Faculty and Staff Planning Week
Aug. 25, 2008
What a remarkable privilege it was this morning to honor three Elon elders: Lela Faye Rich, John Sullivan, and Fred Young. Each of them provided leadership of incalculable value, and their contributions will continue to be felt at Elon for years to come.
It is helpful to think about Lela Faye, John, and Fred in the midst of the many leadership changes that will be taking place at Elon this year. Healthy institutions are always in the process of renewal. We treasure our legends and keep them close, but we welcome the fresh perspectives and energy that new members bring to the community.
This year, we will search for a new provost as Gerry Francis transitions to the role of Executive Vice President in June. Campus interviews will begin soon for the Vice President of University Advancement as we seek a successor for Nan Perkins. We are also launching searches as George Troxler, Dean of Cultural Programs and Chaplain Richard McBride prepare for their retirements at end of this academic year.
Gerry worked closely with two presidents in shaping the modern Elon and has been an incredible leader. Nan brought both admissions and university advancement to new levels of excellence. George created a cultural program on campus that has brought art, music, drama, dance, and intellectual stimulation to enrich the lives of thousands each year. Richard is the conscience of the campus.
This year, we will say thank you to each of these four friends for the gifts and talents they have shared with us for a total of 129 years. We will honor them by identifying worthy successors who will help bring Elon to even higher levels of excellence and accomplishment. They expect nothing less from us.
We also embark on searches for three other deanships this year. First, for a newly redefined deanship in education, following Jerry Dillashaw’s long tenure, that will focus on Elon’s historic and excellent tradition in teacher education and our partnership with schools in Alamance County and throughout the State. We will seek a successor to the School of Law’s founding dean, Leary Davis, whose vision for innovative legal education and blueprint for success have guided us unfailingly. We also seek a successor for Dean Larry Basirico, who has led the Isabella Cannon Center for International Study to national recognition, including the recent Sen. Paul Simon award.
One measure of our institution’s health, I believe, is the enthusiastic and positive responses we have received from faculty and staff to chair and serve on search committees for these important leadership positions. I am counting on the leadership and participation of the entire community and the recruitment of wise and dynamic administrative talent in these key institutional roles.
I want to devote my time with you this morning to discussing the strategic planning process that Elon will embark upon this year as we bring the New Century at Elon strategic plan to successful conclusion. A look back at New Century reminds us about why we do strategic planning in the first place—to set the long-term course for the future, to challenge our imagination, and to set stretch goals for Elon.
In New Century at Elon we set out to become a national model of engaged learning, founded upon our traditions of innovation and community. By many measures, we have accomplished that goal, consistently ranking among the most engaging institutions in the nation by the National Survey of Student Engagement. Elon was cited by Newsweek in 2006 as the “hottest” college in the nation for student engagement. US News and World Report noted on Friday that Elon was the most nominated school in the nation in a recent search for innovative colleges and in the #1 position of up-and-coming schools. (I, for one, embrace our “up-and-comingness”).
In New Century, we set out to nourish our identity as a liberal arts university. The journey to Phi Beta Kappa has become synonymous for myriad initiatives in this regard, including reinventing the Honors Program, creating the Elon College Fellows program, dramatically improving library collections, significantly increasing the percentage of faculty on tenure track, reestablishing a foreign languages requirement, opening Arts West, and establishing new arts and sciences majors in Art History, Biochemistry, Computer Information Systems, Dance (B.F.A.), Environmental Studies (B.A.), Music Technology, Theatre Studies, and Theatrical Design and Production. We also created minors in Latin American Studies, Italian Studies, Multimedia Authoring, Geographic Information Systems, Statistics, and Public Health Studies.
And we envisioned a second quadrangle for arts and sciences called the Academic Village, which will be completed next fall with the opening of Lindner Hall.
In New Century, we completed national accreditations for the Love School of Business and the School of Communications. We built the Koury Business Center, and the M.B.A. program was ranked among the best part-time programs in the nation. The School of Communications is building a national reputation for excellence at an astonishing rate.
In New Century, we started the Elon law school, and we celebrate its recent provisional approval by the American Bar Association. It was a huge and ambitious undertaking, and we continue to pursue our vision of establishing a nationally-distinctive school that prepares lawyers as leaders for society and fully infuses Elon’s engaged learning “DNA” into the academic program.
In New Century, we created the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and built the Belk Pavilion as its new home as part of our commitment to stay at the forefront of innovative undergraduate education.
In New Century, we imagined the deepening of our signature program of experiential learning. Project Pericles, North Carolina Campus Compact, and the social entrepreneurship scholars were born, and Elon was recognized as having one of the top three civic engagement programs in the nation. The leadership minor was created. The Isabella Cannon Center for International Education was created in Carlton and Elon won the prestigious Senator Paul Simon award for internationalization of the campus from NAFSA. Our record of sending students to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research is one of the best in the nation. New ventures like the Elon Academy demonstrate our commitment to being an engaged institution in our community.
In New Century, the residential nature of the campus improved significantly, with construction of the Oaks and Colonnades residences and dining hall, along with the expansion of the Danieley Center. We established 11 learning communities in the residence halls, and the campus itself was designated a botanical garden.
In New Century, Elon began to mature in NCAA Division 1. In the competitive Southern Conference, we are beginning to win our share of coach of the year honors and conference championships. We constructed Belk Track and White Field during this strategic plan and added two more intercollegiate women’s sports.
In New Century, we planned and will soon launch publicly the Ever Elon Campaign. We have a very special weekend planned for October 10-11, when the trustees and most of the advisory boards and councils will gather to endorse our campaign goal and priorities. I am grateful to members of the faculty and staff who will play an integral role that weekend helping to bring the campaign priorities to life via an academic symposium. It’s going to be a wonderful and inspiring launch!
Prior to the launch of the leadership or silent phase of the campaign, we took our case to our alumni, donors, parents, and friends to explain how urgent it was that Elon turn its attention to endowment building. The response has been gratifying: last year alone we added 9 million in cash to the endowment, not counting planned gifts. People who love this university believe passionately in the priorities of this campaign: that we make Elon accessible to more students with financial need whose lives will be transformed by an education here; to give more students the benefits of international education; to support an extraordinary faculty; to preserve this beautiful place for future generations; and more.
So all to say, having a vision and a plan matters. Elon has become the academically stronger institution we imagined it could be at the start of New Century. The next strategic plan will be every bit as important as we chart the future for this remarkable university.
We have already prepared a solid foundation for the next strategic planning process through a number of important campus studies that have been carefully done over the past few years. These include:
- The reports stemming from the Academic Summit
- The Presidential Task Force on Scholarship
- The Presidential Task Force on Alcohol
- The Long Range Planning Subcommittee on Peer and Aspirant Institutions
- The Long Range Planning Subcommittee on Academic Facilities
- The Long Range Planning Subcommittee on Residence Life
- The Long Range Planning Subcommittee on Science
- The Environmental Sustainability Master Plan
We are not, therefore, beginning a new strategic plan from scratch. Much ground work has already been prepared. The Presidential Task Force on Scholarship, for example, has already set an important direction for the University and a concomitant commitment of resources has been made in this regard for many years to come. And while all of this groundwork we have laid will give us a great foundation to build upon, I hope we will also be ready to entertain other bold and inspirational new ideas as well.
I thought it would be useful for me to share, briefly, a bit of my own vision of the issues and questions that I think will be taken up in the next strategic planning process. Again, the purpose of a strategic plan is to set the overarching vision and stretch goals for the University, so these are broad-brush stoke ideas.
My first challenge to us as a community is that I hope we will think beyond the walls of the campus more that we have done in our previous strategic plans. What is to be the role of Elon University in our county, in the State of North Carolina, in our nation, and in the world? I hope we will be asking questions like what we can do to support the creation of world-class schools in Alamance County. What is more important to American democracy and to attracting and retaining the very best faculty and staff than helping to improve K-12 education in our backyard?
And what about the 1.5 billion dollar North Carolina Research Campus springing up in Kannapolis? In many ways, this center for biotechnology is like having another Research Triangle Park emerge just a short distance away. What is to be Elon’s role there?
And what about the great issues facing our nation? We have a health care crisis looming, which will affect all of us aging baby boomers. And what about our natural world? How will we further promote the conservation of resources and teach about the stewardship of the earth?
Today we speak of Elon in Florence, Elon in Costa Rica, Elon in London, Elon in New York, and Elon in Los Angeles. We have civic engagement projects reaching out to Zambia, Ghana, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, and many other places on the globe. The next strategic plan should challenge us to think deeply about the global reach of this university.
Another big picture issue to address in the upcoming strategic planning process is one of institutional reputation or niche or “brand.”
I believe Elon is on the cusp of achieving a national reputation. So, let me put this to you in the form of a question. When you think of Elon in 2020, what do you want us to be nationally or internationally known for?
The answer to that question may depend on strategic investments the University may make in a selected program or programs. Maybe we will strive to build the premier undergraduate research program in the nation. Perhaps we will define the premier undergraduate experience, integrating the liberal arts and sciences with the professional schools in new and imaginative ways, seamlessly weaving together experiential and classroom learning. Perhaps we want to become a leader in preparing entrepreneurs. These are just a few suggestions to prime the pump.
Let me be clear in stating that I expect every area of the University will continue to get stronger as we move forward. But I do think it is worthwhile to develop strategically those programmatic areas in which Elon aspires to hold positions of national or even international leadership.
One of the most exciting things happening at Elon these days is that our very best students are winning national fellowships, including Breanna Detwiler’s Truman and Udall scholarships, Geoffrey Lynn’s NIH Oxford/Cambridge scholarship, Jaclyn Tordo’s Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, and Jennifer Romano’s Fulbright. Professor Janet Myers is doing an inspiring job guiding our students through applications and interviews, and we all hope that the new Lumen Prizes will encourage even more of our best students to apply for national scholarships and fellowships. I would like to see Elon’s first Rhodes Scholar named in the near future. We can create the environment to make that happen.
Speaking of Rhodes Scholars, our next strategic plan should examine the scope of graduate education at Elon. With our MBA, DPT, M.Ed., and J.D. programs, we already have graduate programs we can take great pride in. Next fall, we will welcome the inaugural class of students in the master of arts in interactive media.
Compared to our peer and aspirant institutions, Elon offers comparatively few graduate degrees—in fact we rank second from the bottom in peer schools. Graduate education will be of increasing importance in a 21st century world, and there are niches in which Elon might be able to make an extraordinary contribution. As we contemplate a limited number of new graduate programs, I hope we will continue to seek synergies with Elon’s signature undergraduate experience.
Our next strategic plan must not lose sight of the fact that our most important resources to support students and their learning are people—faculty and staff. The Presidential Task Force on Scholarship, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, and the new position of Director of Leadership Development for which we are currently searching are examples of the kinds of investments Elon needs to continue to make in this regard. Keeping salaries competitive with peer institutions is also vitally important. So a focus on developing our own talents as faculty and staff will be vitally important for us to maintain.
Our next strategic plan should also cause us to reexamine the financial fundamentals of the university. How big will the undergraduate program get? Are we underpriced, and how much should we charge for tuition? How will we respond to the changing demographics and the expectation for more need-based financial assistance? How can we keep the focus on endowment building? What is the financial model for Elon that can be sustained for the long term? These are questions that deserve a great deal of thought.
Campus and Facilities
Even though endowment building must remain our number one fund-raising priority in the coming decades, we will no doubt continue to develop the physical campus during the next strategic plan. Our most pressing academic needs include more space for undergraduate science and expansion of facilities for the School of Communications. We should also plan for options to expand library services. We will also undoubtedly consider the construction of additional student residences. The New Century plan calls for the completion of a feasibility study for a convocation center, a place to gather the Elon community together under one roof. While such a facility is likely a few years off, I believe this major building will eventually complete the modern campus.
Closely related to the development of the campus is supporting the development of the Town of Elon as a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community. We plan to collaborate with the Town and the Twin Lakes community on a multi-year plan for adding sidewalks and bike lanes. We are also sensitive to the comments from accepted students who do not enroll that the university is “in the middle of nowhere.” Students have repeatedly expressed desire for more recreation, services, restaurant choices, and shopping choices within walking distance.
The process for beginning the new strategic plan will begin with the appointment of a strategic planning committee by the chair of the Board of Trustees, Allen Gant. The committee, yet to be named, will consist of trustees, faculty, administrators, staff, students, and alumni. Professor Connie Book of the School of Communications has graciously accepted an appointment in the president’s office beginning in January to support the planning process. I think it is very likely that once the committee is appointed and organized, it may appoint additional sub-committees or ask existing campus or standing committees for input. No doubt, following the Elon tradition, we will organize campus forums and likely a website to encourage broad participation in the plan’s formulations. Our goal will be to have a draft outline of the plan completed by October 2009 for both campus reaction and a planned Board of Trustees retreat.
In closing, I want to say let’s aim high. One of our trustees, Bobby Long, is fond of saying in Law School Advisory Board meetings, “Aim for the stars. The worst that can happen is that we’ll end up on the roof. But if we aim for the roof, we’ll never get off the ground.”
So let us dream boldly and with confidence.
This is a once in a lifetime privilege on all of our parts to create a great and distinctive university. Let us honor that privilege with our original thinking, creativity, and high ideals.
It has been my great honor to speak to you this morning, and I thank you for your kind attention.