Warren Wilson College's new president has local connections

Lynn Morton is no stranger to the mountains

Fred McCormick

In many ways, Lynn Morton's recent installation as president of Warren Wilson College is a return to the mountains she loves.

As a young girl growing up in Chapel Hill, the Gastonia native often went camping in the mountains with her family, with a big canvas tent in tow.

“My dad would typically start out at one end of the (Blue Ridge) Parkway, and after one or two nights at a campground, he’d pack everything up and drag us to the next campground," she said. As she and her family rode along the parkway in the family station wagon, her father instilled in her and her siblings a reverence for the mountains.

Morton assumed the role of president July 1. The eighth president in the college's 75-year history was chosen after a six month search that began after former president Steven Solnick announced in October 2016 he would be stepping down to lead an independent day school in New York City. The search committee considered applications from some 90 people.

And it turns out the best fit for the college was already in the Swannanoa Valley. About a decade ago, she and husband Ric bought a cabin in Black Mountain. He found it while she was on a trip abroad with students.

Warren Wilson College chief financial officer Scott McKinney guides college president Lynn Morton through several construction projects on campus July 13.

"I found it!," she recalled her husband telling her in an email. "It’s the perfect town! It’s Black Mountain.’”

She visited for the first time that winter and loved it, she said.

At the time, Morton was provost and vice president for academic affairs at Queens University of Charlotte. She spent 26 years of her 35-year higher education career there.

After attending the Executive Leadership Academy, a year-long program cosponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the American Academic Leadership Institute, Morton interviewed for presidency of a college in another state when she had a thought.

Blacksmith crew supervisor Matt Haugh shows Warren Wilson College president Lynn Morton the improvements being made to the blacksmith shop.

"I wonder what's happening with Warren Wilson," she recalled thinking. "I've known about it for a long time. I brought two of my kids here for open houses and, lo and behold, they had just announced the vacancy."

Soon thereafter, she was interviewing to become the first female president in Warren Wilson's history. The campus was just minutes from her cabin.

"It really felt like it was meant to be when I got an interview," she said. "It felt right and seemed like such a good fit. The people on the search committee were great. The board was also, and the college itself is such a friendly, welcoming community."

Morton felt an additional draw to Warren Wilson College.

"The values of the college are aligned with my beliefs," she said. "My husband is an environmental attorney and is involved in regulatory work. He and I have always felt a connection to the environment and have tried to be responsible to the extent that's possible in the modern world."

On July 13, Warren Wilson's chief financial officer Scott McKinney guided the president on a tour of several construction projects on campus, including a 15,000-square-foot academic building at the former site of Carson Hall. The $6 million project, which will include an outdoor classroom, will be the first new instructional building on campus in nearly two decades.

McKinney's tour also included a look at improvements being made to the college's blacksmith shop. It included renovations to the college's pool and the remodeling of several dorms. There's a lot going on on campus right now.

"We're keeping what we've done so well and also looking to the future," Morton said. "You can see it all over. Warren Wilson is on the move. You can see us moving forward."

Morton would like to focus on raising the college's profile, regionally and nationwide.

"We don't want to be the best-kept secret," she said. "We want everyone to know what we're doing here."

She'll have the best seat in the house to witness the college's growth - she'll be living in the president's house on campus, the first president to do so in five years.

"I want to be part of the community and campus," she said. "Plus, it's beautiful here and I can walk to work."