Guiding Principles

Outdoor class with professor and students

The Five Principles

Community, like so much around us, is marked by change. Maintaining shared goals — essential to living and working in community — requires our ongoing, inclusive attention and work. The strategic planning process provides an opportunity to focus our work on key elements of community, each of which can lead to initiatives in strategic planning. 

  • We are a community of inquiry. Learning with and from each other is at the foundation of the work we do together. This requires that we think of our community not as an abstraction (“the College”), but as the collection of individuals with whom we work when we ask and answer questions or understand and solve problems.
  • A shared sense of belonging is crucial to sustainable community. We must feel that we — and the diverse contributions we make — matter. All that we have learned over the past number of years about how community members have experienced belonging, in both its presence and absence, has helped us identify two areas for our attention: workload and the juncture of space and identity. Too many Grinnellians experience our life and work together as requiring too much of us. Another of our strategic principles, Health and Wellbeing, will also allow us to dig into this most important area of community life. Just as a sustainable workload is essential to belonging, a sense of belonging will remain unattainable for too many Grinnellians without access to spaces in which we can be fully ourselves. 
  • Community requires collaborative decision-making. In the ongoing work of community life, we must always ask “whose voices are being heard — and how are we hearing them” as we make decisions that affect each other. Ideas come from all corners of our College. We need to make sure that our decisions emerge out of processes that allow revision along the way, remaining open to ideas that refine our approach or change our direction. 
  • Good governance is an essential source of trust in our community. Our tradition of shared governance — and, in some areas of student life, self-governance — requires that we continue to ask “shared by whom and how” in order to maintain trust in our governance and operations structures. 

Our mission centers on the transformative power of inquiry and exchange in the liberal arts. As a principle of strategic planning, educational excellence and continuity asks that we consider how we can learn and grow — transform — as an institution through the educative work around which our life together revolves. 

  • The classroom, a crucial space for student learning, is the central node of our labor, connecting the work and partnerships of faculty and staff in support of the College’s educational mission. We need to identify and provide the technologies and professional development opportunities for staff and faculty that will help ensure our classrooms — and all of the teaching and mentoring spaces to which they are connected — are as inclusive and responsive as possible. 
  • Our students embody the liberal arts, enrolling in courses evenly across the three divisions of our curriculum: humanities, social studies, and sciences. Student majors tell a somewhat different story, raising important questions about advising loads and student experience. As ever, we also seek ways to explore the intersections of teaching, learning, and scholarship across these divisions. Whether within or across majors and divisions, our curriculum is deeply tied to preparation for a life of civic engagement and social responsibility, an element of our mission that requires particular kinds of preparation and labor. 
  • Research and scholarship are crucial elements of the College’s educational mission, both in terms of producing knowledge and centering process — identifying questions, exploring those questions in search of answers, revising questions and answers in light of what we find, and crafting an agenda for action. Identifying how best to support access to research opportunities for faculty, staff, and students alike is an important goal for strategic planning, as is the further articulation of how best to support diverse forms of research and scholarship. 
  • As a popular t-shirt reminds us, Grinnell College is “conveniently located between New York and LA.” Jokes aside, the strategic planning process provides an important opportunity to consider how we can draw on our location, our incredible physical plant, including but not limited to our new Humanities and Social Studies Center, our library and museum collections, and our newfound comfort and experience with virtual teaching and learning to become a sought-after site of inquiry in new ways. 
  • Educational excellence requires an enormous commitment by faculty and staff, the intensity of which can promote great joy and great frustration. Our work together is pulled and stressed by a variety of factors, from failures of racial justice in the academy and society more generally to unprecedented levels of financial insecurity and wealth inequality. The loving labor of the liberal arts is the commitment we all bring to maintaining, and deepening, educational excellence despite these challenges. Strategic planning will allow us to build on what we have learned about belonging and identify new, creative, and concrete ways to manifest the loving labor of the liberal arts throughout the four years of a student’s college experience. 

In 2016, Dolores Huerta declared education to be the new civil rights movement. The work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is a sustained process that calls for intentionality, research, and change. Creating an ever more equitable experience of the College is the ongoing work of DEI. Building on initiatives already underway, we have identified five areas that provide a general framework for current and future work.

  • As long as there is a gap between our principles and statements and the lived experience of faculty, staff, and students, our DEI work will continue. Grinnell exists within a broader social, political, and cultural setting. We need to identify and address aspects of policies and procedures at Grinnell that reproduce the often-intersecting inequities of race, gender, sex, and class in those settings. The most effective way to do so is to “follow the data,” and we have rich resources at Grinnell upon which to draw. Perhaps the most powerful call we can draw from our data, and the experiences behind the data, is to anti-racist policymaking and action. 
  • Governance through a DEI lens, which requires not just diverse representation but ongoing and meaningful engagement with constituencies and affinity groups from across our campus community, will push us to ask who is on the syllabus, in the office, and at the table. Representation in decision-making and academic experience is an essential feature of DEI at Grinnell. Representation that reflects core principles of DEI will affect how we approach every facet of institutional life — hiring, curriculum, pedagogy, learning space climate, committee work, cross-divisional collaboration, and post-graduate life and alumni networks.
  • The presence of DEI professionals across the institution, and the resultant diffusion of efforts, means that DEI is present in all corners of the College. The creation of an Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, which signals a significant structural change, will provide a necessary means of coordinating policymaking based on shared understandings of problems we face and shared action to address them. Structural change makes our institutional commitment to DEI more legible, and with greater legibility comes greater recourse and accountability in a variety of areas, including (but certainly not limited to) employment, tenure and promotion, and academic honesty. 
  • As with many liberal arts colleges, Grinnell’s founders established the College as a respite, purposefully far from distraction. As our community has welcomed people from a greater variety of backgrounds and life experiences, respite can also feel like isolation and scrutiny. As a predominately white institution (PWI) in a rural location, the strategic planning process is a chance to do important “home work,” thinking about how we can become the home that we seek to be — a place of trust, questioning, and belonging. 
  • An abundance model of DEI work values the transformative potential of welcoming students and professionals with different life experiences — transformation not just of individuals, but of the institution itself: policies, structures, and practices; governance and decision-making; curriculums, pedagogies, and learning spaces. 

How do we thrive, maintaining our health and overall well-being, in the intensity of our work? This is a key question before our community, made all the more pressing (and visible) by the experience of pandemic. “Health and well-being” as a strategic planning principle emphasizes the need to consider belonging and the places, and spaces, of respite and renewal in our lives, in the context of both the concentrated time of student experience and the sustained time of staff and faculty. We have identified five areas to organize our work.

  • Feeling valued in the contributions we make and respected in the conflicts, critique, and disagreements that are a part of community life are equally important to students, staff, and faculty. Belonging, and the health and well-being to which it contributes, becomes possible when we experience the satisfaction of being valued and the connections that result from respect.
  • The stress and pressure of what feels like an ever-expanding workload is a common experience among students, staff, and faculty. As we think about stress and its relationship to health and well-being, especially in light of the pandemic, workload and time become crucial areas for consideration in strategic planning. It is essential that we develop a greater understanding of the relationship between curricular and co-curricular elements of the student experience and that we begin to plan anew based on what we find. Similarly, understanding what faculty and staff consider to the core elements of their work — and what are added elements that bring undue stress — can help us refocus our efforts. 
  • Working, learning, and living together at a rural small liberal arts college is a powerful experience. It can also bring its own intensity and pressures. The College’s built environment plays an important role in how we experience community life, as does how we connect to nearby metropolitan areas. The strategic planning process offers an important moment to consider how our spaces do, and do not, provide respite, safety, relaxation, and comfort to members of the College community, and how we can work toward creating a place that feels like home to more and more. 
  • Since 2019, the College has been exploring the role of restorative practices in understanding sustained conflicts and tensions that impede health and well-being, build community, and equip our community with tools to address conflict moving forward. Together with our THRIVE principles, developed by staff, students, and faculty amidst pandemic, the exploration of restorative practices provides a voluntary opportunity, outside of institutional policy, to consider what a shared commitment to health and well-being might look like moving forward.
  • Our students’ learning experiences outside of formal classroom spaces constitute an essential feature of their Grinnell education. The co-curriculum encompasses an enormous number of experiences, including paid research and other employment opportunities, student organizations, student media, civic engagement, athletics, activities with Centers and Programs, and much more. Students have noted the satisfaction and agency that can come with co-curricular life. We need to ensure that our students have equitable access to these opportunities and that co-curricular life is rejuvenating and not depleting. 

Grinnell is enormously fortunate to have weathered the Great Recession of 2008 in strong financial shape, which in turn made it possible to proudly support staff, students, and faculty throughout the pandemic while maintaining its commitment to educational excellence and continuity. The effects of the Great Recession continue to unfold in the landscape of higher education; the effects of the pandemic will likewise be with us for the foreseeable future. Even with its strong position, Grinnell confronts challenges relating to affordability, access, costs and revenue, and demographic shifts. We seek to build shared understanding of these challenges, and what they mean to our institution, through the strategic planning process. We have identified five key areas for consideration.

  • Grinnell’s endowment places us in a fortunate position in the landscape of higher education. Earnings from the endowment constitute our largest source of income. Intergenerational equity is a key principle of financial sustainability: How we spend today affects what is possible to spend for future generations of Grinnellians. A shared understanding of what the endowment makes possible, and what it does not, in the context of higher education is a key goal of the strategic planning process. 
  • The two other sources of income that support our mission are tuition and philanthropy. Even at full price, our tuition does not cover the per-student cost of a Grinnell education, and Grinnell is alone among its peers in the percentage of its operating budget that it spends on financial aid. We are proud of our capacity to support our students through initiatives such as our new no-loan policy. Yet, the cost of a Grinnell education and our financial aid commitments require that we continue our long-standing work developing a “culture of philanthropy,” seeking ongoing engagement of all those who value what Grinnell has to offer. 
  • Small liberal arts schools like Grinnell make up just 2 percent of higher education in the United States. Our residential living and learning model, characterized by small groups of students interacting directly with faculty and academic staff, is (literally) incomparable in the higher education landscape. In the context of the competitive marketplace, Grinnell, as with other similar rural liberal arts colleges, also needs to stretch in providing an expanding variety of support and services to attract students: new and more degree programs, state-of-the-art facilities, support for post-graduate success, alumni networks, health and mental health services, and recreational opportunities, among many others. As we move forward, we need to consider where to invest our resources in support of our core mission and remain competitive. 
  • The strategic planning process will help us determine how to allocate our resources over the coming years. We need to gather more information in some areas of our work through the strategic planning process such as how the College’s faculty-student ratio plays out at the unit level in enrollments and advising — how faculty and students across the College experience the institution-wide ratio is quite different. Other areas for deep consideration in the strategic planning process are salaries and benefits, program budgets across divisions, and capital projects. 
  • What draws together each of the above areas is stewardship — the idea that we have a collective responsibility to develop a shared understanding of the resources we have and from where they come, of how to use those resources most effectively, and of how we can care for the institution and its constituencies today and into the future. Stewardship extends from the small decisions we make about use of College resources to philanthropic relationships between the College and the many Grinnellians whose lives the College has touched. 

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