The adventure ends: A farewell to the College’s beloved kinesiology activities courses
Written by Heather Baier|
November 13, 2017
Kinesiology lecturer Kim Whitley finished his first outdoor hike in Merchants Square at the age of 14, tired, hot and covered in mosquito bites. Disenchanted with the outdoors, he returned home uninspired by what nature had to offer. Almost 50 years later, he sits in a small office in the corner of Adair Hall’s gym, planning for his next rock-climbing class under the light of a wooden canoe lamp.
In a similar fashion, kinesiology lecturer Randy Drake arrives to his square office in the entrance of Adair to the background music of Ballroom Dance. He organizes his last semester of courses at the College of William and Mary surrounded by photos and memorandum of adventures past.
Whitley and Drake are two of the three full-time faculty members at the College who will be leaving campus along with the kinesiology activity program next year.
Tracing its beginnings deep into the history of the College, the kinesiology activity program began as a physical education requirement for a bachelor’s degree at the College.
“When I first came here in 1984, that was the first year that men’s physical education and women’s physical education were combined,” Whitley said. “It used to be physical education, and around 1990 or ‘91 physical education became … kinesiology. So, it’s the study of human movement.”
The original activity requirement dropped from four credits to two, and then it dropped all together in 2002. As previous full-time activity faculty retired, they were not replaced.
Kayaking, Adventure Games and Rock Climbing are three of the courses that define the kinesiology activity program now. However, these courses are only a small fraction of those offered back when activity was a degree requirement.
Thumbing through a course catalog from 1992, Randy recounts the adventure courses offered on and off campus.
“Synchronized Swimming, all kinds of swimming stuff, Swimming I through Swimming III, Competitive Fitness Swimming, Lifeguarding, Water Safety Instructor, Life Guard Instructor, all kinds of racket sports, Squash,” Drake said. “Racquetball I and four levels of Tennis, Triathlon Training, all kinds of weight training courses.”
Having made their living at the College passing on their adventurous spirits to students, Whitley and Drake were upset to hear their positions were being cut.
After working for the College for almost 27 years and being only three years from retirement, Drake said the program cut could have been better timed.
Within three years of my retirement they’re going to eliminate my job, they’re going eliminate my health care, and they’re going to eliminate my retirement. At 64 years of age it’s going to be relatively difficult for me to find another job that’s going to have those kinds of benefits.
“I’m doing what I love,” Drake said. “This is this is the best job I’ve ever had … I’m 63 years old, and when I retire I’ll be 64, and so I’ll still be two years from my full retirement age of 66 … within three years of my retirement they’re going to eliminate my job, they’re going eliminate my health care, and they’re going to eliminate my retirement. At 64 years of age it’s going to be relatively difficult for me to find another job that’s going to have those kinds of benefits.”
Both Drake and Whitley received the news in different ways, but both said there was very little official communication. Whitley said he still hasn’t had the opportunity to have a formal conversation with the dean who made the cut.
“The dean of the faculty never had a conversation with us,” Whitley said. “She’s never taken the time to speak to us to let us know that our positions were being eliminated. She’s taken it down the food chain and put that responsibility on professor Deschenes, the department chair, to do that.”
Whitley acknowledged that he and Drake aren’t eligible for tenure, and it’s the administration’s right to end the activities program and cut their positions, but he wishes the decision could have waited just a few more years.
They’re just dumping us out like a pair of old shoes, and three more years was all it would’ve taken for us, and we could’ve gotten out gracefully and dealt with it. I’ll be fine, but still it’s not how I wanted to depart.
“It’s their privilege I guess,” Whitley said. “You know, I’m not a professor; I’m a lecturer or an instructor. They call us NTEs, non-tenure eligible. So, it’s their right to do that, and I think that they probably could have handled that a little better. … They’re just dumping us out like a pair of old shoes, and three more years was all it would’ve taken for us, and we could’ve gotten out gracefully and dealt with it. I’ll be fine, but still it’s not how I wanted to depart.”
Drake said that while it’s hard for him to get past his hurt at the College’s decision, his fond memories of past adventures with students are what make the sorrow worth it. Reminiscing about an adventure to Camp Huntington in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, which he first visited as an outdoor education major at the State University of New York Courtland, Drake said his favorite class to teach has been winter camping.
“Because of a very wonderful set of circumstances, I’ve been able to take students to Camp Huntington for a week of winter camping over spring break,” Drake said. “I think I started in about 1994, and so we spend a week, and I teach them how to cross-country ski, how to snow shoe, we build and sleep in snow shelters.”
After hearing about the cuts, Carolina May ’18 and two of her friends began a petition last spring to keep the activities classes. While the petition did not save the program altogether, the administration did take note of the student pushback and is working to develop an alternative program.
May said the courses are the best way for students to fit activity into their already busy schedules.
“I think that when students get busy, the first thing they cut out of their day is exercise and being outdoors, so these classes, people sign up for them and then it sort of ensures that they’re going to spend one hour Monday, Wednesday, Friday or whatever, outside enjoying nature, being active,” May said.
Having completed Kayaking last year, May said the skills she learned have given her resume a boost.
“I’m hoping to go into environmental field research, and so saying that I’ve taken kayaking, I feel comfortable in the water, and I’ve been trained through this class is kind of an asset to looking for a job where I might be in the field on the water taking data,” May said.
Adventure isn’t Whitley’s only passion. Being on the water or in the mountains teaching students how to climb cliffs and paddle through boulder beds is where Whitley said he is the happiest.
“[T]eaching students — that’s my passion,” Whitley said. “That’s my love. I’ve been honored to have been able to work with some of the finest students on the planet for the last 30 years.”
So, after the photos are taken down and Drake’s and Whitley’s offices are turned over to new faculty, memories of the one-credit kinesiology courses will remain with students who paddled down the James River in the wake of Whitley’s kayak or students who climbed the face of Luray’s cliffs to shouts of encouragement from Drake.
Though the cuts have been made and the activities program as students know it is reaching its end, Whitley and Drake’s lives of adventure will continue long past their departure from the College.
“My adventures don’t end with class. You know, I live my dream. I live the metaphors of life,” Whitley said. “They’re talking about achieving their goals in life and trying to get somewhere and do things. ‘Climb that ladder of success, climb that mountain, there’s more than one way to the top.’ I live the metaphors of life. Forge that river, cross that stream, still waters run deep…”