Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,
I just returned from my annual trek to the big Hill where college Presidents convene every February for the Annual National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) meeting. The meeting showcases public policy experts and others who share their insights on higher education before we all head out to visit our respective U.S. Senators and Representatives. The meeting was productive and the trip home gave me a chance to reflect on how our own governance structure was functioning on this hill. I must say: I think our system, small but mighty, is running pretty well as we continue to make decisions that are vitally important to this institution.
Already this week I attended two important meetings of shared governance groups: the Faculty meeting and the Student Senate. A couple weeks ago I was the guest speaker at the Staff Assembly. All three groups have taken on the academic redesign as a principle topic of the Spring Semester, and I am pleased to see how leaders and members from each have committed to participating in deep, creative, and positive ways. Such participation, through these three groups, especially, is key to keeping the change process healthy and productive.
While I will not summarize the respective meetings in detail, I will highlight a key nugget or two that I found illuminating and inspiring from each.
The most important take-away from the Staff Assembly meeting was that staff at Hiram College, no matter what department they call home, rightly see themselves as key contributors to student success and strong enactors of the College Mission and Values. Their perceptions match my own. This is a campus where staff work with each other and with faculty to ensure we provide students with the best experience we can—inside the classroom; in student clubs and organizations; in the residence and dining halls; on the field, the court, or in the pool, you name it. During the last meeting, staff made it perfectly clear that they want to help craft some of the innovation proposals due at the end of this month, and the Cabinet, SAT, and I are thrilled to have them join the existing brainstorming groups or submit proposals of their own.
On Monday, I addressed the Faculty at their monthly meeting, and I was pleased to announce an improved faculty retirement plan. Already, the plan has garnered the interest and attention of a number of colleagues. If you were not able to make the meeting, please call Lisa Durkin for details. I was also able to announce news of another generous trustee gift. This gift will support a contract with the RAND Corporation who will help us cull through the ideas emerging on the redesign and identify a structure that makes sense for Hiram College at this stage of our evolution. CESC, Senior Cabinet, and the faculty brainstorming groups will work with me and our RAND consultants to create a typically inclusive process that invites many to participate.
The brightest of all these recent meetings (including the ones I had in D.C), however, was Student Senate. Our student officers worked hard at organizing an engaging, yet efficient meeting, open to all students, where participants could ask questions related to the Strategic Plan and the academic redesign. For almost ninety-minutes, students posed important questions, and I did my best to provide clear and accurate answers. This venue, a face-to-face one where we could personally interact, provides on-the-spot follow-up while deeply engaging each other, was the exact communication channel suited for teasing out complex issues that don’t lend themselves to emails, newsletters or the like. I commend the Hiram student officers and senators for showing all of us how to run a meeting that clarifies issues and calls folks to collective action for the common good.
The redesign will catalyze change, and change is often hard. Still, if we shape all of our changes to actualize the common good—Hiram’s long-term sustainability and student success— the challenges ahead will be worth it.
Lori E. Varlotta