Greening Warren Wilson College


Paul Bartels
Environmental Leadership Center

Paul Bartels Address:
WWC CPO 6032
PO Box 9000
Asheville, NC 28815-9000

Phone: 828.771.3781

Email: pbartels@warren-wilson.ed


Warren Wilson's setting and the early history of the land occupied by the campus is, quite literally, the foundation of the deep interest and continuing concern for the environment which has never been simply an abstract or academic interest at this College. The bottomland next to the Swannanoa River near the College's eastern limits has been the site of archeological excavation since 1966. The dig reveals evidence of temporary encampments dating to 7000 BC and more permanent settlements that go back to 1500 AD. For thousands of years, the Cherokee and their ancestors chose to come to this valley, and made their homes and settlements here. In 1784 Samuel Davidson became the first white settler in the valley and set up his farm near WWC property. His grave can still be found on Jones Mountain.

In November of 1894, The Asheville Farm School occupied over four hundred acres here in the Swannanoa Valley, and those rich acres nourished the purpose, bodies, and practical education of the young men who came here as the earliest students. For over 100 years, with its working landscape of forest, farm, mountains and streams, Warren Wilson's reliance on its setting has been more intimate and complex than the relationship many institutions of higher education have to their particular setting. And as our deep roots in this valley predisposed the faculty and students to husband these acres with particular care, it also nourished an early investment in environmental education.

Practical agricultural training was certainly the first form of environmental education at WWC. The farm has been a central feature since the beginning of WWC history. Additionally, a garden has been in operation for about 25 years. In 1980 the garden moved to fully organic techniques, and it was certified in 1994 by the North Carolina Farm Stewardship Association as complying with the state's organic production criteria. The Farm and Garden Work Crews continue to be a major part of the Warren Wilson educational experience.

As a full science curriculum evolved, an emphasis on field biology was developed that made full use of the natural wonders of the WWC campus. During the energy shortages of the 1970s faculty members in the Biology Department began to lead the campus in practical conservation efforts and developed several courses related to energy and conservation. In 1977, Tom McKinney proposed the Environmental Studies Program, and the first courses were taught in the fall of 1977. By 1979, Environmental Studies was established as a major with faculty members Tom McKinney, Alan Haney, and Jean MacGregor. The program included general environmental studies, environmental management, and environmental education. Woody Bousquet soon replaced Jean MacGregor, and by the late 1980s, Environmental Studies was the largest major in the college. It continues to have the largest student enrollment (approx. 20% of declared majors) and the largest faculty (ten) in the college. In recent years many faculty beyond the Environmental Studies Department also have developed courses with environmental content (see page 17).

The WWC triad includes service as well as work and academics, and the connection to the larger community through service has kept us actively engaged in Western North Carolina. Thus, Warren Wilson College has long been associated with environmental concern and social activism. Recognition of this fact has come from a number of national sources in recent years including Peterson's Guides which listed WWC within a group of undergraduate environmental studies programs that are "leading the way" in environmental education, the environmentally-sensitive magazine Mother Jones which lists Warren Wilson as one of the nation's top campuses for social activism; the "Making a Difference College Guide" which recognizes the college as one of the top 86 schools for the holistic education of its students; and the Campus Environmental Yearbook (a publication of the National Wildlife Federation) which identifies Warren Wilson as one of only 24 schools with "Students, staff and communities working for a sustainable future."

We are proud of our reputation and our history. One goal of this document is to record and celebrate all that Warren Wilson College has done to express our commitment to protecting the environment, to renewing our ethical and spiritual contact with Mother Earth, and to encouraging others toward a more thoughtful relationship with the planet. There are also practical reasons why we, as a community, need to recognize what was accomplished by those who came before us and to celebrate the good that we continue to do. If we fail to acknowledge and applaud our many good efforts, we run the risk of becoming disheartened, bitter, and cynical. The task before us may often appear daunting, and unless we remember our successes, all that remains to be done may appear overwhelming.

At the same time, we must not allow our celebration of the past to become a defense of the status quo. The environmental crisis which this planet currently faces will require actions that carry on for decades and solutions that may radically strike at the heart of our most fundamental economic, political, and ethical foundations. This is the time for bold thought and brave action, and, therefore, while we celebrate the past, we must also act, and produce a dynamic agenda for the future. This is not the time for intellectual, academic, or social complacency. We need hope for the future without delusions. We need to celebrate our past, study what we are doing right and wrong in the present, and prepare an agenda for the future.

Toward that end, President Doug Orr, in January of 1997, created the "Process Steering Group for an Environmental Campus" (PSGEC). Now known more simply as "The Green Team," these students, staff, and faculty were charged with helping to identify and coordinate efforts on campus to "set in motion a process for developing further the environmental commitments and policies for Warren Wilson College." President Orr also directed that the PSGEC should "make periodic reports to the Staff Forum and Student Caucus." This report is written in compliance with this directive from the President of the College. It will serve to give a "snapshot" of where we stand at this particular point in time.