Five questions with Dr. Lynn Morton, Warren Wilson College’s incoming presidentMay 9, 2017
In advance of her announcement as the eighth president of Warren Wilson College, Dr. Lynn Morton took the time to answer a few questions.
Do you think being from North Carolina benefits Warren Wilson College? Do you think it will help people see the College in different lights?
“I feel a deep connection to this part of the world, certainly, to North Carolina. I was born in Gastonia. I grew up, mostly, in Chapel Hill, and then, of course, moved to Charlotte where I’ve been for the last 26 years as vice president for academic affairs and provost [at Queens University of Charlotte]. And so, I really hope that I bring a deep understanding of culture and also the new South.
“I think what you’re saying about Warren Wilson, perhaps, having one reputation sometimes or too narrow a reputation is also true of North Carolina and also true of the South. I find myself in my travels constantly trying to convince people that we are more than HB2. We are more than what you saw happening in Charlotte this fall. We are more than bankers and lawyers in Charlotte and Raleigh. We’re an incredibly diverse state, and this is an incredibly diverse area. At the same time, I think there is so much common experience – our heritage, the way we look at the world. And southerners are kind of their own sort of people sometimes.
“So, I feel like I kind of know how to ‘talk the talk,’ but I also have a really deep understanding of what it’s like to be a native North Carolinian, a southerner and someone who loves the mountains.”
Discuss your connection to the region. What are your thoughts on Warren Wilson College’s role in the area?
“Well, I’ll start with Black Mountain because that’s where I have a log cabin at the top of a hill with no internet, no television and no landline. When we drove into Black Mountain, the town, it had been many years since I’d been through there, and I fell in love with that town. That was about 10 years ago, and it took us a couple of years to finally get the log cabin built. Then we started going more into Asheville and, literally, watching Asheville change before our eyes.
“I mean the pace of change in Asheville for the last couple of years has been phenomenal. It was coming. We all knew it was coming. And first it was culinary, and it was arts, and it was music, and it was craft, but it has all come together now in the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Valley-Asheville area as being this really kind of funky, sophisticated, fun, surprising destination. So, if you pick up a magazine now, like Southern Living or Our State, you’re very likely to see this area. And, you know, I have to tell you, at least as far as Black Mountain is concerned, there’s a little bit of me that would like to keep it a secret. But I don’t really want to keep Asheville a secret. It’s a great gift to the South and, certainly, to North Carolina.”
How do you plan to stay connected with students?
“I went into this business because I love teaching. I never thought I would be an administrator, let’s be clear. I wanted to be a college professor, and I was for many years. Being with students was the best thing. I always loved every minute of the time I spent with students, and, in fact, my first administrative job was a hard decision for me, as associate vice president for academic affairs, because I had to mostly leave the classroom.
“I think it’s pretty easy to connect with students. You walk through campus, and you say hello. You stroll through the dining hall from time to time and sit down for a few minutes and ask students what they’re up to and what’s going on. I would like to meet with student leadership on a regular basis. I do that now as provost in my current role, and I find that really being connected to what’s going on in the student body with clubs, organizations, crews, you know, all of those things are really important and, frankly, feed my soul.”
What role does inclusivity play in a Lynn Morton presidency?
“This is the warmest, most welcoming community I think I’ve ever visited. My entire interview process was absolutely delightful. People could not have been nicer and more accepting. Everybody – faculty, staff, students – it was incredible, and so I think there really is a deep, deep sense of community here. And, like all communities, it’s not perfect. We’re like family. We always have things that happen that we don’t expect, but we learn how to work through it together. And I really see that ability to work through things at Warren Wilson.
“I think that that sense of community and belonging and inclusivity is more important than ever now, given the tenor of politics in our nation and in our state. We have to learn how to talk together. We have to learn how to think together and to really see past what might seem like surface differences to what is really our deeper humanity. And I believe that Warren Wilson is really positioned to do that well because of that rich history. And I can see them looking forward, all of us at Warren Wilson now looking forward, into how we can make a difference in the world, how we can make it all a better place to be.”
Is tradition important to the future of Warren Wilson College?
“One of the best experiences of my life is listening to alums talk to current students about traditions that they have all been a part of, and I think that that is where magic happens. You’ve got to keep tradition, and, you know, I think it’s critical. It’s part of that foundation, and it’s part of what makes that place special.
“People will tell you what traditions are meaningful. You don’t have to decide that by yourself. Just try getting rid of a tradition that a lot of people are really invested in, and you’ll find out exactly what’s important. I think it’s critical to listen to those people.
“So, tradition is a very important part of Warren Wilson College, and also it’s important to me personally. I’ve always had a strong sense of our family traditions, of things that we’ve done year after year after year, and of our culture in our family. And I sense that same kind of pride and culture in the College.
“So, I think I’ll spend a lot of time learning. I don’t know all about Warren Wilson yet. I’ve learned as much as I can on the internet and during my interview. But I need to talk to people to find out what’s really important to them, and what they want to keep and what they’re interested in changing, possibly.”
To learn more about Dr. Lynn Morton, visit http://warren-wilson.edu/newpresident.