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in retrospect

Michael Gillum looks back on 43 years at UNC Asheville

Mike Gillum

Who is the longest-serving member of the UNC Asheville faculty? Literature Professor Michael Gillum joined the faculty in 1967, when UNC Asheville was known as Asheville-Biltmore College.

Today, Professor Gillum is still teaching classes and helping to inspire new generations of students. In his 43-year career, he has watched a small, regional college evolve into a nationally recognized liberal arts university.

In this interview, conducted at the beginning of the fall semester, Professor Gillum took a look back.

Following are excerpts from that conversation.

What was the campus like when you started?

The campus was new when I came—just a few years old. It was kind of raw. There were no maple trees on the Quad. Most of the campus buildings were located on the Quad. The first several years, a great majority of the students were from Buncombe and surrounding counties. A lot of them were first-generation college students from working-class backgrounds. They were good students, though, and they worked hard. Also, in the early years, a lot of our students were older. There were lots of women who had dropped out or skipped college to get married and had come back in their 30s and 40s. They were often really terrific students.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the political commotions of that time did not have a huge impact on the UNC Asheville campus.

Mike Gillum

What are some of the other changes you have seen at UNC Asheville during your time here?

It's just much bigger and much nicer than it was—and I'd say the changes in the City of Asheville are as great as the changes in the university. When I came here, Asheville was still in the doldrums. It never really recovered from the Depression. Downtown was basically filled with derelict stores and decaying neighborhoods.

When I moved to Asheville, a hippie migration was just beginning. They came here because land was cheap and attractive. Asheville still has a strong counter-culture flavor, but I don't think I would use the term hippie anymore.

What brought you to the university and what has kept you here?

UNC Asheville wanted to become the kind of school where I wanted to teach. I can still quote from the original mission statement, which said that Asheville-Biltmore College sought to provide a liberal education of high quality for serious and able students. The faculty really believed that. The faculty was a little goofy in those days. We had some odd-ball characters, but they were all committed and doing a good job and offering a liberal education of high quality.

I can still quote from the original mission statement, which said that Asheville-Biltmore College sought to provide a liberal education of high quality for serious and able students.

I just love UNC Asheville, and I am grateful that I landed here. It's been a wonderful place to spend my career.

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