During the 2017 fall semester at Fort Lewis, it seemed as if every email check promised a new message from the school administration regarding the college’s identity and future direction – a possible name change; the enrollment crisis; the wider perception and reputation of Fort Lewis College.
At first, it was nice to feel like we had a say in things. However, as time has gone on, these solicitations feel more reflective of a growing insecurity. Any higher learning institution has an obligation to receive and listen to feedback from its students, but when students are paying thousands of dollars a semester, they want to know that the administration has a handle on basic operations.
According to a statement released by the college in December, Fort Lewis ended input from currently enrolled students in November. Instead, it turned its focus toward prospective students and the opinions of financial stakeholders and alumni. This coincides with the numerous budget-cut decisions and the controversy regarding faculty non-disclosure agreements covered by the Herald (Jan 19).
The looming budget cuts, the retirement of President Dene Thomas at the end of the academic year, and the recently announced departure of Barbara Morris, provost and vice president of academic affairs, have caused many students, including myself, to become concerned. If the top two administrators of the college are leaving in the midst of all of these hard decisions, does that mean that students should prepare themselves for even tougher times ahead?
I have loved Fort Lewis since the moment I stepped foot on campus. I knew instantly that it was a unique opportunity to acquire a higher education in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable without shoveling myself into an endless hole of debt.
I want to see this situation as just another bump in the road for a small, liberal arts college, but I fear that this insecurity might foreshadow a loss of identity. Unfortunately, it seems that in the rush to re-brand in order to increase enrollment, Fort Lewis has lost sight of the very things that attracted many students and faculty to the college in the first place.
And what are some of those things?
No, not sports – well, not really. As a Division II school in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Fort Lewis will never be known as a huge powerhouse when it comes to sports. But it does have one of the best collegiate cycling teams in the nation, with over 20 national championships.
And no, it’s not to get lost in the crowd. Students here are able to talk to their professors face-to-face about any problem they are having.
And while we don’t boast a huge state-of-the-art campus, FLC’s tight-knit campus community is surrounded by arguably the most beautiful scenery among U.S. colleges.
Fort Lewis is not for everyone, but the students that feel at home in its halls and in its outdoor spaces have a personal connection to FLC that extends beyond enrollment numbers and brand identification,
My proposition to the new Fort Lewis College administrators is this:
Let your strengths outshine your weaknesses.
The student who feels lost in large classes and needs regular interaction with an instructor will be much more likely to thrive at Fort Lewis. The student who is planning on going to an Ivy League college might scoff at the tiny campus, but another student who is a hands-on learner obsessed with science will find that the school’s gorgeous mountain surroundings make it one of the world’s best classrooms to study the environment we all live in.
Most college students or faculty across the United States will likely have some complaint about their school. From the way it’s run, to the food in their cafeteria – no school is perfect. If Fort Lewis College wants to get enrollment back up, and if it truly wants student success, it has to proudly own its true identity.
The ongoing success of Fort Lewis College depends not on trying to become something that the college will never be, but rather showing the world what this small, mountain school has to offer, qualities you won’t find anywhere else.
Colton Branstetter is the photography editor for the Indy, Fort Lewis College’s student news organization, and a junior from Pryor, Okla. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.