SGA Sponsors Williams’ First State of the University Address
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by Jake Hawkins
Sustainability, diversity, technology, globalization and community outreach. These five topics were presented by President Owen Williams at last night’s State of the University address — the first address of the kind given by the new president.
Williams reshaped the form of the State of the University address. While in the past it was more presentational, Williams took the form of a question and answer session.
Williams acknowledged the new form and expressed interest in conversation.
Before opening the floor to questions Williams gave a brief forward.
“It is my sense that Transylvania is a truly special institution. … I’m incredibly lucky to be sitting here in front of you guys in this capacity,” he said.
In the forward, he also outlined the five basic principles, mentioned above, that are contained in a long-term strategic plan developed by multiple campus constituencies.
“The overarching objective for me, the staff and, I believe, for the faculty … is to get this institution into the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the United States,” said Williams. “It makes sense for us to have these other goals that will help bring that larger objective to fruition. Those goals are things like sustainability. It will be very difficult for any institution to be credible in the world going forward without having sustainability as a major pillar of its culture.”
Williams briefly discussed the importance of each of the five goals and the university’s plans surrounding them. After this, the floor was open to questions.
His forward also contained the announcement of a 15-person, all-faculty task force.
“(This task force will be) looking at the curriculum as it exists currently and considering a not insignificant redesign of the curriculum,” said Williams. “We, right now, have a curriculum that is a fairly typical 20th-century model for a liberal arts institution. For us to distinguish ourselves … we are going to have to do some things differently within our curriculum. We’re going to have to come up with something that’s a lot sexier.”
Though Williams had introduced the five topics, many questions posed by students did come from other areas, and the conversation between students and president flowed with little pause or silence.
Multiple students posed questions concerning the idea of expansion.
“If we really want to be a better institution … then we will have to have more students. Two-thirds of our revenue comes from tuition,” said Williams. “If you look at the list of the top 50 schools in the United States that are liberal arts colleges, … all of them have about 1,500 students — so between 1,500 and 2,000.”
“It’s logistically impossible for us to grow so fast that you would feel it. … We’re not going to compromise our standards for the purposes of growing,” Williams said.
Looking to the physical side of expansion, Williams offered new information.
“My dream would be if we could buy a property that we’re looking at buying right now, we could move all of our athletic fields to this new space and greatly improve what’s there and then have existing space where there are now subpar facilities and turn that into new academic and residential facilities,” said Williams. “That’s my pipe dream. That’s got nothing to do with today’s reality.”
Williams was also asked, more than once, about the paperless policy. At one point the question was raised about what environmental initiative comes after the paperless one. President Williams introduced many ideas, from rain barrels to gardens on top of buildings, to help improve sustainability.
“It’s literally an endless list of possibilities, and I would love for all of you to get involved in that,” he said.
Other hot topics throughout the discussion were the improvement of the university website, integration of technology into the classroom and structural improvements to campus buildings. Introduction of new athletic teams and facilities was also discussed.
Though changes, proposed and otherwise, were the theme of many questions, Williams tried to put it in perspective for the community.
“This is a community that hasn’t seen change for a while,” Williams said. “So whenever there’s any change it feels like there’s a lot of change. The reality is there isn’t much that has changed so far. There really isn’t. So, I think, we need to get past thinking ‘Oh, my God, everything is changing and the sky is falling.’ ”