“Wingate was born of necessity, and for much of its life has been engaged in an ongoing struggle for relevance, identity, and financial stability.”
So begins the first chapter of Wingate Unbound, a 92-page hardbound book detailing the history of Wingate University, with an emphasis on the past quarter century, which has been spent discovering that relevance, identity and financial stability.
Robert Inman, the book’s author, and Dr. Jerry McGee, who presided over Wingate University during the time frame that encompasses the bulk of the book, will take part in a Lyceum event on Thursday, April 27, at 4 p.m. in the Batte Center Recital Hall. During the event, which is open to the public, they’ll discuss Wingate’s transformation to a robust university with several graduate-level programs and a burgeoning student body.
Inman says that in researching Wingate Unbound he grew to love a school that has become “something special.”
“I came away with the impression that Wingate was one of the great success stories in private education in America,” Inman says.
The key period of the book was the early 2000s. McGee had taken over as president in 1992, and by the late 1990s he and other Wingate administrators were looking for a way to make the school stand out from other independent colleges in the state.
“Dr. McGee said early on, ‘We need to do something to be distinctive,’” Inman says. “They thought about a law school. They thought about a lot of things. Then somebody said, ‘You need a pharmacy school.’”
Wingate took that idea and ran with it, starting the Wingate University School of Pharmacy in 2003. “It was a great leap of faith to do that,” Inman says.
Today, with physician-assistant and physical-therapy programs, Wingate has become known regionally for its health-sciences programs, and the undergraduate liberal-arts program has grown alongside them. Wingate now has nearly 3,200 students on three campuses.
That transformation is implied in the title, Inman says. “Wingate threw off the bindings of being just another good, small, private liberal arts college and became distinctive,” he says. “There were lots of good, small, private liberal arts colleges. Wingate was bound by that persona.”
Inman spent a year and a half researching and writing the book. He interviewed close to 40 people, including students, faculty members, staffers, administrators, trustees and friends of the University.
“I loved getting to know the people,” he says. “I fell in love with Wingate. The more I dug into the story, the more I realized, ‘Hey, this is something really pretty unique here.’”
Inman was WBTV’s main anchor in Charlotte for over two decades, and since 1996 he has earned his living as a writer of fiction – mostly novels and plays. That unique combination – TV-news journalist and fictional storyteller – made him the perfect writer to bring the story to life.
“I think I brought to the project a journalist’s way of getting to the story, plus a fiction writer’s way of arriving at a vision for the book,” Inman says. “It’s all storytelling, and what the writer has to do is find the story and tell it in as entertaining a way as you can.”
Inman will be available to autograph copies of Wingate Unbound at the event on April 27, where the book will be on sale (for $25, tax included). Copies of the book can also be purchased through the University’s bookstore, Wingate Outfitters. Call 704-233-8025 for more information.
Find out more about Wingate University’s rich history.