Chapter 5

Thinking about the 21st Century Student: Wofford College Since 2000

Dr. Benjamin Bernard “Bernie” Dunlap, Wofford’s 10th president, first visited the campus as a visiting lecturer in the early 1980s in a series sponsored by the South Carolina Committee for the Humanities. His reputation as outstanding scholar-teacher who embodied the best of the humanistic tradition proceeded him. 

A Columbia, South Carolina, native, Dunlap graduated summa cum laude from the University of the South in 1959, then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. After earning an Oxford bachelor’s degree in 1962, Dunlap earned a master’s degree in 1966 and received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1967. In 1968, Dunlap began teaching at the University of South Carolina, where he distinguished himself as both a teacher and a researcher, winning USC’s Teacher of the Year Award and its Russell Award for Distinguished Scholarship during his career there. Dunlap innovated in teaching film classes at Carolina and in public humanities scholarship with his 1978-79 PBS series “Cinematic Eye,” which was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in 1979. Dunlap ultimately served as writer/producer for more than 200 programs for PBS/SCETV and the 1984 TV movie, “Tales of the Unknown South.”

In other words, Bernie Dunlap was not “just” an English professor or “just” a television writer/producer. Dunlap was a modern example of the Renaissance’s liberal arts ideal: a charismatic, broadly-educated person with talent and knowledge in several areas. When he was not creating a teaching field at the University of South Carolina or writing television series, Dunlap was also a ballet dancer and principal soloist with the Columbia City Ballet, a novelist, a playwright, a poet, an essayist, and a world traveler (Dunlap served as senior Fulbright lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University in 1988-89 and at Chiang Mai University in 1989-1990), to name just a few.

Dunlap was invited back to the college in 1984, this time to speak to students at a convocation, and again in 1985 to deliver the Commencement address. Dunlap writes that each visit impressed upon him that Wofford offered a compelling mix of collegiality and commitment to the liberal arts that he described as an “academic utopia” that he never expected to find. When Wofford invited him back to campus in 1992 for the Olin Building’s dedication, Dunlap mentioned to Roger Milliken, then serving as the board of trustees’ facilities chair, that he would love to teach in a building like Olin. Milliken apparently took him seriously, and Dunlap was surprised some weeks later when President Lesesne led a Wofford delegation to Columbia to offer him the inaugural Chapman Family Professorship in the Humanities.

Dunlap retired from USC and joined Wofford’s faculty in the fall of 1992. For the next seven years, he offered interdisciplinary courses in the arts and humanities, teaching traditional literary surveys as well as Asian Studies, creative writing, and film history courses. He also worked with President Lesesne to create the Presidential Seminar. 

When Dunlap was appointed the college’s 10th president in the spring of 2000, he had never held an administrative position and, unlike his predecessor, had not had a crash course in all of the major management areas. Dunlap’s approach is perhaps best summarized by something he observed after President Barack Obama’s 2009 installation. Commenting on prevailing anxieties at the time period caused by a major economic downturn, Dunlap called upon Wofford’s students to “realize their own prospects depend upon not what they inherit, but what they do.” During the Dunlap administration, Wofford and its students would do a great deal by focusing on student empowerment and leadership development, continued campus transformation, and enhancing the campus’s arts and culture scene. 

Leadership and personal development were major emphases during the Dunlap years. In 2003, Dunlap partnered with Jennie Johnson and Anna Kate and Hayne Hipp to create the Liberty Fellowship and bring it to the Wofford campus. The Liberty Fellowship invites a class of 20 leaders every two years to participate in seminars that explore complex issues related to some of South Carolina’s persistent challenges like educational equity and political and judicial reform. Dunlap led several of these seminars. His talent for engaging audiences made him a sought-after facilitator. During his time at Wofford, Dunlap moderated for the Aspen Institute’s Executive and C.E.O. Seminars as well as its Henry Crown Fellowship and such affiliated programs as the Executive Seminar Asia, the Faculty Seminars at Wye, the Aspen-Rodel Fellowship, the Africa Leadership Initiative, and the Central European Leadership Initiative. He also designed and moderated seminars in Europe, Africa, and the United States for corporate clients as varied as the Netflix Corporation, Young & Rubicam, the Waters Global Forum, the Nova Chemical Corporation, and the Arab Banking Corporation. Dunlap appeared as one of “Fifty Remarkable People” at the 2007 TED Conference in Monterey. Dunlap’s national and international recognitions helped to raise the college’s visibility.

The campus saw significant renovations and new construction between 2000 and 2013. In 2008, the college completed an extensive renovation of Main Building, with emphasis placed on Leonard Auditorium. During this renovation, original brickwork laid by enslaved men was exposed. A portion of the original brickwork remains exposed as “Builders’ Niche” and honors the nameless “Thinking Men” who constructed the college’s most iconic building. Growth along Evins Street also continued. In 2009, an $800,000 gift from the Montgomery family allowed for the renovation of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry building as the Montgomery Music Building, Wofford’s first dedicated music facility. Student personal and professional development were enhanced by the creation of The Space in the Mungo Center in 2010. The Space supported student entrepreneurship and internship opportunities and promised to offer programs that “leverage the college’s liberal arts foundation and focus on developing skills and talents that give Wofford students a competitive advantage regardless of the future they pursue.” These efforts continue today in the Mungo Exchange, where students can find the Career Center, Community-Based Learning, International Programs, and Undergraduate Research. The Wofford Village, an award-winning “new urban” community for student residential living that reflected the vision of trustee Mike Brown ’76, was completed in the fall of 2011 with the opening of the Michael S. Brown Village Center. 

Wofford’s commitment to the campus environment and sustainability practices increased. In November 2002, the campus was designated as a national arboretum. Nearly 4,500 trees were planted between 1992 and 2002, representing 97 native varieties. The arboretum is also home to a wide variety of birds and squirrels. On Earth Day 2008, Wofford was among the campus signatories on the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which called for meaningful efforts to reduce institutional carbon footprints. The next year, the college changed more than 50 policies and procedures to make the campus greener. The Goodall Environmental Studies Center, located on Lawson’s Fork in Spartanburg County, claimed a series of awards for historic preservation architecture in 2010 and was South Carolina’s first academic building to qualify for LEED Platinum status.

Wofford also planned for an expanded student body and curricular innovation. After careful study, Wofford trustees approved a gradual plan to increase the size of the student body to about 1,600 with a full-time student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1. The faculty continued to enhance the core curriculum with new majors in theatre, Chinese and environmental studies, while at the same time building highly innovative opportunities for research, internships and study abroad. Additionally, the faculty created interdisciplinary programs in Latin American and Caribbean studies, African and African American studies, gender studies, and Middle Eastern and North African studies. The Center for Innovation and Learning supported the faculty with fresh ideas and added resources for the improvement of teaching. 

On July 1, 2013, following a national search, Dr. Nayef H. Samhat became Wofford’s 11th president. Samhat came to Wofford in July 2013 after serving as provost and professor of political science and international studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Prior to his time at Kenyon, he was the Frank B. and Virginia B. Hower Associate Professor of Government and International Studies and an associate dean at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Samhat quickly embraced the college’s mission and led a strategic planning process that resulted in a new strategic vision for the college, “It’s Our Wofford.” At the same time that the college unveiled the new strategic vision, Samhat announced a gift from alumnus Jerry Richardson to begin to implement a major component of the strategic vision, a new center for the arts. The Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, which opened in 2017, filled a significant gap in the college’s fine arts offerings. A few weeks later, Richardson announced a subsequent gift, the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Opening in the fall of 2017, the new indoor stadium replaced Benjamin Johnson Arena as the home of men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. The men’s basketball team won Southern Conference championships in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, and 2019, earning a spot in each of those years in the NCAA Division I tournament and bringing national attention to the college. In 2019, the team won a first-round game for the first time ever, capping one of its most successful seasons.

With the relocation of basketball and theatre to the new Richardson buildings, the college was able to renovate the Campus Life Building (renamed the Mungo Student Center to honor the lead contributors to the project) to improve intramural, fitness, and dining options. The construction of the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts also meant that fraternity row would have to move. A new Greek Village opened in 2016 on the north side of Main Building, with houses for each fraternity, and for the first time, houses for each sorority. Additionally, reflecting the college’s increased focus on diversity and inclusion, the village included a house for multicultural students. In 2019 and 2020, the college completed a renovation of the Sandor Teszler Library and prepared to open both a new residence hall and the Chandler Environmental Studies Center. The Space renamed the Career Center and Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2020. The student body grew a bit more, with just over 1,700 students on campus.

In 2021, Jerry Richardson gave Wofford $150 million. The gift — the largest in the college’s history — is designated for the endowment with a focus on need-based scholarships and experiences for Wofford students. 

With this gift, Richardson’s contributions to Wofford to date exceeded $262.6 million, among the largest individual commitments ever to a U.S. college or university.

The $150 million endowment gift focuses on four areas:

  • Need-based financial aid that will affect hundreds of students each year.
  • Off-campus U.S. and global study opportunities, student and faculty research, internships and entrepreneurial learning opportunities.
  • An initiative to transition all of the college’s support staff to a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
  • A special fund for the maintenance, repair and improvement of campus buildings.

The college will award the earnings from these funds so that the impact of this gift continues in perpetuity. Every member of the Wofford community will benefit from this gift directly or indirectly.

Since taking office at Wofford, Samhat has led the college through:

  • Two strategic visioning processes, including the 2020 process focused on addressing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • A record $470 million comprehensive fund-raising campaign, including endowment growth of over $250 million (the total is now more than $400 million).
  • The renovation or construction of 11 campus facilities.
  • The re-evaluation of the general education curriculum.
  • Increased engagement with the Spartanburg community, including new initiatives in Spartanburg’s northside neighborhood.
  • SACSCOC reaccreditation.
  • New marketing and branding initiatives as well as many other plans, programs and grants designed to build community, boost sustainability, champion the liberal arts and enhance the educational experience for students.