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A remarkable new era: 2010

By Lynn Beck. (From Spring 2003)


We are on the threshold of a remarkable new era in the life of Pacific Lutheran University.

After three years of study and discussion, spring will mark the completion of the new long-range plan, "PLU 2010: The Next Level of Distinction." Setting forth our highest hopes for the future, this document will serve as the framework for strategic planning in the years immediately ahead.

The 2010 report is foremost a reaffirmation PLU’s core identity as a Lutheran university in the Pacific Northwest. That identity is the platform from which the university will address the challenges of the future: pursuing our aspiration to build a more distinctive academic program, claiming PLU’s unique culture, fully engaging our students in the learning process, strengthening our resource base and more completely realizing our mission.

The mission statement that emerged from the PLU 2000 long-range planning process captured well over the past 10 years our identity, strengths and purpose: "PLU seeks to empower students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership, and care—for other people, for their communities, and for the earth." Now the 2010 planning process has clarified, reaffirmed and elaborated on that mission statement and has set out a vision for the future based on the best of our past accomplishments.

Summarized below, the five chapters of the 2010 report identify specific programs and initiatives that are intended to make the university even more distinctive as it carries out its mission. These advisory recommendations—together with a list of possible action steps that emerged from the planning process—amount to a vision statement against which decisions will be made in the coming years, guiding ongoing annual planning across the university and engaging the full campus governance structure.

Chapter 1

Mission and Vision: A Framework for Distinction

The 2010 report first explores how the university's mission flows from the historical identity of PLU in its geographic and social context. It calls on the campus community to recommit its energy and resources in pursuit of five action-oriented aspirations or ideals:

  • cultivating academic excellence,
  • building an engaged community,
  • enhancing global perspectives,
  • seeking fiscal strength, and
  • nurturing a sense of life as vocation in the fullest sense.

The chapter concludes with reflections on how our Lutheran heritage and our Pacific Northwest location form the foundation upon which our aspirations will be realized.

PLU's past achievements, aspirations and plans for action are shaped by the rich, inclusive and unique environment for teaching and learning that is a hallmark of Lutheran higher education.

Similarly, our Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest location contributes to our emerging international focus, our ethnic roots and our contemporary vision.

Chapter 2

Awakened to the World: Empowered Students Discovering Meaning and Purpose

The second chapter of the report reaffirms that students are at the heart of the university's mission-our first commitment is to serve, support and empower students. Among other things, this chapter challenges the campus community to be focused and intentional in attracting, recruiting and retaining students who desire the distinctive education PLU offers.

Articulating PLU's mission in a clear and compelling way is an important first step in attracting students who are academically strong, open to ideas and people and willing to enter into a community characterized by study, dialogue, inquiry and exploration. Doing this will require the continued development and refinement of how we describe the PLU experience to prospective students and their families so they fully understand the rich array of opportunities that await them here. It is a story that centers on our mission and affirms our commitment to ensure that students think deeply, act responsibly and live joyfully.

Secondly, we must place a high priority on building an even stronger admissions recruiting program in order to ensure a bright, talented, engaged and ethnically diverse and balanced student population. We must strategically reach out to more potential students in our city, state, region, nation and world. We must strengthen important existing recruiting networks and build new ones. We must engage all members of the campus community in recruitment, support and retention efforts.

Third, we must do more to support and develop campus cocurricular programs that offer students opportunities for deep engagement with people, cultures, ideas and the environment. We must find ways to blur the boundaries between the classroom and the world and provide students with a rich array of opportunities to inquire into the human condition and natural world as they learn to care for, lead and serve within it.

Chapter 3

Committed to a Flourishing Academic Culture

The third chapter of the 2010 report examines the necessity of sustaining a vigorous and distinctive academic culture in order to achieve our vision and our goals for students. It also identifies the systems and resources we need to sustain and nourish our unique intellectual community.

At the center of our campus culture, and at the center of our vision for the future, is a commitment to the "life of the mind." It is a commitment to practice rigorous critical reasoning and employ creative imagination as we explore the meaning of life, address novel challenges, grapple with problems, and live with integrity. This is our culture. It is distinctive to PLU in at least three important ways.

First, we draw from our religious and cultural roots to provide an education that expands possibilities for meaningful life and work. The report calls it "an elite education for all," meaning that we will provide an education of the highest quality that welcomes and serves everyone-first-generation college students, older adults, students with disabilities, students from minority groups and underrepresented cultures, exceptionally gifted students, students who are highly creative, and others.

A second mark of distinction at PLU is our focus on the whole person. We prepare our students to meet the intellectual, moral, personal and social challenges they inevitably face. Our commitment is to help each individual grow and mature, finding a balance between individuality and group responsibility, and encouraging all to see themselves as important contributors to our community.

Thirdly, within our culture, knowledge is not sufficient as an end in itself, nor is it merely a tool to serve self-interest. Our distinctive PLU education is value-saturated and focused on equipping all learners to make sound ethical decisions about how they will use their knowledge in the world.

The academic chapter concludes with a series of observations and recommendations on specific steps that might be taken to build an even more robust academic culture. These include developing a system for more effective decision making; providing support for the professional and personal development of administrators and staff; and promoting the integrity, autonomy and responsibility of faculty who are the ultimate guardians and drivers of the university's academic culture.

Chapter 4

Claiming the University's Distinction: Purposeful Learning, International Education, and Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects

In many ways, the fourth chapter is at the heart of the 2010 report. It highlights three areas that are currently important curricular emphases and will likely become even more distinctive features of our academic program in the next decade: purposeful learning, international education, undergraduate research and creative projects.

Students in front of Xavier Hall
PLU's newly renovated building Purposeful Learning The report encourages the community to expand our commitment to "purposeful learning." It is our commitment to recognizing that knowledge and learning are an integral part of each individual's personal values and of the work each does in the world. A PLU education is not about learning for learning's sake. We are doing what we do here on behalf of the planet and of people everywhere now and in the future. That belief directly guides our perceptions about what is important enough to learn and how we go about our academic work.

International Education
Because knowledge and learning at PLU are purposeful with the university focused on benefiting the world and its inhabitants, it is hardly surprising that paramount among the 2010 report's recommendations are specific goals related to clarifying PLU's vision for international education and expanding opportunities for international and intercultural study. Blessed with a recent infusion of gifts and grants to help us in this work-including a $4 million endowment gift from Peter '60 and Grace Wang to establish The Wang Center for International Programs -the university must now use these resources to craft bolder and deeper opportunities for faculty, staff and students to cross boundaries and engage with persons, ideas, cultures and environments.

Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects
Just as international education is an outgrowth of the university's fundamental understanding of knowledge and learning, so is its emphasis on the responsibility that students take for their own education and their capacity for substantive, independent thought. The report calls on the campus community to expand existing opportunities for undergraduate research and creative projects for students, intensify student engagement in the learning process, discover new ways to promote investigative learning, and regularly honor and celebrate student and faculty academic accomplishments.

Chapter 5

A Place of Purpose: Aligning Resources with Mission, Goals and Priorities

Chapter five of the 2010 report outlines areas that will require increased investments of money, time and energy if we are to achieve our vision; identifies sources of revenue that could be available as we pursue continuing distinction; and suggests a strategic pathway and decision making structure for analyzing and setting priorities and making choices.

Over the next decade, significant investments will need to be made if we are to realize our long-range academic program priorities; create and maintain the best learning environments; support faculty, staff and student employees; identify and attract academically capable, diverse, open and committed students; and maintain and improve the university's fiscal health.

The report considers possible sources of financial support for achieving these goals including revenue from student enrollment, endowment fund raising, and research activity. Concluding that the greatest and most realistic source of revenue is resource reallocation, the report boldly calls upon the campus community to develop a multiple-year plan for reallocating current resources to support academic and other program priorities. It also acknowledges the inter-connections among different resource categories and reminds us that we must be wise stewards of time, energy, the physical plant, other material resources, and the talents of faculty, staff and students.

In its essence, the 2010 report proclaims Pacific Lutheran University a unique place, a distinctive academic community that provides students a values-based education that engages them in and with the world. It embraces our past and the rich spiritual tradition that grounds us. It boldly faces the future as it challenges the community to move aggressively to ensure that resources are available to support our deepest commitments and highest priorities. And it affirms as our mission and purpose education for lives of thoughtful inquiry, care, leadership and service.

The 2010 report is both a call to conversation and action. To succeed in achieving our goals, we must now develop a set of academic priorities and reasonable strategies for accomplishing them. In the coming months, faculty and administrative leadership will work collaboratively to move ahead together in creating the next level of distinction for Pacific Lutheran University.

Writing the 2010 report

As the writing team began to consider how to craft this report, members discovered that a number of deep and enduring themes cut across the work that had been done in town meetings with alumni and friends, in campus conversations, and in the work of the study commissions . These were the themes that seemed to capture the ideas, values, and commitments that matter most to the PLU community. They provided the organizing framework for the report.

It became apparent to the team that these themes and, indeed, our distinction was and is built solidly on who we are now and on the hard work that has brought us to this point. A significant aspect of the 2010 report, thus, focused on articulating, celebrating, intensifying and broadening the values that remain at the heart of what the university is and does. It was a real pleasure to reflect on the things that have made PLU great and to imagine how we will look in the future as we achieve even higher levels of distinction.

We believe that the final report captures the intentions, hopes, dreams, and ideas of the many wonderful people who contributed to its writing. We know that we have been informed and energized, personally and professionally, by the conversations, debates, celebrations, and reminiscences that have emerged from our collective work. We emerge from this process challenged and stretched and inspired. We hope that "PLU 2010: The Next Level of Distinction" challenges, stretches, and inspires others as we boldly move forward.

I encourage you to read the reports, study commission work and the full text of the report.

Lynn Beck is dean of PLU’s School of Education. Since 1999, she has been on the PLU 2010 Project Leadership Team, and she helped write the final report.

 

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© Scene 2004  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Summer 2004

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