Strategic planning is an ongoing process of evaluation, reflection, and improvement that helps the College set priorities, manage resources, define performance expectations, and ensure integrated actions.
Dr. Raynard S. Kington was appointed President of Grinnell College in August, 2010. Prior to coming to Grinnell, he served in a range of positions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) including NIH Principal Deputy Director and NIH Acting Director, NIH Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and Acting Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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In a series of meetings I have had last year with the larger Grinnell family — including open office hours, lunches with faculty and administrators, and conversations with students — the single most popular question has been some variation of “What is the College doing about environmental and sustainability issues?”
There are several reasons for such a high interest: Sustainability is consistent with the College’s long history of social responsibility. Environmental responsibility saves the College money. Sustainability is increasingly a subject of our inquiry-based curriculum.
Also, the College has been emphasizing sustainability for some time now; almost all campus buildings constructed since 2003 are or will be LEED-certified as resource-efficient. We now recycle or compost more than half our campus waste. We reduced our boiler plant’s water consumption by 40 percent in 2009 by installing a water filtration system. We have worked to serve more locally grown food in our dining hall. And we have a host of courses in the sciences and social sciences that address sustainability.
There have been many people on campus doing a lot of good work on sustainability, and we have plucked most of the low-hanging fruit — the big gains in resource efficiency. Now it is time to coordinate and expand these efforts and to take on some really big initiatives.
Here is where we are headed:
I am signing the American College and University Presidents’Climate Commitment to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible and to take immediate, specific steps toward doing so. I am very comfortable signing the presidents’ commitment because there is no question in my mind that this campus is committed to the goal — because it is good citizenship, it is consistent with our values, and because many of the activities we are committed to in this area may actually save the college money in the long run.
We are establishing a Climate Steering Committee that will coordinate the efforts of everyone involved in promoting sustainability on this campus. In my mind, this committee replaces and broadens the long-standing EcoCampus Committee of faculty, staff, and student representatives who meet to address campus environmental issues.
We have launched an environment and sustainability section on the College’s Web site to keep everyone informed of new sustainability developments and to act as a clearinghouse for links to the organizations, committees, and curricular developments related to sustainability.
We are planning to construct a three-turbine, 15.6 million kilowatt-hour wind farm north of campus that will cost about $10 million, generate 80 percent of the College’s electrical consumption, and reduce our carbon impact by half. This is the culmination of a wind-energy project begun by a student in 1996, and it will likely take another two years or more to complete. The details of property easements, financial models, and the relationship with our local utility company and the national power grid are currently being worked out, and they are complicated. But we have a vision and a plan that is well along. We are very excited about making it a reality.
The above points are only the current headlines in an ongoing sustainability effort that ultimately affects every aspect of our lives as a College family. We will be offering more courses and cocurricular learning opportunities in sustainability, creating new initiatives aimed at resource efficiency, and refining and expanding those that are already in place. I encourage you to take a look at our sustainability Web site, mentioned above, to stay current with all that we are doing, and to join me in thanking the many members of our community who have led and continue to lead us toward a sustainable future.
Posted by: Raynard S. Kington
I want to do everything I can to ensure good communication on campus. My first choice is always to meet and talk with you all in person, with time for some questions on your part and some listening on my part. But I realize 1) we can’t always do that, and 2) not everyone will be able to attend such events when we do. So from time to time I’ll share information I think you need to know and ideas I believe are worth thinking about. I welcome your comments — although I can’t respond to them individually, I will review them, and may respond to them generally in this ongoing, online conversation. My first few postings will catch me up from last semester.
Since we are still just beginning to know one another and to work together, I think it’s only fair that you have some idea of what I value when making decisions. At an all-campus meeting on Sept. 20, I shared my belief in: Fairness. Fairness is my guiding decision-making principle. And really, it’s a social justice issue. What we’ve worked for and continue to work for in this country is not so much this Supreme Court decision or that constitutional amendment. At our core, we simply want everyone to be treated fairly. In every decision I make, I will ask myself and others if the decision is consistent with basic standards of fairness.Transparency. Fairness often begins with a transparent, well-described process for making a decision or resolving an issue — a process that everyone can understand. Some decisions themselves may be unexpected, but there should be no surprises about how decisions get made; and everyone in our community deserves to understand why decisions are made in a particular way. Confidentiality. I don’t believe in secrets. I do believe very strongly in honoring commitments to confidentiality. Keeping secrets means not revealing information that should be public. Respecting confidentiality means keeping personal information — such as an individual’s personnel records, medical records, and other privileged information — private. Indeed, there is much information that cannot be divulged by law or by college policy. So while our decision-making process needs to be transparent, I won’t violate anyone’s confidentiality for any reason. As a doctor, a scientist, and a medical researcher, I know how essential it is to respect everyone’s privacy. Shared governance. We practice shared governance at Grinnell — many different groups have input into most of our decisions: students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and others. The great advantage of shared governance is that it promotes inclusion of a rich body of perspectives into decisions. That broad input can greatly improve decisions made, but there still needs to be a person or group who ultimately makes final decisions. Shared governance is not easy, and what it means is often misunderstood. Shared governance does not mean that decisions are ultimately made by popular vote — no complex organization can run that way. I see a large part of my job as taking in and thinking about a wide range of perspectives on important College decisions. It means that a big part of my job is to listen —to listen hard and listen well — to a variety of different perspectives and to make sure that we make the best decision we can. I hope that even in those situations when the final decision is not the choice of everyone in our community, everyone feels that he or she understands the final decision and its reasons and, perhaps most importantly, has had an opportunity to participate in the process. Evidence. As a researcher and a scientist, I believe in making decisions based on evidence whenever possible. And as a sign over one of my colleagues’ desks at NIH read, “The plural of anecdote is not data.” That doesn’t mean I try to quantify everything — there are many very important things that cannot be quantified. But I believe we owe it to ourselves and to the College to do our research and make decisions informed by the best information we can find. Grinnell’s unique culture, values, and mission. That uniqueness drew me here. I believe very strongly that all the decisions we make and I make must reflect that culture, those values, and that mission. I ask you all to help me in making sure that they do.
I’ve pinned a bumper sticker on the bulletin board over my desk in Nollen house that says “Choose Civility.” I posted it (a gift from two members of the Grinnell family!) to remind myself and others that civility is a choice. It is an especially important choice to make in a community of passionate activists like ours where we at times discuss divisive issues and ideas. Experience has taught me that the natural course of communities who discuss such subjects without a conscious effort to be civil tends toward rancor and gridlock. I’ve also learned communities that make a conscious effort to be civil can converse respectfully, good-naturedly, and most of all very productively. That’s what I want for us. When I made civility one of the topics of an all-campus meeting last semester, I could almost hear folks wondering: “What’s Kington’s agenda? What big controversial issue is he preparing us for?” Truly, I did not have one in mind. But I know — we all know — that communities need to make hard decisions all the time. And our activist heritage and egalitarian culture means we like to get involved. That’s good. Here are some qualities that I think will serve us well as we work together:Generosity. Let’s be generous in giving one another lots of slack. When we encounter someone with a very different opinion on an issue that affects the College, let’s tell ourselves, “We are all doing the best we can under difficult circumstances, with the best interests of the Grinnell community in mind.” Then, let’s listen — intently and respectfully — to what they have to say. Listening is not always as easy as you may think – I know that all too well – but we should all try. Passion. Grinnellians are passionate about many things. That passion is one of this institution’s great strengths and one of the reasons I wanted to come here. But passion does not grant license to be uncivil. Effort. Choosing civility can be very difficult. In fact, it is a lifetime job. I work at it. I can remember a few times I’ve failed; and when and if I do, I encourage you to let me know that I have — I’m sure you will! When I have failed in the past, I have tried to apologize quickly. I’m getting better, and I invite you to join me. Humor. When we lose our sense of humor, we lose some of our natural flexibility, optimism, and ability to connect warmly and work productively with others. I continue to be amazed at the ability of a single humorous comment to bring a group together and to remind us of our shared humanity.
Alas, the ranking season is upon us once again. Colleges and universities across the country are ranked on everything from food to politics, from sustainability to hipster-ness, from rigor to partying. Newspapers, magazines, online postings, and blogs follow each release noting which colleges rank where and which has gone up or down to the delight or horror or, rarely, the indifference of those of us with vested interests — administrators, board members, students, alumni — across the nation and, increasingly, around the world.
For many, U.S. News & World Report is ranked among the most important of the rankings. Over the 25 years of the U.S. News rankings, Grinnell has been as high as ninth and volleyed through the top 20 (14, 11, 18), along with many of our peer colleges that have also experienced fluctuations in the rankings — especially as data points such as alumni giving have risen and fallen with the economic times and as the methods for ranking have changed.
Many of you may have read the insightful article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker last year, “What College Rankings Really Tell Us” about the use and misuse of college rankings. I encourage you to read it if you haven't. While I acknowledge that the rankings serve as one source of information for prospective students and families, Grinnell College does not make institutional, academic, or administrative decisions based on U.S. News or other rating agencies. In 2007, Grinnell President Russell Osgood and 18 other national college presidents signed a statement committing to make institutional data available on college websites, instead of relying on the rankings to distribute the comparative information. Grinnell continues to follow this practice by providing the Common Data Set on our website and welcoming inquiries at any time.
As many in the Grinnell community read and talk about the various rankings in this season of rankings, it is important to remind everyone that whether we go up or down on any list, the public rankings are not the standard by which Grinnell College judges itself. We judge ourselves against the best Grinnell College we can possibly be. Our goal should always be to provide the best possible Grinnell education to a diverse and talented group of students who are best suited to be transformed by that education. This means we must continually look for ways to improve our support of our faculty, enrich the learning experiences of our students, and provide the resources and opportunities that set our students up to succeed as active and contributing citizens of a global community.
The College is in the midst of a strategic planning process, seeking input and ideas from a broad range of stakeholders. This plan will guide Grinnell’s future while remaining true to our heritage and mission that values undergraduate teaching and research, diversity, and innovation in programs such as the First-Year Tutorial, study abroad, the Grinnell Science Project, and Writing Across the Curriculum.
We can all take the opportunity prompted by the release of ratings to think deeply about what we are as an institution and community and what we aspire to be. Most importantly, let us commit ourselves to engaging in a lively deliberation during the coming year that will lead to a concrete plan to become the best Grinnell College that we can be.