Grinnell has successfully met most of the challenges that typically confront new college presidents. It has a clear mission, a high quality academic program, a handsomely equipped campus, talented and dedicated faculty and staff, challenging and intellectually curious students, and enviable financial resources. The next president will encounter a two-fold charge: to help Grinnell achieve its highest potential as one of the country’s very best liberal arts colleges, and to communicate its record of achievement both within and beyond the educational community domestically and internationally. Specifically, the new president needs to meet the following challenges.
Embrace and champion Grinnell’s distinct mission to combine the values of educational excellence and social justice.
Grinnell is distinguished among America’s leading colleges and universities by the intellectual power and moral force of its dual commitment to the liberal arts and social justice. It has one of the strongest undergraduate academic programs in the country that specifically seeks to promote education as a way to advance the common good. A new president will have the opportunity to inspire and strengthen Grinnell’s dual mission. In this time of global and national challenge, Grinnell’s liberal arts education empowers the kind of intellectual and responsive leadership needed in today’s world. Building on the Grinnell ethos of service in the non-profit sector, the president can also become an effective voice in supporting multiple models for socially responsible leadership in the for-profit sector, as called for in the 2008 Self-study Report (p. 158).
Encourage and sustain Grinnell’s commitment to educational innovation.
Grinnell’s sure footing in the liberal arts and its history as a community of teachers and learners serves the College exceptionally well in its embrace of inquiry-based learning. Its substantial investments in interdisciplinary study (most recently through the Expanding Knowledge Initiative), its unusually high levels of student research, study abroad, and foreign language acquisition, and its wealth of opportunities for experiential learning through internships prepare students to live and work across national, cultural, and disciplinary boundaries. The new president must support curricular innovation by providing fresh perspectives and securing new resources to sustain faculty development efforts, and find ways for successful new approaches to become better integrated and enduring. It is equally important to support the development of new instructional technologies and the classroom spaces needed to implement them.
Lead the effort to coordinate and enhance the College’s commitment to diversity.
One of the new president’s goals should be to help bring together from throughout the nation and the world an increasingly diverse group of exceptionally talented students, faculty, and staff who share Grinnell’s core values. In promoting the specific character of Grinnell’s educational mission, the new president has a key role to play in achieving the dream of realizing a diverse community in Iowa. Enhancing the diversity of the Grinnell community requires not only ongoing success in recruitment, but also imaginative solutions to faculty retention. Diversity is an organic part of the College’s commitment to social justice and to the preparation of its students for civic engagement; moreover, increased diversity will further enliven the core intellectual and cultural life of the College.
Strengthen the Grinnell College community through improved communication and collaboration.
For the College to be its best, the ties between the various communities at Grinnell, both on campus and off, require nurture and support. This calls for the president to solidify and mobilize the College’s bond with its alumni by demonstrating the value of their Grinnell education throughout their lives. The president must engage with and become a part of the local community as a way of putting the mission of social justice into local action, communicating the College’s values by example. And the president must embrace the College’s faculty, staff, and students as full partners in a common enterprise, ensuring a sense of ownership in decisions by all groups in the community. To honor the ethos of shared responsibility, the new president will need to promote deliberative processes that value and hear diverse voices within the community, with the aim of strengthening the sense of contribution to and responsibility for Grinnell’s mission.
Foster student, faculty, and staff sense of ambition, adventure, and well-being.
Grinnell aims high, innovates freely, and puts the responsibility for choice squarely on faculty, students, and staff. It can be an intense community. Grinnell’s innovative spirit requires sustenance. The 2008 Reaccreditation Self-Study identifies the promotion of wellness and well-being as key challenges facing the entire college community. The next president has the opportunity to offer a healthy model for a balanced approach to achievement and fulfillment, and to guide the community toward an appreciation of wellness as a responsibility one has to oneself and to others. Just as importantly, the next president must ensure that the excellence of Grinnell’s resources for mental and physical wellness reach the standards one would expect from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country.
Streamline governance and administrative structures.
Fueled by its generous endowment and guided by its well-crafted campus and strategic plans, Grinnell has changed and grown. The pace and scope of change pose some challenges, however, for Grinnell’s historically-rooted culture of collaboration and mutual responsibility. A larger and more complex scale of operation has sometimes obscured the transparency of communication and decision-making; at the same time, the slow pace of organizational change has inhibited a reallocation of administrative efforts to emerging priorities for Grinnell in the 21st century. In order to capitalize on the collective skills of the College and to underscore the responsibilities of all members of the community to one another, to the larger community, and to the College’s future, the president must find ways to strengthen the responsiveness of governance and administration to the needs of the institution.
Strengthen the public profile of Grinnell College, Grinnellians, and the value of a Grinnell education.
Grinnell must articulate its distinctive academic qualities and its devotion to the common good more clearly and prominently. By celebrating the College’s dual mission of the liberal arts committed to social justice, the new president can better reward and renew the strong loyalty alumni feel toward their alma mater. In promoting a culture of responsibility and excitement about Grinnell’s direction in the 21st century, the president can reinforce the College’s historic core values and inspire the contributions necessary to realize future aspirations of the institution and its students.