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Conversations about education: Provost James Winebrake on UNCW's new colleges, Dorian Cromartie on Rachel Freeman's struggles

On this episode, UNCW Provost James Winebrake on this week's big news — the restructuring of the College of Arts and Sciences into two new separate colleges. And, on a related note, we’ll get into the tension between two visions of the university: one, as an institution for workforce development, and the other, as a place of personal exploration and growth.

Then, we’ll talk to Dorian Cromartie, a volunteer at Rachel Freeman Elementary, a school named for Dorian’s grandmother. For years, the school has been in chaos — with high administrative and faculty turnover, and some very challenging student misbehavior. We’ll unpack what’s causing these issues and how to address them.

Our first guest today is UNCW Provost James Winebrake. After serving as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Rochester Institute of Technology for roughly a decade, he stepped into the Provost Role at UNCW in the summer of 2020 — as the covid pandemic was ripping through the country.

One of Winebrake’s top challenges has been a restructuring of UNCW’s college of arts and sciences, far and away the largest of the university’s four colleges. UNCW plans to officials separate the two colleges this summer, creating two new colleges.

Some faculty have voiced concerns about this — especially in the humanities. Those professors fear that separating the colleges could mean the sciences could get more financial support than the arts.

In a way, it’s part of a broader tension — felt in universities around the country — between two visions of higher education — one that sees college as a workforce development institution, and another that takes a more philosophical approach, seeing college as a place for personal exploration and growth. Add to that the state’s political climate and the growing concern over student debt and it’s a complicated time for higher education in general, and for UNCW. But there’s also a lot of good happening, including UNCW’s advancements as a doctoral and research institution.

Then, we'll sit down with Dorian Cromartie, a military veteran and recent school board candidate who volunteers at Rachel Freeman Elementary School — a school that’s named for his grandmother.

Sadly, the school is going through a tough time. Over the last year, we’ve documented a lot of turnover, including principals, teachers, and staff. That, plus the pandemic, has led to a breakdown in student behavior. Most on staff have been hesitant to talk on the record, for a variety of reasons that we’ll get into. But at least a half dozen current and former employees who have worked at the school have described a similar situation — and it’s not good. "Chaos," is the word a few have used.

Cromartie has seen it first-hand. He joins us for a candid conversation about what's going on and what might be done about it.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.