70 Years of Excellence

Larry Usilton

Larry Usilton

Musings on the 70th Anniversary of UNCW

When I arrived on campus in 1971 as the newest member of the History Department, UNCW was a very young institution nestled among the pines adjacent to a not so-very-congested, two-lane South College Road. The old-timers affectionately referred to the school as “Wilmington College,” while the youngsters knew it as UNC by the Sea or UNC by K-Mart. The campus was much smaller in those days, consisting of a handful of academic halls, a library, an auditorium, a gymnasium and one dormitory. Randall Library was only half its present size. Through the plate-glass windows on the back side of the building, one could see an as-of-yet undeveloped area, which years later would become the Campus Commons with its impressive clock tower, ponds, amphitheater and student union.

In those days, approximately 100 faculty taught fewer than 1,500 students and, when not in the classroom, served on the university’s 10 or 11 standing committees. There was no Faculty Senate. Instead, when necessary, faculty would meet as a committee of the whole in King Hall Auditorium to discuss the business of the day.

The curriculum was somewhat more rigid, requiring – among other things – four semesters of a foreign language, three semesters of English and two semesters of history. The History Department was at that time located on the second floor of Alderman Hall, the administrative nerve-center of the university. While the chancellor, provost, deans and other administrators ran the university from the first floor, upstairs eight historians labored to provide the U.S. and European courses required for graduation. Frequently, the two worlds would intersect and bring us in touch with William Waggoner, Dorothy Marshall, William Randall, Marshall Crews, Helena Cheek and other legends of the early years.

In 1978 this idyllic scene came to an end when history and other disciplines on the second floor were dispatched to new homes. Unwittingly, we had entered a new era, a period of rapid growth which would bring additional buildings, faculty, students, programs, and a much more flexible and diverse curriculum.

In 2017, as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the university, the campus looks much the same from the six lanes of almost continuous traffic on South College Road. Enter the campus, though, and drive beyond the hallowed halls of an earlier era, and it quickly becomes obvious that you have entered a very different world. More than 1,100 faculty and approximately 16,000 students traverse 650 acres of campus with an abundance of academic halls, support facilities, athletic fields, residential halls and parking lots.

Yet, there is much to remind us of that earlier era – the Georgian architecture, streets bearing the names of donors, faculty and administrators from a bygone period, and a mission which has never changed – a dedication to the “integration of teaching and mentoring with research and service.”