Wofford Alumni Group Challenges College's Agenda

An independent Wofford College alumni organization has had enough of ongoing woke initiatives at the private liberal arts school in upstate South Carolina, and members are not hesitant to go public about it. Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. has approximately 1,000 members now and is growing steadily. The grassroots effort, which began last June, is well-funded, has its own webpage (alumniwoffordway.com) and takes out full-page advertisements critical of the college’s administration in the state’s leading newspapers.

The coalition of loyal Terriers — which is independent of the college’s officially-sanctioned alumni organization — takes issue with a flood of social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts, many of which the alumni group believe to be unnecessary and unsound, and which are being pushed by college President Nayef H. Samhat, his cabinet, and leftist-leaning professors. The college was founded 167 years ago and now has an enrollment of about 1,700 students, the overwhelming majority who live on campus. Tuition and room and board at Wofford College is almost $70,000 annually, which is the second highest in the state.

The independent alumni group vows to uphold traditional core values of the school, which was founded in 1854 by Spartanburg Methodist minister and businessman the Rev. Benjamin Wofford. It was South Carolina’s first private, liberal arts college to integrate its student body more than a half-century ago and is considered one of the most progressive small colleges in the South.

However, Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. says much has changed since Dr. Samhat — Wofford’s 11th president — arrived eight years ago. Dr. Samhat was a provost at Kenyon College in Ohio before becoming Wofford’s president. Dr. Samhat has previously taught International Relations courses and co-authored books on global democracies.

“Wofford is a small, liberal arts college with a long history of educating its students to become well-rounded, broadly informed, independent and critically thinking individuals who recognize all human value, yet who reject unsound, misguided and faddist movements and ideologies,” says Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc.’s President Hunter Quick, a 1971 graduate of the college and Charlotte, N.C., attorney. “Our college has a long-standing commitment to scholarship and academic discipline and also believes that character; respect for others and the human condition; religion and personal faith; and freedom of speech, vigorous debate and the open expression of all ideas, regardless how popular, are essential to a liberal arts education.”

In response to the ongoing push for putative social justice programs on campus, Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. asked the college’s Board of Trustees to revisit 30 proposed recommendations that the group says threatens the school’s traditional core values and fundamentally undermines the future of the institution. The recommendations were developed by a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee, appointed by Dr. Samhat in cooperation with leaders of the 31-member Board of Trustees. Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. also requests a reasonable estimate of how much numerous JEDI projects and related hires will cost, as well as a thorough explanation of why JEDI programs are even necessary.

“It’s obvious that Wofford’s hard-earned reputation for gender and racial harmony has been unnecessarily fractured in recent years, and we believe the Administration’s ongoing obsession with social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion schemes will further divide the Wofford community,” Quick said.

The Board met in August to consider 30 of the JEDI proposals, although the only recommendation the Trustees say was fully within their purview then was the recommendation to change the names of three existing dormitories, and the adoption of a new system for naming future buildings. The dormitories deemed offensive are named after Wofford’s first three presidents — all of them slaveholders before the Civil War. The demand to rename them ignited a storm of controversy among alumni, students and others, and the Trustees rejected that proposal. They recognized that the college’s namesake also owned slaves and noted that if the dorm names were dropped, an even bigger problem would surely follow because it would be inconsistent to change the dorm names and not the name of the school.

“Historical investigation requires contextualization and objective analysis of available evidence,” according to the Board statement. “Most Americans find slave ownership morally repugnant in 2021; most white South Carolinians in the 1850s did not.” The statement also noted that removal of the presidents’ names would “demand of them a moral vision that would have been uncommon for their age.”

Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. agrees, Quick said. “Obviously, the Board was not influenced by progressive hysteria gripping much of academia today,” he said, adding that Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. implores the trustees to similarly consider and thoughtfully decide the other JEDI proposals.

“Wofford traditionally has been committed to the search for truth, as elusive as it might be, and that must not change. The college has long inspired students to take personal responsibility for their actions, to be tenacious, and to respect traditional wisdom and common sense. These core values are especially important to us and we will continue our work to ensure they are upheld,” Quick said.

“Alumni for the Wofford Way believes that the JEDI changes encourage students to believe there is a systemic racial or societal component to an inability to achieve or advance,” he said. “That false notion removes to varying degrees the need for a student to accept personal responsibility for his or her actions. It also cultivates mediocrity.”

He said JEDI initiatives replace the notion of “equality” with “equity.” The first, he said, “guarantees a level playing field and equal opportunity to succeed, while the second ensures an equal outcome for all, regardless of merit. The words sound the same but have entirely different meanings.”

Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. also rejects, and it encourages students to carefully evaluate on their own, Critical Race Theory and other ideologies that promote racial and societal victimhood, which ultimately promote segregation among students. “Such indoctrination fosters ‘cancel culture’ and attempts to convince students that their individual ‘lived experiences’ are superior to objective reality,” Quick said.

In the Aug. 16 issue of the college’s “Conquer and Prevail” newsletter, the Administration announced that the Board of Trustees had rejected any claims that Wofford College is now, or ever will, “indoctrinate” students into any one narrow line of thought or dilute the quality and rigor of our academic program. “That would be great if it is true,” Quick remarked, adding that Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. will endeavor to ensure the promise is kept.

Regarding costs associated with implementing the JEDI proposals, Quick believes the price tag will surely be exorbitant. “But it’s not clear from any of the reports provided thus far by the JEDI Committee or the Administration just how much everything will cost.”

Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. was established last year after Wofford’s English Department declared publicly that it “rejects efforts that seek to restore stability and maintain the status quo over seeking justice.” The department’s June 2020 faculty statement was mailed under a Wofford letterhead to the college’s English majors, both past and present. That was soon after the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African American, at the hands of a white police officer. The faculty statement, considered by many recipients as highly political, sparked a fiery round of alumni protests.

“Standing alone, that language is not offensive — an unjust situation should be protested,” Quick said of the remarks. “However, in the context of the rest of the statement, the English Department justified looting and rioting occurring around the nation and equated it with lawful protests. It even quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that ‘a riot is the language of the unheard.’ Dr. King may have said this but he never promoted rioting, looting or violence. He advocated non-violence and dreamed of the day when people would be judged not based on race but on the content of their character.” Quick wrote a response to the English Department statement, which is published in full on Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc.’s website.

The English faculty statement also declared that there were “long-term and daily practices that perpetuate white supremacy” on Wofford’s campus and declared that there was “a cycle of racial violence on our students and colleagues at Wofford College... .” When Quick and others met with Wofford’s president and his cabinet about these allegations, Dr. Samhat said that he did not believe the charges, and he admitted there were no facts or evidence to support them. He also acknowledged that the statement was not Wofford’s official position.

However, when Quick and the other alumni asked Dr. Samhat to retract or clarify the false and offensive language, he refused, saying he would not “go to war” with the English faculty. Dr. Samhat later suggested publicly that some alumni were “thin-skinned” regarding the JEDI initiatives.

“If wanting to get to the truth and exposing falsehoods is thin-skinned, then we plead guilty,” Quick responded. “However, that remark by President Samhat sounds to me like an attempt to undermine the views of alumni, students and others who oppose the Administration’s agenda. If we disagree with the JEDI proposals, then we’re thin-skinned. However, I believe the opposite. I believe rejecting unreasonable and unsound ideas and being willing to articulate that position is being tough-minded. We believe the search for the truth is the essence of a liberal arts education.”

Quick also noted that in the Aug. 16 issue of “Conquer and Prevail,” one paragraph begins with “We must tell the truth.” “Alumni for the Wofford Way agrees wholeheartedly with this charge,” he said, “and we will remain the gadfly to ensure that Wofford stays the course in its pursuit of this goal.”

At a recent Wofford-sponsored alumni breakfast held in Charleston, Dr. Samhat was asked if he would openly debate Mr. Quick regarding JEDI issues on campus in Leonard Auditorium. The college once boasted two popular debating societies, which often squared off before the assembled student body inside the auditorium in the Old Main building at the center of the campus. Dr. Samhat agreed to the request and added that he would agree to debate others, but he later sent word that he preferred to have a one-on-one “conversation” in the auditorium instead.

Quick agreed, saying such an open discussion was not only a traditional core value of the college but would allow free speech and robust debate on the issues as well as further expose the soundness, or lack thereof, of the JEDI proposals. A date for the conversation has not yet been set.

If you want to support Alumni for the Wofford Way in their efforts, write to their website, to the Trustees themselves, and to the Administration to encourage them to support Alumni for the Wofford Way, Inc. and core values at Wofford.