[excerpts from an interview with a calm man]
Erin: We are talking in terms of cresting the year 2000. What is Davidsonís vision for the future? Basically what that means is what are the administrationís goals right now, in the next five years to ten years?
Bobby: Now when you ask me a question like that you understand youíre gonna get a four to five minute answer. Iím sorry but itís gonna beg several pieces. First of all, one of the things that I think is important to remember is that there are administration goalsóIím mincing words a little bitó that are goals independent of consultation by anybody else. So what you are gonna hear from me is something that has been arrived at by a process of conversation, and I donít mean to tell you that I have never had an independent thought, but the point is what is it we are about, I think. Ultimately the buck has gotta stop somewhere and Iím not trying to get out of the way of that. When you talk about vision, the Ďvisioní thing to quote "olí Bush" youíve gotta say that, you know, without input from faculty and staff trustees, alumnaeóthatís one. Twoóthere is a certain panache to the word Ďvisioní and I think it is really important that all of us, not just a few, participate in the college community or whatever you happen to be doing, really have gotten dragged down into the quagmire if you cant see beyond the next step. On the other hand there has also come to be very chic that vision is supposed to be this broad, sweeping change like change in your hair color, you know. Those of us who donít have hair are just jealousóI donít want to get caught up in that. The third thing I want to do is answer your question. There was a process: there was a group called the Priorities Planning Group. It had just begun work when I got here. It was a group put together for a series of reasons, what it ultimately did was a strategic plan for Davidson. Davidson has had a strategic plan for: God, Iíll bet you since 1985. I can remember, as an alumnusó I can probably still find you oneó a copy of one and it was God, motherhood, fatherhood, apple pie. It was great stuff, Iím not knocking it, but it didnít inform decisions that were made from day to day, so the notion was lets figure out more specifically what it is we are trying to do, where are we trying to get.
E: Just to clarify - the Priorities Planning Group. When did it begin?
E: It was supposed to kind of shape up the god, father, apple pie whole thing...?
B: To say we spent at least the first part that I was here talking about (in my words, I am sure they would say much more): Whatís the irreducible essence of Davidson? that is without which Davidson isnít what we think it is, we want it to be, what it could be. Iíll tell you that there were probably 23, 24 people on that committee the students, faculty, and staff (at that time). The trustees got engaged later on in that process. At that point it was sort of like 24 blind people describing the elephant. Everybody kind of agreed on the corpus but when we got to the tail, and the trunk, and the ears. There was a lot of conversation. It was good healthy conversation I think, at the end of the day, and Iíll fast forward for a minute. What was adopted and grabbed on to was what we see for Davidson or what we want Davidson to be going toward. We want it to continue to be small 1600 on campus, as an aside, I can make a stronger argument for 1400 than for 1600, because people always ask, ĎDonít you want to grow?í but I can make a stronger argument going this way [smaller] than that way. Small, low faculty-student ratio, with all the attendant relationships that that implies, which, by the way, on that we log the very best. You look around right now, you donít find the kind of students that have this kind of texture or substance; you donít want to get your whole quotient up just spindled, and on the other hand you want great faculty, so we want that to continue. Liberal arts, not pre-professional. You know the only thing we do that is really vocationally directed in a specific way is a teaching certificate, or secondary: we just think, as a public and social priority, that is something we ought to do. But we donít have journalism courses...or marketing coursesó that is not what we are about. Small, liberal arts, best on both ends of the log, church related, honor code, Division I athletics, focus on an international experience, residential. People say, "what do you wanna be?" You look at that, and you could say we talk about treading water, and maybe the hardest job we have in this institution is maintaining the level of excellence where we are, because inside of all that is nothing. Does that mean there will never be any curricular changes? Heck no! We found that languages are taught and learned differently, if you go downstairs and take a look downstairs, by the way ,which is not the basement, we donít have basements in Chambers.
E: Oh, what do we have?
B: We have lower terraces [laughter]. And in the south lower terrace we now have the language resource center. The ĎW coursesí, the notion that one of the great things that happened, but it happened particularly in humanities, we want right off the bat. For First Year students, they need to have not only the indication but the necessity to interact with and react to the material, not to tack a bunch of survey courses, and become less passive, among other things. So you see all the ĎW coursesí arising, across disciplines, what we call a "writing across the curriculum." So this is not to say the place is going to remain static, the most dynamic thing to do is that bundle of stuff... The trustees said there are three of areas in particular that we are going to build on where. I would really like to resist using the C word, the campaign word, because raising money isnít a campaign. On the other hand we are an institution, and we play like last night on the basketball court [where Davidson defeated Wake Forest], this David Goliath thing, which happens to be true. But W&L has an endowment of eight or nine hundred million dollars, and we are sitting with three hundred which is 2 and a half times what it was five years ago. So, and they said the following, and these are the three legs on the stool or whatever. First, accessibility. When we talk about, and Iím talking about, it costs a lot to go to Davidson. And when we talk about diversity we have to talk beyond gender, racial, ethnic diversity. We have to include socio-economic diversity, and the fact of the matter is that the sky isnít falling. But with costs going up, and I can talk to you about costs, about challenges to the liberal arts education, getting a liberal degree and cost, thatís something people talk about. But if we are who we think we are, we need to be able to say, "if you can get into Davidson, we will meet a 100% of your demonstrated need." People have gotten cutsey and started saying that they are just layering debt on. We are now applying more debt than weíd like to. We are very low compared to most folks we played last night, not to pick on them, but if you look at their [debt]... and I shouldnít pick on them, thatís someone with whom we compete, if you will. And they just have a different policy; they will meet need and layer on that debt, thatís not what we want. We want folks to get out of here. Our goal here, to tell you the truth, is with no more than 10% debt awarded cost to go to Davidson. So that you donít have to be 52 years old before you have to stop. The point of all this, if you look at us, and I donít want to get into financial structure, half of [the] money we give, as an institution ó forget the feds and the rotary club, and other things, and state grants ó is probably eleven and a half a million dollars of financial aid. Half of that is out of our operating budget. For most schools who look like us, they have 100% of their financial aid endowed, which means when they take their operation revenues, their financial aid is already taken care of drawn out of their endowment. Half of ours is donors, half of it comes out of our operating revenues. So we need to make certain, we need to increase that aid. So we are talking dollars, we are saying that we are going to go out and generate a huge piece of money that will be directed at need based aid. Because we need to keep saying, you know there are folks who donít apply to Davidson. The kind of folks that Davidson has served well for a hundred and sixty years, and who have served Davidson well for a hundred and sixty years, donít apply because they look at that price tag. And we need to make it, user friendly is the wrong word, make it as accessible as it can be which is a problem of our education in general because 80% of the people five years from now are going to need secondary training of some sort. And weíre talking about all these folks we need, just as a little [muffled], we need . We are also looking at merit based aid, because merit aid is one of the things that has gone on in this world , and if we are to remain ó Iím sorry this sounds cheesy ó but if we are to remain competitive, we need to offer [it]. But financial aid number 1, Iíll move faster on these. Number 2 the other end of that log ó the very best faculty. The thing we found is that it used to be enough to say, "Come on to Davidson, what a wonderful little community, you get to raise your kid in a great place, you will have the very best students in your class, great faculty member, and the quality of life is great." And we still say that, but you know, let me put it this way, the cost of the average house is a quarter of a million dollars, so to say to a faculty member, "Come on, live in the community," yaddayadda, there is an economic piece to which we need to be much more sensitive. The sky is not falling, but we have begun to do something and we began last year to put the current yearís budget and do some things in respect to salaries. And it goes beyond salaries, we are talking about more effort to retain the best faculty, to maintain and sustain. Interestingly, the two and a half years Iíve been here they used to talk about faculty development, if you want to be cool you want to talk about recruiter enhancement. Thatís true, and when you go to academic things, and you say faculty development, they will look at you, but thatís one of the things. Number 3, three is one hard for me to describe because I am not sufficiently articulate. I lived in a different age, a totally different environment, one I would not trade for all the tea in China, but it pales in comparison to what you all have. Another overused word, like the first one, is community. I am not talking about the mortar between the bricks and I am not talking about a cocoon. There is something that happens here that launches people with the... not only the commitment to do something about this place that we call the world around us... [the] confidence that they can do it, and its an amazing something, and I canít put it into words, but it is an amazing thing, and if I could give you one example... and Iíve used this before, again I wouldnít trade my four years for anything, recognizing that they are nothing in comparison to today, it really isnít. But if you take a thousand men and line them up against the wall of Chambers, but for a dozen they will all look like me. Fat or little or skinny or big, if you lined the faculty on the other side of the hall, but for Cora Louise Nelson, the same could have been said. Twenty two miles north of Charlotte, two two-lane roads from which to choose; hold that picture to today: larger student body, much more diverse, absolutely first rate, larger faculty, much more diverse, unbeatable. The forces of post-modern society are centrifugal, they pull people from the center. So what needs to happen by virtue of homogeneity and isolation, we now as a community need to be much more deliberate about it. There is a whole series of things, so this gets into the busy syndrome, and what occasion do we give as an institution for people to come together, and thatís a whole subject if you had two or three hours its worth talking about. This community piece is very important, it does have to do with how much time do people have to reflect on a college campus, how much time, how guilty do you feel, and maybe yíall donít. But I will tell you, most people... part of this is that folks that come here do things, and thatís great, but have we gotten to the point where there is so much doing that there is more tension more stress, people are not reflecting. Iím not talking about being lazy, Iím just talking about, you know, interaction, that community piece. And itís not just... itís not just interaction with ideas outside the classroom, itís interaction with ideas in the context of ideals and values, again in the context of relationships between people and all that stuff that happens. One good example, it happens to be a physical example, Why are we building this campus center? Because it would be nice to have one, well sure. But what this is about is right now we donít have a facility on this campusóyou know I remember the Delilahs and the Generals, or maybe it was one, maybe it was just the Delilahs, at the end of the year, maybe a year ago, it was this last May, they wanted to do a concert. Theyíre gonna do it in the 900 room. 242 people, whatever it is, and you stand outside in a huge line with 6 or 7 hundred people, and youíre hoping that somebodyís kidneys go bad so they come out so you can go in. Thatís a small example, but a notion of having a place where people come together every day and interact with each other and maybe chill out. Thatís why weíre gonna have a lot of hang out space.
E: instead of couches for two.
B: Yeah, right in that little space. But you notice that itís never empty. It is never empty. Because thereís a separation between students, and you can get broader than Davidson. I donít mean to generalize, I donít want to say that Davidson students are just like everybody else. Thereís more loneliness, thereís more family difficulties, thereís more isolation. We have a real obligation to do something; and Iím sorry Iím turning this into a lecture.
E: Donít worry about it, donít worry about it.
B: That facility is one of the pieces that we have to do in addition to looking at how we spend our lives here together. To bring in cable television, thatís one of the issues in cable television.
E: I wasnít here for this push, but I heard about it.
B: In my mind, and Iím not trying to convince you or argue, but you read the Davidsonian, it said something about the administration being a little reluctant. Thatís the reluctance, as we said. We need to give people more occasion to be together, not people more reason to be separate. And I can understand arguments on both sides, Iím just saying that... So. I will now stop. Those three are of a piece. And those are the three things that the Board of Trustees has taken this PPG report and said "There are three that stand out," that we really want to do something about in terms of raising funds, to be honest with you, to try to do something about. There are other things, there are goals for financial aid. There are goals for technology; [in] this document youíll see a whole bunch of stuff...So if you look ten years down the road, I hope you see a place, that in terms of its position in higher education, [is] a golden place in the lives of 18-22 year olds, that itís very much the same, in the sense of what it does for and with people. Not that it is necessarily exactly the same, with some significant additions.
B: It ainít a different place though. We started outówhen we talk about a vision, when we talk about a vision, it, the college place is just what it could be, itís a great place.
E: Should we ask a perceptions question?
S: The perceptions question is good since heís been talking a little about the spatial idea of Davidson as a community.
E: We were thinking about how, How do you feel that Davidson is perceived amongst the academic realm and how do we want to be perceived? Are those in line and is there any type of push forÖbecause I know that sometimes, not that we have inferiority complexes as students, but weíre kind of like a kid brother. Weíre like "Yeah, weíre good, too, weíre down here and weíre good too." And I was wondering how the Trustees feel about thatÖ
S: Not just that, how do the trustees or how do You see that Davidson is perceived in the country overall, like students applying for colleges, or families looking to pay for colleges?
B: On the side, one of the things we started almost two years ago is a marketing look. Marketing, not in the sense of a commercial point of view is, "How do I package my product so that itís what other people want to see and hear?" For us, the question is, "How is Davidson perceived, and what occasion do we take to get Davidson, and what it is, to the front... to people who are important to us?" The parents of prospective students, alumni, foundations, and other people in the broad world, the academic world. This is an issue at which weíre looking, and I can give you some of the results because one of the things you want to do is answer the questions "What do we want to project, who knows about it, and how is it perceived?
E: How do you perceive the social scene at Davidson College?
B: Social in its broadest sense or social in its playtime?
B: The institution offers limited opportunities. There is no doubt that Charlotte is nearby; there is no doubt that in Cornelius there are things to do: there are restaurants, there are movies. But in terms of things to doÖon the campus. There is plenty of stuff to do. There is alwaysÖin fact, there is too much stuff to do. But in terms of opportunities for people to get together and have a good time, just purely social, just purely enjoy each other, I think we need to develop other offers. This is not a veiled knock on people who go to Patterson Court and drink; this is not a knock on people who hate to drink. And Iím hoping that what this Campus Center is at least provide a place to have chances to get people to do what they want to doÖ. and in larger groups. It doesnít mean that everybody has to get together all of the time, but it would be nicer. Now people talk about how, "Iím on Patterson Court," or "Iím independent." There is nothing wrong with those distinctions, but if those distinctions keep people separate, then thatís a problem. I remember when I came here, there was a question about BYO on Patterson Court, and that would have changed things. The group that came to me and protested the loudest were the independents, because they would have been shut out by it...so you canít generalize about anybody or the way things work. Having said all of that bolony, we do need a space where people can get together, and things that people want to do, not just by virtue of what group they are in.
E: Could you give us more specifics: increasing arts...
B: First thing to change is physical differemce. Itís going to be closer to where students are living. Itís going to be more attractive because what we are going to package around it. And itís gonna be more attractive because what you can hold in it. You know, you can do a coffee shop-y kind of thing, and I know this kind of dates me, but the kind of things where students have the chance on Friday nights to do improv or whatever. You can have two or three things going on in one night, so you wouldnít have to say, "only this." You could have in the performance hall one thing, and then in the big room upstairs another thing and then in the big ole great room you can have something else. Or you could have them in seriatum. You have a bunch going on. And plus, you have hang out space. and a reason to come to hang out space, and Iím not talking two chairs and one couch. Iím talking major living space. So some of it is formal. As far as programming, Iíve been pushing and shoving some people to get some major events here. Weíve gotta do at least a couple of those a year, a couple of major concerts. And then be on tour, be on that cycle for the next tier down. Why did Dave Matthews come here? Remember, remember Hootie came here before they got big. But you can get on that circuit and have events that attract people. Or how would you like to hear a debate, like a gun control debate, a real, live issue, between faculty and students, or someone else. You ever hear Lance Stell argue against gun control?ÖIt makes me so mad Iíd like to ring his neck, but he is a serious, great articulate spokesman.. We got lots of points of view on this campus. So we could do that kind of thing.
E: With the current trend of fraternities going dry, because Iím sure youíve thought about it, what do we anticipate with that? What changes do you fore see?
B: The first answer is we donít have a complete answer yet. I can tell you what the answer can not be: we canít be sayingóby virtue of college policy and national fraternity policy, we canít be driving kids off-campus to drink. We canít have Davidson students in a situation where, in order to get a drink, they have to go someplace where they have to drive back. There are options, Iíll give you a bunch. We could have a couple of houses down on the court, or a room in the new Union, which people could use for parties, if they wanted to. That takes away from the notion of Iím having a party at my house. But nonetheless, having parties like that might make the parties more open, having them in a neutral space. Another option, Phi Delt could have a chapter on campus.that meets in the Union or wherever. Then the PDT-Go-Get-Em Fun Club could rent a house down there that says PDT on the front and they could have parties down there. Now that is getting around it. But you know why the fraternities are doing this? 1) they think itís politically correct and it gets them points and 2) they are saving their liability insurance. They know these guys are gonna drink and if they really cared, theyíd find a way to constructively deal with or control or work with this. But they are doing this so that, if in a house that they said should be dry, there is a party, and something goes wrong, they are off the hook. They force the fraternities to have their own liability.
E: Who takes up that bill? Who takes up that liabilityÖdoes Davidson College have to carry it?
B: Ultimately we carry it anyway. And the fact of the matter is, God forbid, if something happened, and it happened on the Court, and someone says the college should have been paying attention, then from pure liability, is someone going to sue the college, sure they will. I hope they wonít, but we donít kid ourselves, we should be responsible. So what you do is, PDT Fun Club Inc. Ėweíd get a rider on our insurance policy, which they would help pay, and then we could work with responsibility, etc., etc. We have to find a way to use the facilities on campus to provide parties of all kinds. So if theyíre going dry, we donít have a firm plan. Part of it depends on what students want to do. Is this a new move back to eating clubs, because ten, twelve years ago. Will fraternities cosponsor with eating houses? Or an eating house let fraternities rent their facilities. So there are plenty of options, and weíre working with them, and we are also working with the national fraternities.
S: What are the technical aspects of adding a coed eating house to Patterson Court?
B: Weíll shut down the Outpost, because with the New union. Or weíll take PAX, because that will open up with the new residence hall.
E: Is the coed eating house for sure next semester?
B: Yes, thatís why on the self-selection ballot it said something to the effect of "although plans have not been finalized, there will be a coed eating option on campus next semester," so people filling out the sheet could know. Thatís another thing available with the college unionónow people get worried that weíre trying to do social engineering: thatís not what weíre talking about
B: I am interested in the men-women issue. You know that Third Rich is all women and Fourth Rich is all men. Iím not going to suggest we go all the way and put them on the same hall, but I can go the next step back. What if for all purposes of the hall functions, that floor of men and that floor of women were considered to be one hall. Then when you get to the mixer scenario itís not ĎBoy Meets Girl.í Itís a group of people meeting a group of people. I see a lot of opportunities to solve issues like this in the scope of the campus center, the new Union. What about parties without booze? I have a lot of hope in the new Union.
S: You said, that in comparison to other colleges, Davidson is not for everybody. We agreed. However, in order to be a liberal arts institution producing tolerant, critical and liberal thinkers we need to have those kinds of people making up that institution.
B: When I say that Davidson is not for everybody, Iím not saying that theyíre not welcome. I am going to tell you that some people will say that theyíre not comfortable here. Iím not saying that theyíre not welcome. Some people donít want to be in the South. Some people donít think a liberal arts education will serve their purpose, others just look at us and donít want to mess with the ideas of community and high purpose and honor. This is not about excluding people, but we attract a certain type of person.
S: Does Davidson want to be experimental, though? If we are progressive, liberal thinking institution, educating a microcosm community for a larger world, shouldnít we desire to mirror that larger world?
B: And what would that microcosm look like?
S: Well, itís come down to this. Multiple socio-economic groups, multiple ethnic groups, multiple ideologies.
B: Yes, multiple ideologies. I feel weíre highly lacking in that regard and I donít know how to change that. Itís a problem of admissions. When you go hunting for a school, you wonít go somewhere if you donít see yourself there already. I realize now what Iím missing. We donít really have a lot of loud, hard-core democrats.
S: In this community, there is desiderata. Davidson is wanting in several areas. We see this to be a problem. Do you?
B: Iíd be disappointed if you didnít feel that way. You should wonder about the world. You should be asking "whatís out there in that larger world, that great unknown." You should be asking, "What am I missing?" or "Would I be happier here or there?" But - and I donít mean to tell you that people are narrow and that they donít think big thoughts Ė but, Iím here to tell you that maybe that great unknown really is not out there. Still, I think we continue to strive towards diversity of thought, of worldview. Ironically, if you look at Davidson fifteen years ago, and if you look at us relative to others, we are different. Now do I see a problem? Iíll tell you that I think that itís something we continually strive to achieve. I wonít tell you that I find this studentbody is a huge disappointment. Itís not. Iíll tell you that we have almost as much breadth as anybody. Now Iím going to tell you that one of the blessings of this life is that there are no urgent causes, not great battles to fight. Thereíre no wars going. Thereís the environment, maybe. Thereís an election coming up. Is that a function of the times we live in or is that a function of the people that attend this school. But when you say why arenít there more people who are openly gay, thatís one I canít answer for you. There is still some social pressure. This year there are more people than ever who are openly gay. Does that make everything okay? No, but it says progress. That progress is in response to the attitude espoused or assumed by the student body. I can talk about thinkers and movements, but I donít really know what to say about social activism here. But look at what happened on Griffith Street. Look at what happened when the Dylan Glenn poster was graffitied. This isnít to say that there are some slugs out there. Well, I donít mean to call them slugs. I should say fixed-narrow-vision people. Then there is the issue of admissions. Should we go out there looking for people, yelling ĎHey all you crazy people, please apply!í Do we want a well-rounded student body or well-rounded students?
E: Do you really think that only two or three openly gay people on this campus is okay? Thatís bad.
B: Well, do you want a microcosm or a utopia? As a microcosm, Davidson does works fine.
E: Itís an issue, a big issue. People are uncomfortable here! Numbers are important.
B: Well, you canít advertise for gays. You canít say, all gays please apply. But is there really another issue like homosexuality about which our society struggles?
E: Whatís going on with recylcing?
B: We found out that BFI was not delivering our recycling to the proper facilities. So we had to cancel our previous program. Weíve signed a new waste management contract. Weíre starting with paper and aluminum. If that works weíre going to go to plastics. But itís not going to work without an education program and it ainít gonna work without the students. It wonít be that convenient either. We have the bins including roll-aways for Patterson Court. Weíre ready to kickoff. But itíll take a high level of student involvement. Itíll have to become part of the culture. * -Editors