however.

“This is a dynamic number that is changing constantly,” said Chuck Wooten, vice chancellor for administration and finance. “Consequently, these numbers could go up or down as we finalize the budget reduction.”

The university employs 1,550.

The college of arts and sciences is taking the largest cuts with 14.10 faculty positions being eliminated, followed by the business school with 13 jobs being cut. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.

The education department will have eight jobs cut, fine and performing arts 4.6, health and human sciences seven and the Kimmel School of Engineering three. It is unclear how many of those jobs are currently vacant.

Programs are also being eliminated and suspended, including the Institute for the Economy and the Future; Clinical Lab Sciences Program; Summer Ventures Program; Legislator’s School; and the Reading Center.

In response to questions of why construction is continuing on campus while jobs are being cut, Bardo said he can’t take money out of the construction budget for operations under state rules. The construction projects are one-time expenditures approved by the university system, while staff expenses are recurring.

The cuts at the university are “targeted” rather than across-the-board, Bardo said.

Administration and Finance is cutting 17.6 positions. Of those 15.1 are currently vacant and 2.5 will be transferred to other areas, said Wooten.

Bardo said the next step is to meet with deans this week to begin implementing the cuts.


Applications increase

While Western Carolina University is having to layoff employees and cut programs to deal with budget cuts, applications to WCU have surged.

WCU applications are up 103 percent over the same time last year. So far this year more than 12,000 applications have been received.

Most of those are freshmen applications. The university can only handle about 1,600 freshmen due to requirements that they must live on campus.

The poor economy makes enrollment difficult to predict, Bardo said. It could cause more students to attend Western because it is more affordable than other schools, Bardo said. But at the same time fewer students may be able to afford school.

Bardo said he has been in higher education since 1973 and can’t recall another year like this one in which it was so difficult to predict enrollment.

Currently there are about 9,050 students enrolled at the university.

Increased enrollment won’t offset the budget cut likely to come down from the state, Bardo said. It would take an additional 10,500 students to cover a 7 percent budget cut, he said.

Building better, conserving energy

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.

Bardo pledges to defer to deans

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.

WCU in ‘flux’ as it braces for state budget cuts

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.

WCU Cherokee studies professor wins Oklahoma book award

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.

Singing and dancing songs of joy: African Children’s Choir comes to WCU

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

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.”

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