The survey data at the University Assembly indicate we have not done as well in building an overall sense of community at WCU as we would wish. 52 percent of those at the Assembly participating in the survey agreed that we have a strong sense of community at WCU. One suspects students attending the Assembly have a stronger sense of community than those not attending. Survey results point out that if we were to use the analogy of a “compass building,” that building a stronger sense of participation, spirit and community toward a shared vision is one of the greatest challenges we face at WCU and nearly all of the ideas coming out of the policy report deal with the need to improve or strengthen our sense of community and vision.
Here are some suggested solutions and ideas coming from various policy groups as students, who completed policy reports on their vision for WCU and obstacles needing to be overcome. There was more consensus from group to group than might be expected.
1. WCU needs more restaurants, bars, theaters and places for the community to gather. While we have excellent academic programs, we need more of the feel of a university. Toward this end our academic leaders must begin immediately to get Cullowhee incorporated so the surrounding infrastructure can develop. At the same time more and better linkages are needed with the external community and we need better support from the external community. One group thought resolving the longstanding unfriendly relationship with Sylva needs to be resolved and that liquor by the drink will help economic development in our area and this is not well understood. Bowling alleys, theatres and places to gather are needed on campus. We need to consider designating specific hours each week across the university that are to be used for meeting times and for social times.
2. We need to aggressively market the uniqueness of WCU through programs that relate to the region such as forestry, environmental studies, policy studies, Appalachian studies, extreme sports, guiding, ranger internships, tourism, rural education, environmental policy and public administration, community education and many other areas. Our region is unique and one of the most traveled to locations in the world, yet we have sometimes left our students saying there is nothing to do here. We also need to expand our mental map of where the university is located.
3. Our dormitories need to be substantially improved. For example, there needs to be a special dorm for students in sciences and humanities and other dorms structured around special academic and cultural interests. More special events need to be planned in the dormitories relating to the theme of the dormitory. Students need more systematic effort by Housing to provide activities for halls and dorms.
4. The radio station, while now covering more campus events, needs to be shifted from a place to train disc jockeys and serving the interests of a few to one that serves the academic mission of WCU. There need to be more debates and coverage of more academic news and events as well as academic community building events. The accomplishments of our students need to be more publicized. It should be noted the WCU radio station did cover this event.
5. Faculty and staff need to be involved more in training and educating administrators in special workshops. One panel thought faculty need to assume a greater role in educating administrators for the future. Such a process is not unique in elite organizations. On the faculty side, one group thought that while some faculty are involved in discovering and building students’ career and academic interests, others are not. All faculty need to take an interest in students in this area and full-time faculty are best prepared to do this, according to one group. Especially in the complex area of educating first-year students, one group thought we need more full-time faculty in this role and have become too dependent on part-time faculty.
6. There needs to be more infrastructure for local and internal campus events to build community. Some thought the myth of “nothing to do” needs to be dealt with better and events need to be more publicized. One group pointed out that some faculty and students are “too cool” to be involved in WCU events (intellectual, athletic, aesthetic, and cultural) and this needs to shift from cynicism and apathy to commitment and enthusiasm. Another group indicated it is not “cool” among students to be enthused about WCU or even other students and this culture of cynicism does in many cases need to become more objective and aware of their responsibilities in community building. Building spirit and pride continue to be top priorities at WCU according to some groups and this can only come through cooperation and participation.
7. We need a vision of a more diverse faculty with more minorities in particular and a campus more user-friendly to those with disabilities and more international groups on campus with the special facilities needed to accommodate transportation and other unique needs of international students.
8. Currently communication is not as effective at the university as we do not have real email addresses built into our system such as Hotmail and AOL, etc. The information desk in the White House needs to be moved out where students are really located to be more effective. However, several groups stressed “face to face” connections are the most critical interactions in building community.
9. Many groups favored more “grass roots” approaches whereby participation is sought and the university can be more proactive in building community and addressing future needs. This theme seems to indicate that leadership is broadly dispersed among students, faculty, staff, and others. The reports stressed change starts with the individual and that interaction is not always easy to start and that it is not “cool” to say good things about others or to break the silence. The reports stressed the need for interdisciplinary cooperation and we have not fully examined the dysfunctions of a program review process that builds competition. Students spoke out most strongly at some of their dismay at such a process of program review as the current one.
10. One policy group thought very heavy teaching loads with no consideration that more effective campuses have three course teaching loads does not reward community building activities and more interaction with students. Another group thought community building activities are far from rewarded and we are paying the price through low retention. What do we really value at WCU, one group asked.