Last spring, Western Maryland College President Robert H. Chambers sent a questionnaire to faculty, staff and students, asking them to envision how they would like to see the college improve.
In a recentinterview in his Decker Center office, Chambers, president since 1984, explored his own vision for WMC.
What are some of the innovative approaches you would like to consider at WMC, in light of the questionnaire?
There was a question about creating a residential college system, which is my own little hobby horse. There is a lot of interest; this is one thing we might be able to do in the future without spending huge sums.
Residential colleges, sort of on the British model?
Yes, but obviously modifiedgreatly to meet our own needs and pocketbook.
A modified version of the Oxbridge system here would make us far more distinctive as an undergraduate residential institution. We can imaginatively shape theresidence areas we now have to give them more group unity.
Imagine, for example, a "Diegel College." We have Blanche, Whiteford and McDaniel halls already forming a quadrangle. Why not have a faculty or staff family living in each to establish a community of more than just 18-year-olds?
We could also build seminar rooms into the buildings, so classes might actually be held in the residence halls. And we could put some programming money in there, so Diegel College would begin to develop a personality of its own.
In this fashion, we couldcreate three coherent residential groups.
(One) might be where athletes would congregate over there near the field house and the gym.
Diegel College could be where the artists are, the writers, the intellectuals of the campus. And (another) could be a kind of grab bag for other people.
In truth, we wouldn't want to isolate people of identical interests in quite that way, but you can see what we could do with these groupings. It wouldn't take much to get them shaped into something very attractive -- into entities that pull together.
What is another way we can become a higher quality college without investing vast sums?
One kind of quality is related to diversity, andmost people seemed to think that we should continue to push for moreinternational students.
They are going to be shocked when they see the number showing up this year -- roughly 10 percent of the incoming students.
What does it mean to the college to have this influx of internationalism?
I would hope it would mean a good bit to our curriculum and to the sophistication of our general student mix.
These international students have really impressed me. They are some of our best students academically, but I think (they are) best also interms of their sophistication. These are people who have seen the world.
When you keep multiplying the number of countries these people come from, the whole campus becomes more worldly and sophisticated and, without a doubt, more interesting for all.
We are becoming much more international than we have been, and I hope that more of our American students will be going abroad, working up exchanges.
Thatis a genuine qualitative betterment. And it is one way to respond tosome concern revealed in the questionnaire about what we can do about minorities here at home -- Hispanics, blacks, Native Americans.
That is going to continue to be a very competitive market. And we will certainly continue to work hard on it, but I'm not sure just what kind of additional inroads we will be able to make. Perhaps the international market will offer help.
Were there any surprises in the responses?
The biggest impression I bring away is how conservative practically everybody is. There were very few who were daring and out-front on many of the questions.
Several noted concerns about the college's name, because of the false impressions it offers.
They always say, "Boy, it didn't take as long to get here as I thought it would."
Very few outside the WMC community have a clear sense of us.One of the things I would like to work toward in the future is clarifying the college's mission and identity, not just in terms of recruiting students but also in terms of letting corporations and foundations and the like know just what kind of school we are, how good we are.
As long as people believe our name says we are part of the statecollege or university system and located somewhere far west of Baltimore, they won't know what we really are and will not be interested.
They become much more interested when they learn that we are, in fact, a high-quality, independent college in the Baltimore metropolitan area.
I think we need to make clear to everybody that we aspire to be a national institution. It has to do with funding, the student flow and the very future of the college -- things all closely tied together.
With everybody hard-hit by the recession and decline in enrollment, how can we ease our pinch and thrive?