As Western Carolina University’s enrollment numbers rise, the already small university is shrinking more and faster.
Chancellor Belcher announced at the beginning of this semester that WCU now had 10,106 students enrolled, a five percent increase from the 2012-2013 school year, according the Office of Public Relations.
Students and campus organizations are complaining not only that the A.K. Hinds University Center is too small but also that organizations housed there are being used ineffectually.
Student Government Association Vice President Jack Stewart had many comments about the lacking space in the UC. He hopes to see changes soon.
“I just think to have better resources for space, whoever has those resources needs to be held accountable for an activity in that office,” said Stewart. “They need to be held responsible for certain times the doors are open for people. I know I open our office at 7:30 every morning, and I’m in there until 10 every morning. And, we have it set up to where there’s always someone in our office, that way if anyone comes in with a question.”
Student and University Center employee Jeffery Ray added to Stewart’s opinion about the topic. The responsibility lies with students to get involved.
“I feel that it’s less the organizations’s fault and more of a student population,” said Ray. “Most organizations broadcast through all available channels of social media and outside promos. I believe that it is now up to the students to make that jump, maybe if Western had a specific website, or page, solely for all organizations on campus and featured a new one every day. Maybe in the sense of an ‘Organization of the Day” page, it would get people more interested. That would be something new and show that the school wants students to get more involved.”
However, some campus organizations, which are located away from central campus, do not mind the distance and believe the UC is still satisfactory for the current student population.
Josh Whitmore, associate director of outdoor programs, works at Base Camp Cullowhee, which is located in Brown Building.
“Currently, it meets the needs adequately,” said Whitmore, who has been here for nine years. “I think it meets the population at the moment, but I’m also a little bit detached from the main operation.”
Whitmore explained that BCC was first located where Einstein’s Bagels functions now in the UC. Then, it was moved to where UC housekeeping is now located.
“I think we were worried we weren’t going to get as much walk-by traffic,” said Whitmore about being in Brown. “You know, when we were down at the Einstein’s location, there were a lot of people walking by the front door, and it was very easy for people to just come in, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ But, our program has definitely continued to grow in leaps and bounds, even since the time we moved into here.”
“I like it up here actually,” added Whitmore. “This is the beautiful part of campus, you know, big windows and lots of trees and it’s kind of quiet. It suits us. This building is old. It’s kind of clunky. The heat sort of works in the winter, and there’s no air conditioning. It’s a little bit rough around the edges, so that also kind of suits us.”
Service Learning is not a student organization, but it greatly applies to students with their requirement for volunteer hours for leadership and other classes. Many professors try to encourage or require service hours to give students a well-rounded college experience. The Center for Service Learning, managed by Lane Perry, is located in Belk Building, which is part of lower campus.
“Being in Belk Building has its pros and cons,” said Perry. “By being in the Belk building, we are close to the Film and Television Production program which has really quality service learning experiences for film students. We are close to the Kimmel School, which is very active in experiential education endeavors with their Rapid Center. The space is relevant with regard to having enough room to serve students, but . . .there is a Center for Student Engagement included in the plans that could be a great location for the Center for Service Learning and a few other similar initiatives. I think this could create quality quite a bit of synergy across campus.”
Because they are somewhat away from central campus, Service Learning uses many variations to tell students about their activities.
“The Center for Service Learning spreads the word of our programming through on campus advertising (banners, flyers, word of mouth), Facebook, our Listserv and our website calendar,” said Perry. “We typically have quality engagement with our programs and are pleased with the level of student response and participation. Granted, we are in the process of increasing visibility with recognition initiatives for campus engagement. The CSL is here to engage students by working with faculty and including the community.”
All the organizations will never fit into the University Center, even if there was expansion, which is impossible due to the landscape and current building locations. Still, organizations possessing office space in the UC are failing on using their space efficiently, according to Stewart. He especially wants “better utilization” for each club office so that each organization can thrive and better their programs and activities.
“Student Media office here, I may see someone in there once a week,” said Stewart. “I know other organizations can benefit from that space,” said Stewart. “When I had tried to apply for it, no one else had applied for it. So, we were going to adopt both offices because our office is too small. When all of our employees are together, it’s cramped. It is.”
Even upstairs on the third floor, Stewart worries about the lack of people working, meeting, planning activities, etc. that he does not see there.
“I just don’t see anybody in there. Ryan and I are both up there every day, not in the Club Hub but in Karen’s office, we’re up there every day, and I just don’t see it,” said Stewart. “I just don’t see different organizations using that office.
“But at the same time, I don’t see any other organizations complaining about not having any space,” he continued. “I think they’re just so used to it, not having space, that they find ways around it. But, I don’t know how you can pick and choose which offices get a space. I would like The Western Carolinian to be [in the Student Media Office] because honestly, most students don’t know about The Western Carolinian. But, if it was right there, honestly, right next to the government, all of the stuff we do would be easily transparent with [the newspaper].”
Stewart continued to say that certain organizations, which are created for the specific purpose of spreading news to students, are hidden to the point where they cannot effectively get their word out. This includes TV62 and the SGA itself.
Stewart gestured to a student studying on one of the UC couches.
“She may not know what’s going on, and that’s a problem. Our campus has a bad rap of not getting support for things that are going on on campus,” said Stewart. There’s not a lot of school spirit. There’s really not. And, I think if people knew what was going on, if people saw what was going on, why it was going on. Students complain about tuition fees . . .but yet they won’t come to a forum because they haven’t heard anything about. We have students come but not the representation of 10,000 students, and that’s a problem.”
Ray seconded Stewart and wondered that if a new building was built, would it be used?
“I feel that it wouldn’t really help if the university made the building bigger or even made a new building,” said Ray. “It would be nice to see a new building, but I fear it would be placed in a place that just isn’t feasibly for organizations and would not be in the ways most would want, basically low student traffic.”
Still, SGA President Ryan Hermance, Stewart, SGA staff nor students are not in charge, and SGA specifically does not want to become involved in how offices are handed out or how the University Center works as whole. Instead, they want to voice their support of registered campus organizations, or RSOs, so they can present a stronger face at WCU.
“The SGA operates of Office of Leadership. In my mind, I don’t want to jump into the University Center operations,” said Stewart. “They have reasons for what they do. And maybe whether or not they see what we see as students in offices or whatever, then I think they have reasons for why they do things. A lot of that comes out to being fair to organizations. I think most of the space is utilized well. They give all student organizations straight access to meeting space.
Dr. Sam Miller, vice chancellor of student affairs, is closer to how UC operations works. He shared his thoughts on WCU’s student hub and future plans for the building. He answered questions that Stewart mentioned in his interview with this reporter.
“In the University Center, office space is already predetermined, so the Catamount Clothing gets its footprint, University Center has its footprint, and food services have their footprint. Whatever is left and designated for student organization space goes through an application process. I think they do it in the spring,” said Miller. “Whatever we have available, we try to accommodate to the RSOs.”
“There are just little ways that areas can be utilized better,” Stewart said. “There’s little attraction to the third floor of the UC. I don’t see a lot up there. If there’s better ways to get students up there, whether that be more study spaces . . .It looks like a waiting room. There are just ways it can be more open to students.”
Miller explained that higher level staff who oversee operations pay attention to who uses their space and who does not.
“Any time you don’t use your space, you’re at risk of losing the space in the future. And different years, you see different levels of use based on the leadership of the organizations of those years,” said Miller.
Sara Green, an English major, agreed with Stewart’s point and believes that office space is cramped, creating problems with working within the space.
“What bothers me is the offices for student organizations on the third floor. True, they need to be spread out. Two organizations sharing a walk-in closet is not efficient. I would like to be able walk in and talk to my president without disrupting another’s work,” said Green. “However, if they separate the organizations and place them all over campus, I believe that members would be less likely to use them. I have always wondered why the houses between Buchanan, Robertson and Central weren’t being used for such organizations. Instead of jumping to build bigger and better things, first we should try to use the facilities we already have on campus.”
Stewart added, “There is not a central area for clubs and organizations just to be together. I know all organizations don’t want to be together all the time, and I know there [isn’t] enough room for 150 offices, for every club and organization to have an office. And, I don’t want that. I would just like the upstairs third floor has a Club Hub of offices that students use, but it’s not utilized.”
Student Lee Bentley suggested the website Orgsync, which has helped somewhat in giving RSOs another outlet for giving out information. However, the project has not experienced as much attention as planned.
“If everyone used Orgsync, it would be good, but it isn’t something that everyone uses,” said Bentley, “and the boards aren’t the easier thing in the world to get the word out. Maybe a mass email every week about what is going on or something.”
Stewart explained, “If we want to tell students information, whether that be through Orgsync or social media or our individual social media, if I send something out, all 50 employees share the same thing. We get it out, we get enough information out. Whether students pick up on that, that’s a whole different ballgame.”
Even with the small space, the University Center is still one of the popular buildings on campus, if not the most popular after the Courtyard Dining Hall.
“I go in the UC almost every day,” said Green. “If I’m not eating, I’m checking my mail box, sitting waiting on class to start or stopping in the NSLS office to talk with my president. The UC is a huge part of campus life. One can hardly avoid it!”
“I am in the University Center close to every day,” said Ray. “I use [it] as break time in between classes, meeting up with friends, printing papers I forgot to print and my job.”
Even Miller is a frequent face in the large building looking out at WCU’s iconic clock tower.
“I’m there it’s got to be every other day, at least every other day if not more,” said Miller. “I go over for meetings, I go over there for programs, I attend programs there and sometimes, I just drop by and wander through.”
Whatever reason students, faculty and staff visit the UC, there is little deniable that its square feet does not meet the needs of the campus. However, Miller said that help could be on the way through the Master Plan.
When he was asked if the UC was too small, Miller said, “I don’t know. I really don’t know. It depends on what you envision for a University Center, and what is the program and the mix of offices that you try to accommodate in the University Center. It’s something we’re talking about that’s part of the campus Master Plan. It’s definitely been one of the issues we’ve been kicking around for that planning effort. For right now, I feel that it’s a pretty good mix of food services, retail options, meeting space and even some student organization space. But, is it the right mix? I don’t know. It’s a good question.”
If you would like to weigh in on the conversation, write a Letter to the Editor and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.