President’s State of PLU
A year of achievement and a Decade of Change
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
It is a great joy for me to welcome each of you to University Fall Conference as we prepare to launch the 2010-2011 academic year, the 121st year in the life of Pacific Lutheran University. It is good to see the campus alive once again, filled with your energy in anticipation of what is sure to be another extraordinary year of teaching and learning at PLU.
Each year as we gather for Fall Conference we are especially pleased to welcome emeriti and retired members of the faculty and staff. Please know that we value your continued presence and investment in the life of PLU, and know that we strive each day to reach the high standard you have set for us. Would you please stand and be recognized.
A special welcome also to those of you returning from sabbaticals and other time away from campus for professional and personal leave. It’s good to have you back on campus. Would you please stand so we can say “welcome home.”
This is also the moment when the entire campus community extends a welcome to all of you who are joining us for your very first Fall Conference at PLU. This year your group includes some 27 new members of the faculty, as well as 49 new members of the administration and staff. We look forward to working with you during this new academic year. We pledge to you our support and our encouragement as the year unfolds. Would those of you attending your first Fall Conference please stand and accept our welcome.
Finally, a special word of welcome is due a remarkable leader who is joining our team, dean of the School of Arts and Communication, Cameron Bennett. A chamber musician and soloist, Cameron has had an active and varied career as an administrator, accomplished pianist and educator. He comes to us from Ohio Wesleyan University where he was professor of music and chair of one of the most respected liberal arts music programs in the country. Cameron would you please stand.
It is my honor and privilege this morning is to report to you for the 19th time on the “State of the University.” I have titled this report “A Year of Achievement — A Decade of Change” and my central thesis is that the university is strong and stable. We continue to perform with excellence and distinction in a time of real challenge and, I believe, we have the resolve and the resources to engage this new year, and the decade before us, with well-founded assurance and confidence.
My exposition of this thesis begins with a review the last academic year, 2009-2010. We’ll focus on some of the highlights of what was a memorable year marked by economic challenge, program and personal achievements, significant scholarship, wonderful special events, and a whole array of institutional awards and recognition.
Second, we’ll briefly turn our consideration to the 2010-2011 academic year. We’ll look at some of the most important initiatives that will provide shape and direction for our work as we continue to move the university forward.
Finally, I’ll share with you my perspective on the PLU 2020 long-range planning process. In brief, I will argue that we are planning for the decade ahead from a position of great strength and success. Thus, the largest challenge we face may be our own willingness to embrace new ideas and strategies and to accept necessary changes. And I will conclude with a word about our collective assets in program, personnel and mission that I believe ground our great potential and almost unlimited possibilities for the future.
A YEAR OF CHALLENGE AND ACHIEVEMENT – 2009-2010
Now let’s begin by considering, in broad strokes, some of the highlights and the significant achievements that marked academic year 2009-2010.Economic Challenges
I begin with matters economic.
Of the last three years of global economic uncertainty, the past year has been the most stable. It now appears (and we hope accurately) that the turbulence is subsiding and our economic and social institutions across the country have begun to find their footing once again. Even so, the recovery process is moving very slowly, the impact on colleges and universities has already been significant and it appears that the pressures will continue.
By nearly every measure, it is clear that PLU has thus far fared better than most and that we have been proven to be more resilient than many colleges and universities across the nation. We have taken important steps to accommodate and blunt the most severe consequences of the economic meltdown and, for the most part, they have worked.
Part of it has been careful management. A bit of it has been just good fortune. As I look back, I believe the greatest strength that has helped us to find our way is that we are a mission-driven university and, when challenged, we were able to return to, and focus on, our mission with new clarity and resolve. Simply put, we are able to focus on what we do best. Everyone across this campus has both cooperated and contributed as we have stood firmly, refusing to compromise on our long range vision for the university; our drive for academic excellence, and our commitment to the people of the place — most of all, our students.
● The key to our economic stability has been our solid enrollment made possible by very effective marketing and recruiting, coupled with careful and prudent adjustments in our financial aid programs. Increases in both Federal Pell Grants and State Need Grants have helped as well.
● So we have neither reduced nor eliminated any academic programs. We have not cancelled tenure track faculty searches. We have maintained all sabbatical leave, research and professional development funding. We have maintained all fringe benefit programs and avoided severe staffing reductions. And we have been able to sustain, but not significantly improve, our overall salary position.
● At the same time we have continued to make strategic investments in technology, we have moved forward with high priority enhancements to academic facilities and equipment, and we have continued to perform critical physical plant maintenance.
● In spite of a difficult economic environment, our fund-raising successes continued. There were more than 10,000 donors to the university last year, that’s more than any time in our history. Progress on our $100 million “Engage the World” campaign was slow in the early months of last year, but a flurry of major gifts over the past six months moved the campaign past the $75 million mark in May, and on to just over $80 million today. Milestones last year included new endowed chairs in Holocaust studies and Elementary Education as well as an endowed professorship in Lutheran studies. Project Access, part of our commitment to enhanced student scholarship support, reached its $1 million goal.
In summary, stable enrollment and fund-raising success, when combined with clear spending priorities and careful attention to fiscal matters, allowed us to balance our operating budget with a very modest surplus again this past year — a balanced operating budget, I am proud to say, for the 16th time in 17 years. Likewise, the strategic and wise management of our endowment corpus and a significant flow of new gifts is allowing us to gradually restore and then, as we look to the future, plan once again for increases in our endowment fund.
Yes, Pacific Lutheran University continues to meet the economic challenges of our time. We have worked together. We have demonstrated our resilience. And I believe it is fair to claim that we have, in important ways, grown stronger along the way.
But the REAL measure of success, the MORE important measure, is the fact that over these last two difficult economic years, we have not lost focus on our mission, on our program, nor on our great calling to be a university of excellence that educates students for lives of both success and service. So once again last year, across the span of this beautiful campus, in every division and department and office, hard work, success and achievement were the watchwords.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS BY DIVISION
Our work of the university is carried out through our five major divisions, each led by a vice president or provost, along with a marvelous team of committed and able faculty and staff. A few words about our divisional accomplishments over the past year.
Admission and Enrollment Services
Everything we do here begins and ends with students, so we give thanks each year when the Admission and Enrollment Services Division, under the leadership of Vice President Karl Stumo, and with the critically important support of faculty and staff across the campus, is able to land a fully enrolled class of able and eager students. Such was the case again one year ago when our first year numbers again exceeded 710 and our non-nursing transfer enrollment increased, driving a total enrollment of just under 3,600 students. ACT and SAT scores increased and the entering class was the most ethnically diverse ever.
Our financial aid office came in on budget last year, achieved a clean audit, and now has transitioned all student lending to the Federal Direct Loan Program. At the same time, they, like our business office, have adjusted to operate under another new wave of government regulations. Student Services both supported countless students and families as they navigated the new economy and as they implemented new bill paying and transcript request programs to more effectively serve every student and family.
Development and University Relations
The Development and University Relations Division, under the leadership Vice President Steve Olson, leads or coordinates all university fund raising programs. As mentioned above, 2009-2010 was good development year — certainly better than one might expect — a strong year as measured by both total donors and dollars. In addition, Alumni and Constituent Relations led the successful move of our Christmas Concerts to new venues: Benaroya Hall in Seattle and Lagerquist Hall on campus. KPLU’s trophy case expanded once more with significant awards and record listenership.
Executive Director Greg Brewis and his staff in University Communications are on the move, and the transition to flash messaging and a Web-based communications platform is well under way. If you have been watching, you will note our Web sites features new design, enhanced content and smoother functionality as we bring the PLU story to thousands of prospective students, donors, alumni and friends online. A special salute goes to our new network of 75 Web deputies across the campus who are now helping to manage departmental sites. I believe these are crucially important changes as we look to the future.
Finance and Operations
For Vice President Sheri Tonn and her talented staff in the Finance and Operations Division the number one task each year is oversight and management of the university’s financial welfare. As detailed above, 2009-2010 was another notable success. In addition, they manage the “business” affairs of the university, literally thousands of transactions each week. So process matters, and this past year the division introduced online recruiting and hiring management practices, electronic bill paying and monthly pay stubs for all of us, new student account payment options, as well as conference and facilities management reforms — all in the effort to serve all of us with more effectively and with greater efficiency.
Significant and highly visible improvements to our school house this past year included beginning the restoration of the Performing Arts Center and Chapel at Eastvold, with exterior brickwork repair and cleaning and a beautiful new copper roof. Interior work will begin in the year ahead. This summer’s remodel of the University Center mezzanine provided excellent new space to serve students through the Counseling Center and Disability Support Services. It also made possible the long awaited relocation of the Psychology Department to the first floor of Ramstad Hall and opened needed space in Xavier. Planning continues for the redevelopment and expansion of our athletic, teaching, wellness and recreational facilities here on our lower campus. Our newest building, the Neeb Center received LEED Gold Certification this past year. It is the third LEED certified building on campus — the first NPR building to be so certified — and it is only the fifth LEED Gold building in Pierce County. Overall, it was another good year for our school house.
Progress on environmental sustainability continues campus-wide, most notably last year with the adoption of the a Climate Action Plan that sets out a goal of the campus being carbon neutral by 2020 through conservation, new technologies and carbon offsets.
The members of the Student Life Division and Vice President Laura Majovski play a key role in supporting the academic, the co curricular, and the campus living experience of every student.
A key focus of their work, along with Dean of Student Academic Success, Pat Roundy, and other faculty and staff across the campus, is student success and retention. I am pleased to report that fall to fall retention of our 2009 first year students currently stands at 84 percent, transfer students at 83 percent, a solid increase in both cases. Part of our success can be attributed to a new assessment tool, MAP Works, that is permitting more targeted and informed intersection with student needs, while the largest measure of success has resulted from the work that each and everyone of you do with students on a daily basis.
Living and learning initiatives in the division last year included a successful pilot of first-year wings in residence halls, expanded career planning and job search activities, increased diversity and social justice programming, enhanced commuter student lounge space, new Campus Ministry opportunities and special outreach to students who are military veterans. Health, wellness and safety services supported students throughout the year and we successfully avoided any significant impact from the Swine Flu last fall. PLU intercollegiate athletic teams had another good year many posting winning records and garnering another conference championship in volleyball.
One year ago at this event, I introduced Steve Starkovich as our new “Acting” Provost while Patricia Killen was on sabbatical leave. At that time, no one, certainly not Steve, expected that he would return this fall with a shorter title. So let’s take a moment to welcome the one we now call simply, “Provost,” Steve Starkovich.
During her three years as our Provost Patricia Killen did outstanding work and advanced a very substantial agenda. And from his first day last fall as our acting Provost, Provost Starkovich, along with his key staff and the academic deans, have been moving those academic priorities forward. The provost reaffirmed our goals with regard to assessment of our academic program, and our academic units now have their assessment programs up and running. We completed the implementation of our revised faculty review system which is a key piece of our faculty development efforts. In addition, our new general education program was successfully implemented, complete with its own assessment plan.
Most of our academic units responded to the call to offer their programmatic vision of the future as part of the PLU 2020 discussion. And, as the year ended, the provost’s office conducted a survey among faculty in an effort to discern their professional development needs; helping to shape professional and leadership development as a key academic priority for 2010-11.
In addition to all of these divisional achievements last year, it was once again the outstanding work and accomplishments of our academic departments, individual faculty, and our students that we celebrate the most, for they personify the academic excellence that is our common task. Last year there were many notable milestones.
Each year the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust funds the scientific exploration of the natural world and supports projects that will enhance the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest. Prominent among Murdock grants last year were three awarded to PLU assistant professors of biology. Michael Behrens, Julie Smith and Jacob Egge received grants totaling more than 120,000 dollars to fund two years of student-faculty research looking into the ecology of the Pacific Northwest and species divergence in several Mississippi river tributaries.
Three of our faculty also received Fulbright Awards last year. Joanne Lisosky will teach journalism at Baku University in Azerbaijan beginning next January. Janet Weiss traveled to Namibia in July to undertake work in curriculum development. Jennifer Jenkins participated this past summer in the Baden-Württemberg Seminar for American Faculty in German and German studies.
Every year our faculty produce hundreds of publications, creative works and performances. And this commitment to our individual and communal scholarship life spans the entire faculty population — from the one-year visitor, to the the new tenure-track assistant professor, to the accomplished full professor.
Among the faculty awards, recognitions and publications during the past year a very small sample would include:
- Claire Todd, a visiting faculty member in geosciences and environmental studies, who received more than $120,000 from the National Science Foundation for her research in Antarctica.
- Kevin O’Brien, assistant professor of religion, published “An Ethics of Biodiversity: Christianity, Ecology and the Variety of Life.”
- Joanna Gregson, associate professor of sociology, had her book, “The Culture of Teenage Mothers,” published by State University of New York Press.
- Charles Bergman, professor of English, published a Smithsonian Magazine cover story and essay on “Wildlife Trafficking.”
- Rick Barot, assistant professor of English, received an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship.
- Dean Waldow, professor of chemistry, received another in a long series of Natural Sciences Foundation grants–this one for $98,000 for his research in polymer chemistry.
- Archaeologist Don Ryan, a PLU alumnus and a faculty fellow in humanities, published “Beneath the Sands of Egypt” to critical and popular acclaim.
These are just a few examples of faculty scholarship, to which one can add the dozens of performances by our music faculty, creative works by our faculty in art and theater, as well as the contemporary research and professional engagements of faculty members across our professional schools, and so the list goes on.
I thank and congratulate each of you because the scholarly life of PLU faculty is a great point of pride for all of us, it is the well spring of great teaching, and so it is magnified in and through the academic achievement of our students. It is my observation that student faculty research and creative projects, along with our capstone courses, are pushing the academic performance level of students across the campus, and helping to ensure that PLU graduates will continue to compete with great success.
So I was not surprised, but very, very happy this past Sunday evening, to receive Director of Assessment, Karen McConnell’s first report on the results of the Collegiate Learning Assessment. Last year 153 colleges and universities, including PLU, asked both first year and senior students to complete this exam that evaluates writing, critical thinking, problem solving and analytical reasoning abilities. PLU first year and seniors each ranked at the 92nd percentile on writing and critical thinking tasks. Seniors performed higher than predicted and earned a “value added” score that placed PLU in the 70th percentile. “Overall,” Karen wrote, “the results of the assessment support the strong intellectual and academic quality of both our incoming and graduating students, and provide evidence to support the “value added” element of a PLU education.” Wow! that is truly good news!
Fulbright Fellowships have become a PLU hallmark as between 1975 and 2009, 80 students had been named U.S. Student Fulbright Fellows. Three more students were added to that prestigious company last year. Eric Buley will be an English teaching assistant in Venezuela, Nicole Paso will continue her study of the early Reformation church and state-sponsored social welfare in Germany, and Kelly Ryan will be working with the Nansen Dialogue Network researching grassroots reconciliation in Macedonia. Kelly says his calling is understanding intractable conflicts as a mode of building peace.
2009-2010 was also notable for the powerful and distinguished lecturers and speakers who visited campus. These visitors, and the events they occasion, remind us that our calling here includes the need to engage — and to be challenged by — the great issues of the day in an effort to understand the world around us and the global human condition.
- Last year began with an evening featuring Bill Gates, Sr., co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Truly a wise elder, Mr. Gates praised PLU for its global focus, and challenged students to be concerned about things that are unacceptable, to be involved with issues locally and globally, and to “show up” for the causes that they care about the most.
- Along the way, The Dale E. Benson Lecture in Business and Economic History featured Walter Licht from the University of Pennsylvania, the author of “The U.S. Economy in Historic Global Perspective.” The David and Marilyn Knutson Lecture featured DePaul Professor John Dominic Crossan, speaking on “The Matrix and Message of Jesus.” Martha Sandweiss of Princeton presented the Walter C. Schnackenberg Lecture based on her book “Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line.” And the very first Jolita Benson lecture focused on the impact of technology on the educational development and progress of students.
- The third annual Powell and Heller Family Conference on Holocaust Education reconfirmed PLU’s leadership in Holocaust studies as national and international experts, including Christopher Browning and our own Robert Ericksen, anchored the three day program. Former regent Kurt Mayer, who lost several family members in the holocaust, introduced his autobiography, “My Personal Brush with History.” A highlight of the conference was the announcement that gifts from Kurt Mayer and his family, new regent Nancy Powell and her family, and others had reached the $2 million level necessary to fully endow the Kurt Mayer Chair in Holocaust Studies.
- Last year’s programming again highlighted PLU’s commitment to global issues, as Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek keynoted our fourth Wang Center symposium, “Understanding the World Through Sports and Recreation” in March. And in May, British journalist Martin Jacques, author of “When China Rules the World,” invited us to imagine a world where China is the world’s only superpower.
INSTITUTIONAL RECOGNITION AND AWARDS
Finally, the 2009-2010 academic year was also a year to remember in terms of institutional recognition and awards. More than once last year the world noticed that, way up here in the upper left hand corner of the nation, 1600 miles west of the Mississippi, and two mountain ranges apart from the vast majority of independent colleges and universities, one Pacific Lutheran University is doing really exceptional work.
Last year at Opening Convocation the university received the Senator Paul Simon Award for Achievements in Global Education. We became on that day the first independent university in the Western United States to be so recognized. It was a fitting recognition of an amazing achievement accomplished over several decades by our faculty. And as if to add an exclamation mark, it was just this past J-term when we had, for the third time, students studying on all seven continents at the same time – including on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Last spring, the Princeton Review sponsored a project in which graduate students in schools of business across the United States were asked to rate their educational experiences. For our students studying for the MBA both in general and in global management, our School of Business placed among the top 15 schools of business nationally.
Last fall we were graded on our work in environmental sustainability with impressive results. Colleges and universities across the country reported to the independent group sponsoring the Environmental Report Card. Twenty-six institutions across the United States received the top grade. PLU was among them. Only one other independent institution in the West was so honored.
Educating students for lives of service also means giving students the opportunity to develop their leadership capacity and skills. With that goal in mind, Dean of Student Development Eva Johnson and her staff have been working over the past decade to build a year-long program called the “Student Leadership Institute.” Last year our program received national recognition with a silver award from the Association of Student Personnel Administrators. It was a well deserved and fitting recognition of a unique program.
The good work of our students this past year has earned recognition as well.
It was last December that that the student leaders of Progress Club, Harold Leraas and Andrew McGinness, accepted the 2009 Hero Award from the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. The club raised more than $13,000 to help pay the medical expenses of uninsured children.
Last year, our Heart Failure Community Transition Program won the MultiCare Health System President’s Award for community partnerships. This program is one of the first in the nation and features PLU nursing students providing health care for those who do not have the support they need at home following release from the hospital. For the last two years, 160 PLU students have been checking in on patients who suffer from congestive heart failure in Pierce and King Counties.
Amidst all of this talk of accomplishments, let’s not forget that college is all about fun, too! After bringing home PLU’s first national championship of the 21st century in athletics, co-captain of our women’s Ultimate Frisbee club team Marissa Lyons said, “Having fun is the number-one priority.” After winning the Western regional, the Lutes compiled a perfect 6-0 record at nationals defeating Wellsley, Bentley, and Swarthmore in pool competition, before victories over Georgia College, Valparaiso, and Swarthmore (for the second time) yielded the national title.
Well, there you have it — a very impressive collection of our shared accomplishments, individual achievements and well deserved recognitions. To all not properly recognized, I apologize in advance. Together they mark 2009-2010 a particularly memorable and satisfying year. My thanks go to all of you for making it so. THE YEAR AHEAD
We now turn our attention to the year ahead, 2010-2011, and then the PLU 2020 long-range planning process.
2010-11 UNIVERSITY INITIATIVES
Each June, academic and administrative leaders across the campus come together to evaluate the year just completed and then plan for the year ahead. Our goal is to articulate a program of work that can be expressed in a limited number of “key initiatives.” These are the areas of activity that are of highest priority and that will garner an extra measure of our attention and energy in the months ahead. The result of that work is summarized in the handout on your table that is labeled “2010-2011 Planning Report.” I call your attention, in particular, to the “university initiatives” as outlined at the top of the page. I will comment briefly on each, and I will do so in reverse order.
5. Strategic Technology Initiative
Last year we began a multi-year effort in an attempt to better leverage our significant investment in technology. Our aim it to take the university to “the next level” of technology application, use, and, we believe, advantage. We are focusing on three areas: making our day-to-day work more efficient and effective; building the Web as our key platform for all university communications, both external and internal; and, supporting departments and faculty who are incorporating new instructional technology into the teaching-learning process. I believe these are really important projects, and I they raise major issues we need to include in the PLU 2020 planning conversation this year.
As noted above, PLU’s current capital campaign, “Engage the World: The Campaign for PLU” surpassed $75 million in total pledges and gifts last May and now stands at nearly $80 million. To date, the campaign has operated in what we call the “private phase” and has focused on the larger leadership gifts. All of that will change this fall when, at the time of our annual homecoming celebration in October, we will publicly announce the campaign as a first step in reaching our broader PLU constituency. Our goal is to reach the $90 million mark by spring, 2011, and to successfully complete the campaign one year later. You’ll find on your tables this morning a brief description of the campaign and its components.
Whenever one conducts a campaign like “Engage the World,” the financial participation of faculty and staff is particularly important in demonstrating to alumni, friends, as well as corporations and foundations, that the campaign goals are important, the needs are real. So it is really good news that, as of today, 303 of you, along with an additional 116 emeriti and retired members of the faculty and staff, have made pledges and gifts to the campaign. I thank each of you for that great support. And, to those of you who have not yet done so, well, the more the merrier!
3. Student Success
Just a few minutes ago, I mentioned that our student retention rates appear to be headed in a positive direction this fall. This is a very good news because over the past several years found it challenge to impact our retention rates, and to consistently reach our 85 percent goal for first to second year students. So, this fall, we will be launching a comprehensive effort to more effectively engage, support, and retain our new students from their very first day on campus. Key elements include first-year wings in all residence halls, expanded enrollment in Psychology 113, the Career Planning Course, pairing of each new student with a student services counselor to assist with each students “business” issues and targeted outreach both online and through peer mentors. These activities, of course, are designed to supplement the great work that all of you do with our students on a daily basis.
2. Graduate and Transfer Admission Programs
In recent years, we have enrolled a series of remarkable first-year classes and, I am happy to report, that once again, tomorrow, we expect to welcome some 700 first-year students. We are also expecting approximately 210 transfer students and 120 new graduate students, and an estimated total enrollment of 3550, a total that is within 1 percent of our total enrollment in fall 2009.
While both our transfer and graduate student numbers are up slightly this fall, the longer-term trend has been more challenging. So the Admission and Enrollment Services Division will be leading an effort to develop and implement new communication, visitation and financial aid strategies. As always, the key to this work will be the involvement and support of departments and graduate program leaders, and for that I thank you in advance.
1. PLU 2020
Our “number one” initiative of the year is to continue the PLU 2020 long-range planning process. Today we launch the second year of that effort, known as “The Discussion Year.” The remainder of my address will focus on this project.
THE 2020 LONG RANGE PLANNING PROCESS
I begin with a bit of history.
When I was elected president in 1991, the Board of Regents established long-range planning as the number one priority for the new administration. The result, just over two years later, was our first long-range plan, “PLU 2000: Embracing the 21st Century.” The new millennium occasioned a second report, “PLU 2010: The Next Level of Distinction.” As we all know, the year 2010 has arrived, and so now it is time for PLU 2020, the third iteration of what has become a continuing and cumulative blueprint to help guide progress and development of the university.
The long-range planning process that we have evolved together over these 19 years has its own distinctive hallmarks that I would describe as follows:
First, the process is community-based and wide open, totally transparent. Everyone is invited and encouraged to participate. The Web site is up and the marketplace for creative and new ideas is officially open. Not all ideas will move forward and appear in the 2020 report, but all are welcome for discussion and have the potential to enrich the conversation.
Second, the process is ambitious. It asks an investment of all of us. Both PLU 2000 and PLU 2010 were three academic years in the making. So for PLU 2020, last year was the study year. This year, the discussion year, and we begin today. In the weeks ahead, there will be public forums, small group meetings and departmental conversations of your own making as well. Students and regents, along with faculty and staff will participate. Next year we will work on preparing, reviewing and finally approving the formal 2020 report.
Finally, the process is vitally important!! Because it is open, because it is ambitious, because participation is broad and extensive, the final PLU 2020 report will be taken seriously — and the vision for our future that we together articulate will, I assure you, impact the direction and shape of PLU in the decade ahead.
And, if you don’t believe me, I urge you to go back and read our previous reports. PLU 2000 sharpened our understanding of PLU’s Lutheran heritage, lifted our focus on vocation and service and brought clarity to our academic philosophy as a comprehensive university. PLU 2010 gave us our “pathways to academic distinction,” global education, student faculty research and creative projects, and purposeful learning. Both reports have informed our self-understanding and brought built an essential consensus regarding our goals and aspirations.
So I urge your attention and involvement in this 2020 process today and in the months ahead. Do not let the process go forward without your best thoughts and ideas, for they will enrich the process and make sure that all possibilities are on the table. I urge each of you to make the 2020 process a priority item on your calendar.
Now, I will shift from process to content:
In recent months, I have been asked many, many times, “What do you think PLU 2020 will say?” My response is always the same, “I don’t know, because the report will be shaped and written by the PLU community over the next two years.” And while I don’t know where the 2020 process will lead us, I have been listening to you now for a year, and I want to share briefly some of the key perspectives that I have heard emerging from the conversation.
I offer four propositions: Proposition 1 – BUILDING ON STRENGTH:
At PLU we like who we are and what we do. Said more formally, there is broad support (really a remarkable level of support), both on and off campus, for our current mission and our academic program. Our current mission statement — you know it well: “the mission of Pacific Lutheran University is to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care–for others, for their communities, and for the earth”– was authored by a university task force in the early ‘90s. It was initially controversial, but it made its way into PLU 2000, was used increasingly in the years that followed, and formally accepted by our Board of Regents when the PLU 2010 report was adopted. Now it is widely known and quoted, almost universally used and affirmed — more and more of our students and graduates, even some parents, can recite it verbatim. What a gift this statement is as we do our planning for the future — a foundation on which to build.
But beyond our mission statement, there is broad support for our current academic program. In the next hour you will hear the 2020 working group affirm their support for our new general education program, the first-year experience program, our Integrated Learning Objectives, our pathways to academic distinction, and multi-disciplinary work. You will hear them contend that we have our academic platform for the next decade solidly in place. I think they are right.
Proposition 2 – SURROUNDED BY CHANGE:
While we like who we are, and what we do, the drumbeat of change is rumbling around us. Said more formally, there will be significant changes in educational landscape between now and 2020 and no institution will stand apart from the individual and collective impact of these changes.
First, there are major demographic changes ahead. In our region of the country, the number of traditional age students will not change dramatically, but their composition will, as the new cohort becomes more diverse in learning experience and style, in economic situation, in their ethnic heritage and in their educational expectations. I believe that both more non-traditional age students and more first generation students are headed our way. The implications for the schedule and the calendar, as well as the campus and the classroom, are many fold.
Second, the wise and effective use of technology in education will continue to grow. We will never be a fully online university, and we may not, at least in the short term, offer completely online classes or programs. But I believe that we MUST continue to stay near the cutting edge in classroom-based technology use if we expect to compete for next generation of the best and brightest. They will expect nothing less. As David Warren challenged us one year ago, we must figure out how to use technology in a way that serves the “high and noble cause” of a PLU education.
Third, the world continues to get smaller. Our nationally recognized leadership in global education is a huge strength. But we will not be able to rest on our laurels, we must find ways to “globalize” every PLU student’s education, both on campus and through additional study-away possibilities. Global education is currently a key to admissions marketing, I believe it may become even more important.
Fourth, the market for “higher” higher education will continue to expand. The Master’s will be the new BA and, in many fields, the applied Doctorate will be the new MA. While have a solid foothold in graduate education, we have, in recent years, tended to focus our greatest energy on undergraduate education. In the next decade, our focus will need to broaden (not change, but broaden) to include new Master’s and possible Doctoral programs. Our mission challenges us to do our part in meeting these emerging educational needs, and our opportunities for enrollment growth and financial return are most abundant here.
Fifth, and finally, I believe that the public debate about the importance and the role of higher education in our country will continue: Is private benefit for the individual vs. public good and investment for society? In recent years, our public leaders, both state and national, have affirmed the public benefit of higher education, even as financial support has been reduced and the consumer has been expected to pay more and more. So the core question is, who, in the future, will pay, and who will be able to pay, the growing bill for higher education? Obviously, this is not just PLU’s issue, it is a crucial issue for every college and university, as it is, I believe, for our state and nation. But it does impact us in a very significant way, and in the course of our PLU 2020 long-range planning discussion we must address our own economics, even as we add our voice to the larger public debate.
Proposition 3 – CHARTING OUR COURSE:
The great task facing us at Pacific Lutheran University will be to build on our strengths as we address significant changes — changes not of our own making — in the educational landscape that lies before us. Said differently, the great long-range question is how do we wisely and strategically navigate a path that will ensure that our mission and program remains compelling, relevant, effective and, yes, affordable in the years ahead?
Now I do not have the answer to that question. But I have two or three ideas about what the question may require of us.
First, we need to be honest about the fact that most of us are change averse and, given our conservative tendencies and our governance structures, universities are particularly so. It is understandable, because change involves loss, change involves risk, change moves us from the known to the unknown, from the certain to the uncertain. Finding the self confidence and resolve to make changes is no simple matter. It may be that admitting we don’t like change is the first step because we can be sure that strategic change is a step that PLU 2020 will require of us.
Second, the foundation for change is not only self confidence, it is also trust, and trust requires communication and caring, openness and honesty. As we address this decade ahead, we need to do our planning well, because how we plan together, how we develop new possibilities together, how we choose our best options together, and then how we implement together will be even more crucial. Our governance model at PLU is built on trust, we need to care for it and carry it forward.
Third, this new decade will require a major investment in ourselves, in our own growth and development. Serving this new cohort of students, incorporating technology, becoming more global, teaching graduate students, and achieving new efficiencies will not just happen — we need to invest in ourselves, develop our knowledge and understanding, sharpen our skills, and increase our own experience so that we can lead, and not just respond to the changes ahead.
When I think about tackling the issues we face, I am reminded of one my uncle Carl’s favorite scriptural attribution, ” God never promised that it would be dull, or easy!”
Proposition 4- FAITH AND HOPE:
My fourth proposition is also my conclusion. It goes like this:CONCLUSION
It has been a great privilege to walk this campus, and to share common cause with all of you for 18 years. Today, as I begin year 19, I honestly believe that no college or university in America is any better positioned than Pacific Lutheran University to affirm and consolidate our current strengths, to address the challenges of this second decade of the third millennium, and to emerge in 2020 as a stronger and even more excellent university come 2020.
I believe this is the case because we stand on and within the great heritage of Lutheran higher education; a heritage that calls us accept all of creation and each person as God’s great gift. So it calls us to use our minds fully as we explore and seek to understand the world, always with a sense of wonder and awe and always in gratitude. It calls us to use our hearts fully as we embrace one another on this campus and in the global community, each person a child of God, gifted in their uniqueness, precious in their difference. It calls us to use our will as we seek individually and collectively to serve the world on God’s behalf, educating each day in the highest traditions of the liberal arts and academic freedom, and preparing each graduate to discover a vocation-driven life that truly matters.
I believe this is true because for over 120 years, we have evolved a clear and defining understanding of our mission and purpose; an understanding that is relevant and that connects with our wonderfully rich and diverse Pacific Northwest setting. And in pursuing our mission we have built an absolutely superb academic and cocurricular program that is at once characterized by excellence, and as always a work in progress.
I believe that no college or university in America is any better positioned than Pacific Lutheran University because you, all of you gathered here this morning. It is true because of your commitment to excellence, your rich array of talents, and your dedication to mission. It is true because of your warmth and good spirit, your care for our students, and your individual hopefulness and faith in the future.
I believe this to be true because of those who stand with us. Our Board of Regents is absolutely the best, they care about every student and about each of you, they work hard, they are wise and they are very generous. Pause and reflect on the 40,000 PLU graduates who work and serve around the world and who, as our market research indicated again last year, overwhelmingly both respect and love this place. Pause and reflect on the fact that last year alone some 10,000 donors invested in the work you do:
Yes, my friends and colleagues, we have been tasked to do important work. It is work grounded in our religious faith, shaped by our Lutheran heritage and tradition, informed by enduring educational values, dedicated to good and humane purpose. Yes, we are called to the task of building a new generation of those who would, serve even as they will lead this global orb. May God bless all that we do in this new academic year for the calling we hold is both a remarkable gift and a sacred trust.
I am so honored to walk this journey with you.
Please accept my very best wishes for the year ahead!