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Lynn Morton, the eighth president of Warren Wilson College, spoke to the Black Mountain Rotary Club at its lunch meeting on March 6 at Givens Highland Farms.

Bill Christy, chair of the Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees and past president of the Black Mountain Rotary, introduced Dr. Morton. She began as president on July 1, 2017, following a 35-year higher education career that included more than 25 years at Queens University of Charlotte, serving most recently as provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Dr. Morton’s enthusiasm was infectious as she gave the Rotarians an eighth-month update on her new position.

History is fundamental to who the college is, she began. What is now Warren Wilson College grew from the concern by the Women’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church that young people in rural areas were not receiving a proper education. So in 1894, the Asheville Farm School opened with 25 boys attending and a professional staff of three.

Students and teachers built the roads, a dam to produce electricity, and the farm that provided their food. The school grew, focused on upper grades, and was joined with a girls’ school. The last high school class was graduated in 1957 and the school remained a junior college until March 1966 when it was established as the four-year Warren Wilson College.

Throughout its history, Dr. Morton told us, the school remained dedicated to its core value of “learning by doing.” This makes it possible to serve students whose family income is too high for full need-based scholarships but are not able to cover the entire tuition.

To further this mission, the college has a new Center for Integrated Advising and Career Development to help students navigate its distinctive educational model of academics, applied learning through on-campus work, and community-based internships and volunteer service.

This past January, students at Warren Wilson participated in a campus-wide day of “deliberative dialogue.” Facilitators trained in the process led groups in a structured process that is more directed than a discussion, but less confrontational than a debate. Developing this process of listening and talking about important issues, Dr. Morton explained, is helping the college be a model for how higher education can bridge the polarization in society. The college, Dr. Morton said, should make a difference, or why exist?

Dr. Morton closed her dynamic presentation by reflecting on some of the challenges faced by Warren Wilson and other colleges: the “arms race” in campus facilities, the disruption caused by online education, and the spiraling cost of education. 

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