An invitation to apply for the position of President at Grinnell College
“The College exists to provide a lively academic community of students and teachers of high scholarly qualifications from diverse social and cultural circumstances. The College aims to graduate individuals who can think clearly, who can speak and write persuasively and even eloquently, who can evaluate critically both their own and others' ideas, who can acquire new knowledge, and who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.” – The Grinnell Mission
Grinnell College is a highly selective, private, residential liberal arts college widely recognized for its rigorous curriculum, personalized teaching, and strong tradition of social engagement. Founded in 1846, Grinnell enrolls approximately 1,700 students who come from all 50 states and 45 countries, and have the opportunity to study in 27 major fields and 12 interdisciplinary concentrations. Grinnell is widely viewed as an institution of the first rank among the nation’s small liberal arts colleges, with an excellent faculty, a consistently accomplished and diverse student body, a skilled staff, a well-equipped and beautiful campus, and a strong financial position.
Grinnell seeks a president who will embrace its liberal arts tradition, its proud heritage of innovation in teaching, its ethos of social responsibility and engagement, its location in the nation’s heartland, its global reach, and its passionate and driven students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees.
The College has a deep and historic commitment to teaching. Pedagogical excellence is a core value. As at other great liberal arts colleges, faculty are scholar-teachers, and tenure and promotion rely on both scholarly and pedagogical achievement. However, at Grinnell, it is not possible to become a tenured faculty member without learning to teach to the Grinnell standard.
Grinnell’s identity is framed by its teaching, and for Grinnell faculty, an important part of the joy of teaching comes from advising and the personal investment that they make in their students. Fifty years ago, Grinnell adopted the “Individually Advised Curriculum,” then and now a major pedagogical innovation. It is rigorous, personal, engaging, and demanding. Students are expected to become the agents of their own intellectual journeys. They form their own curriculum with the strong guidance of faculty, who advise their students to have courage, to cross boundaries, and to learn broadly—and they do.
The results are clear. U.S. News & World Report ranks Grinnell fifth in the nation among national liberal arts colleges for the quality of its teaching. On a per capita basis, Grinnell is one of the most productive sources of future PhDs in the country across all disciplines, a tradition that continues even as academic careers are harder to attain. Students often double major and alumni choose an increasingly diverse range of careers. Social, civic, and technological entrepreneurship are particularly appealing.
Grinnell students have an enormous range of opportunity in their co-curricular and extracurricular education. From students’ arrival on campus to their graduation, the Center for Careers, Life, and Service connects them with opportunities for internships, research, and summer placements throughout the country and all over the world. The Center provides guidance in community service that is very much part of the Grinnell mission. As students embark on their journey, they seek advice on the broad range of activity available at Grinnell, and above all, the Center’s staff helps students find work and research experiences that will guide career choices. Moreover, Grinnell has several interdisciplinary centers that support faculty and student programs and research and create experiential opportunities to supplement the curriculum. There is financial support at Grinnell for virtually any substantive research effort that a student can invent. The College also has invested in a comprehensive Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), and 60 percent of the student body studies abroad, either through more traditional semester or year-long programs or innovative course-embedded travel opportunities.
Grinnell students have active lives outside of the classroom. Nearly 90 percent of students live in college housing, but they often have little time to spend in the residence halls because they are actively engaged in myriad campus activities. The Student Government Association has a large budget and largely operates as a self-governing body. One-third of the student body participates in varsity or competitive club sports, and half of these teams are frequently conference champions or runners-up. Another third participates in one or more intramural sports. Students participate in a debate union, volunteer at a sustainable community garden on campus, and work at the campus newspaper, The Scarlet & Black. An impressive number of students pursue their passion in music, theatre, dance, or the fine arts, many under the direction of Grinnell’s arts faculty, its alumni, or distinguished visiting artists, with even more in student-directed ensembles and performances.
In the last decade, Grinnell has become a consistently better college. It has professionalized across the board and has strong and effective administrative functions, with particularly remarkable improvements in the areas of student recruitment and fundraising. Ten years ago, Grinnell had 3,000 applications and an admit rate of 45 percent (an improvement over earlier years). Today, it attracts 8,000 applicants from all over the country and the world and admits 20 percent of them. The average SAT score for incoming students is now 1460, up 100 points in the last five years. The development function has also improved dramatically. Now in the seventh year of an eight-year comprehensive campaign, Grinnell has raised 98 percent of its $175 million campaign goal. Over the past five years, it raised an average of $27.7 million per year, which is 155 percent higher than the previous five years’ average. While the College still lags its peers in fundraising, much of the fundamental work has been done to nurture a more robust culture of philanthropy.
Campus facilities have been updated over the past two decades with a serious commitment to sustainability and new, impressively designed buildings, including a student center, athletic complexes, admissions and financial aid offices, and the innovative, state-of-the-art Humanities and Social Studies Center, which has partially opened and will be completed this summer.
Grinnell has an excellent financial position. Moody’s gives it a AAA rating and explicitly says that it is more highly rated than the federal government. As of December 31, 2019, the endowment stood at just over $2.1 billion. It supports a rich array of programming, a 9:1 faculty student ratio, a well-appointed campus, and a student body where 90 percent receive some form of financial aid.
The variety of programming, the high expectations of deeply invested faculty, the opportunity and the challenge of an individualized curriculum, and the anxiety of the modern world all combine to stretch Grinnell students. Eighty percent thrive, but approximately one in five do not graduate from Grinnell. The four-year graduation rate is 82 percent, seven to ten percent below the best retention rates of other elite liberal arts colleges. All Grinnell students, as is true of highly motivated students everywhere, feel the pressure to excel in a place that celebrates excellence. It comes with a toll in retention and in student demands for advising, counseling, and mental health services.
Grinnell seeks a president who will embrace its liberal arts traditions, understand its intellectual ambition, model its civic and social commitments, including sustainability, and engage students, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni with the critical issues that every great liberal arts college must face. Grinnell has a long history of shared governance that includes faculty, staff, students, and trustees, and seeks a president who will work effectively in this tradition. Grinnell’s next leader must engage critical issues, including questions of belonging, community, and diversity, as well as the nature of the liberal arts in an increasingly competitive and STEM-driven world. These pressing issues also include student access, the cost of financial aid and higher education finances, alumni engagement with the college and with students, and the role that each key constituency will play in the future of the College.
Grinnell has an extraordinary platform and emerges now from a decade of consistent and transformative success. It seeks a unified vision for the future, an elevated national reputation, an enthusiastic campus where all belong and all thrive, and an alumni body proud of the success of their college.
The next president of Grinnell has a historic opportunity to build on the Grinnell mission and extend its trajectory of improvement to cement Grinnell’s stature as one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the nation.
History and Mission
In 1843, 11 new graduates of the Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts promised to one another that they would set out for the Iowa territory, the only free territory that had been organized west of the Mississippi, and that there they would each establish a church and together found a college. In June 1846, this Iowa Band of religious idealists and ardent abolitionists made good on their motto of “each a church; all a college” and the Iowa College was founded. In 1858, the trustees moved the school from the Mississippi River town of Davenport to Grinnell, a more idyllic site 115 miles to the west, where students could be educated “for the different professions and for the honorable discharge of the various duties of life.”
Grinnell College has embodied the aspirations of these early social reformers at every stage of its history. Grinnell has admitted women since it was founded, awarded its first degree to a female student in 1865 and to an African American student in 1871, established the first major in political science in 1883, and pioneered an individually advised curriculum in 1970. The pioneers’ belief in education as a cornerstone of social reform, secularized long ago, has endured to the present day.
At a time when higher education has become enormously expensive, Grinnell maintains core commitments to access and diversity. And at a time when research has become highly specialized, the relevance of the liberal arts is challenged, and teaching is devalued, Grinnell exemplifies the distinguished liberal arts college where scholarship is expected and supported but teaching and mentoring remain the highest priorities.
In the early 1970s, when Grinnell abolished distribution requirements and pioneered the individually advised curriculum, the College required a first-year tutorial that highlighted the nature of student learning at Grinnell. In consultation with their advisers and informed by six elements of a liberal education presented in the catalog, students plan their curriculum by choosing courses from departments in the three divisions (humanities, social studies, and science), in addition to a number of interdisciplinary units.
The College focuses strongly on the advising relationship. Faculty members have an early and deep understanding of their advisees, and students are made responsible for the quality of their own education, an approach that emerges from Grinnell’s historic ethos of civic and personal responsibility. The standards are high. The grade curve is more bell-shaped than at most peer institutions, and faculty encourage deep immersion in coursework. Students take their responsibility seriously and reach to excel in both their academic and co-curricular lives.
Notably, most students choose a balanced and varied curriculum, frequently enrolling in double majors or combining a major with one or more of 12 interdisciplinary concentrations. Recently, however, the balance of enrollments has mirrored national trends with increasing enrollment in physical sciences and computer science, though often with a double major in the humanities or the social sciences. Inquiry-based and interactive teaching and learning is encouraged, as is collaboration. A robust system of academic support is available to students, including writing, reading, science, foreign language, and math labs that address individual learning needs in these important developmental areas.
In the first-year tutorial, faculty from all departments across the College teach a small, writing-intensive course on a topic of their choice. The course introduces students to the Grinnell community of learners by teaching critical reading and writing skills, developing oral expression of ideas, acquainting students with library resources, and introducing them to the expectations for proper citation and academic honesty. The tutorial professor serves as a student’s adviser until a major is declared and, in this role, provides the starting point for the strong advising relationship at the College.
Grinnell has greatly expanded its commitment to interdisciplinary work. Interdisciplinary centers for humanities, prairie studies, data science, computer software exploration, and international studies have been established, along with a program in peace studies. American studies, policy studies, and neuroscience, among others, have been added to existing interdivisional concentration options. The Grinnell Institute for Global Engagement advances Grinnell’s global learning goals by facilitating collaboration across academic departments, centers, and programs to promote international learning and research. Tenure lines have been added in fields that cross traditional departmental boundaries, such as linguistics, earth system science, neurophilosophy, gender/sexuality (GWSS), film and media studies, policy studies, and Arabic/Islamic studies. Faculty have added new interdisciplinary courses, some team-taught, at all levels across the curriculum.
Introductory courses at Grinnell are distinctive, as students are taught to engage deeply with the primary literature in the fields they study, using methods of inquiry that faculty in those fields employ. This level of carefully mentored engagement and questioning increases as students move to more advanced levels of the curriculum. Over the course of their studies, students often work closely with faculty and engage in authentic research projects as part of their coursework. For some students, the culmination of their time at Grinnell is in the form of the College’s optional capstone experience, the Mentored Advanced Project (MAP). A MAP enables a student to collaborate closely with one or two faculty members on a major creative project in a particular disciplinary or interdisciplinary field. The College then supports the dissemination of the project outcome through publication in a peer-reviewed journal, presentation at a conference, presentation on campus, or a performance or presentation off campus. Grinnell’s inquiry-based pedagogies have proven to be excellent preparation for graduate work, and the College is ranked seventh in the country in the number of students that earned doctorates as a proportion of the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded. Grinnell’s success in producing future PhDs is consistent across the physical sciences, social studies, and humanities.
Grinnell was reaffirmed in its accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission in 2019. The accrediting team noted the College’s strong financial health, the excellence of the educational experience for students, and its commitment to social justice and diversity and inclusion. It also identified assessment of student learning as an opportunity for future development.
Grinnell boasts an excellent faculty of 225 scholar-teachers housed in 27 departments, although many also teach in interdisciplinary concentrations and programs as well. Faculty are recruited through national searches and attracted with the promise of competitive salaries, good benefits, small classes, and high-achieving and committed students. Recruiting to Grinnell, Iowa can be a challenge, but as the College improves and the town becomes more vibrant, Grinnell increasingly attracts its first choice of faculty. The College also takes great care to be adaptive and creative in accommodating partners seeking employment.
Many faculty members live in the town of Grinnell, and others commute from Des Moines and Iowa City, which allows them to attend college events and actively participate in the community. Faculty members have a strong sense of loyalty to the College, the town and, more importantly, to their students, and many of them choose to spend their entire careers at Grinnell.
Grinnell’s faculty members come from remarkably diverse backgrounds, especially since the college began its Faculty Diversity Initiative in 2000. With respect to tenure-track or tenured faculty, over 25 percent are faculty of color and 49 percent are women. Although Grinnell has made progress in the recruitment of a diverse faculty, further improving the diversity remains an important long-term goal.
Grinnell offers a geographically and culturally diverse environment for living and learning to a student body of roughly 1,700, of which 24 percent are domestic students of color and 20 percent are international students. Grinnell has always attracted a high-achieving student body, with 96 percent of entering students coming from the top quarter of their high school classes. Total applications have nearly tripled since 2010.
Grinnell students, on the whole, value their independence, take their academic exploration seriously, and are eager to create change in the world. Students are often “Grinnell busy,” serving as full members on many standing and ad-hoc committees on campus, including those dealing with educational policy as well as disciplinary boards, and they provide input on committees for faculty appointments. In addition, the student body has a great deal of responsibility in governing itself both academically and socially. Students work extremely hard in their classes and often travel domestically and internationally for courses or internships. The majority of students also work on and off campus. Because Grinnell offers so much choice and invites students to take responsibility, the combination can be an intense—and at times stressful—experience for students.
Approximately 550 staff members work with Grinnell’s faculty and students. Over the past ten years, the College has added more than 100 new staff positions in core areas such as development, enrollment, student life, career services, finance, and facilities. They have been admirably led and notably successful. Much of the Grinnell trajectory of improvement over the last decade was made possible by a strong and professionalized administration. The staff are integral not only to the administration, maintenance, and operation of the College, but also to its educational mission. Staff advise, counsel, guide, and protect students. The staff’s loyalty, hard work, and commitment to a shared mission are critical to the College’s success so achieving high staff morale is an important institutional goal. Staff members are recruited both locally and from a pool of the best in their fields from across the country and around the world. Some staff live in Grinnell or in nearby towns, and others commute from Iowa City or Des Moines. The staff has become more diverse over the past ten years but is not as diverse as the student body. Increasing the diversity of the staff is an important component of the College’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan.
The Campus and Campus Life
Grinnell’s campus comprises 190 acres and 92 buildings in the center of Grinnell, Iowa, a community-minded town of roughly 9,000 people, located within an hour’s drive of the state capital and many of Iowa’s largest cities. The last 15 years have seen great improvements and additions to the Grinnell campus, including a new student center and impressive athletic facilities designed by architect César Pelli, an expansion of the Noyce Science Center, a new Admission and Financial Aid Center, five new residence halls, and substantial renovations to many existing buildings.
Most recently, in order to create more flexible spaces that support excellence and innovation in the humanities and social studies, the College built a new Humanities and Social Studies Complex (HSSC). The 196,660-square-foot space features four pavilions and innovative spaces designed to support teaching and learning at Grinnell today and in the future. Students, faculty, and staff began using parts of the HSSC in the spring of 2019, with full occupation estimated by summer 2020.
The campus is remarkably well built with little significant deferred maintenance. It has impressive spaces for most of its requirements. There are, however, a few large projects that remain, including residence hall and library renovations, and possibly the construction of a new residence hall.
The College has a long-standing commitment to sustainability that recognizes the importance of constructing and renovating buildings in a manner that is environmentally responsible. Building designs promote energy efficiency, land stewardship, and resource conservation, which, in turn, preserve the natural resources of the Grinnell community and the surrounding region. Nearly all new and newly renovated buildings on campus are LEED, LEED Silver, or LEED Gold certified, and the College recently committed to buying solar-generated power to support 30 percent of the power needed on campus.
On campus, students, faculty, staff, and local residents contribute to a rich variety of activities. There are over 250 student groups focused on the arts, politics, culture and identity, religion, and social justice and activism, as well as 20 NCAA Division III varsity sports and 16 intramural sports, in addition to hundreds of concerts, readings, workshops, performances, speakers, and symposia.
Many Grinnell students enroll in the College seeking a tight-knit community both inside and outside the classroom, which can be difficult to find in a highly individualized campus. Nearly 90 percent of students live on campus in residence halls, project houses, and language houses with co-curricular activities that enhance their intellectual lives. In 2015, the student affairs division was moved to report to the vice president for academic affairs to further encourage collaboration between faculty and student affairs professionals in shaping the student experience in a holistic way that fosters the development of active global citizens. As is true at colleges and universities across the country, in recent years Grinnell has seen a significant increase in the number of students seeking mental health services. The College has added additional counselors to Student Health and Wellness (SHAW) to accommodate the growing demand for its services, and in the future more resources will likely be needed in this area.
“Campus life” also reaches well beyond the campus, as illustrated by the Liberal Arts in Prison program, in which students and faculty offer classes to inmates in two of Iowa’s prisons. The Office of Service and Social Innovation assists students in connecting to a wide range of service learning opportunities, from creating software for community organizations to developing enrichment items for animals at a nearby zoo. Every four years, the entire Grinnell community enjoys its unique access to presidential candidates, taking advantage of Iowa’s front-row seat in the theater of national politics and participating in Iowa’s caucuses.
Grinnell has dedicated resources to programs and initiatives that encourage career exploration and support students as they seek meaningful work and lives. The Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CCLS) has expanded in recent years and now 20 staff members work proactively with faculty advisors, students, and alumni. CCLS and faculty advisors guide students through a journey of self-discovery that explores their values, strengths, and interests. CCLS also offers a wide range of volunteer and service opportunities for students to engage in experiential learning, including community-based learning courses and alternative break service projects. This collective focus on life after Grinnell has already yielded results: Of the last three years’ graduating classes, 96 percent of graduates are employed or pursuing further education, and 97 percent of employed graduates hold positions related to their career goals. Of those that applied to graduate or professional school, 93 percent were accepted, and eight out of ten were accepted to either their first or second choice program.
The commitment of Grinnell’s graduates to lives of continued inquiry and service testifies to the enduring value of a Grinnell education. The College has produced a long line of distinguished graduates who became Grinnell icons. Grinnellians have become respected leaders in government, law, medicine, science, industry, and the arts and humanities, as well as in for-profit and nonprofit organizations. In innumerable ways, Grinnellians have shaped the larger educational community as they have become university and college presidents, academic deans and administrators, and a legion of teachers at all levels, both in the United States and abroad.
Work continues on initiatives to increase the engagement of alumni with the College. Many alumni have maintained connections with their peers and faculty, but that has not always extended to a deep affiliation with the College. Alumni sponsor summer internships, opportunities for career shadowing, and other types of mentorship for current students and recent graduates. The expertise of alumni has also been employed to provide public lectures, course lectures, and even full three-week short courses. Alumni giving, however, is lower at Grinnell than at many peer institutions.
Grinnell College has been well managed financially and is currently in a strong financial position, guided by an active and knowledgeable board of trustees and a strong senior administrative team. The annual operating budget of the College is approximately $133 million. Over the course of its history, Grinnell has built one of the largest endowments among liberal arts colleges, which stood at just over $2.1 billion as of December 31, 2019. The College’s AAA credit rating was affirmed in November 2019, and the finance team completed a successful bond issue in January 2017. The College has historically been conservative in its budgeting and has an unusually low level of debt relative to its assets.
Grinnell College admits domestic students without regard for their ability to pay and meets 100 percent of all students’ demonstrated financial need. The College also has steadily increased its aid commitment to international students. Approximately 90 percent of Grinnell’s students receive some form of aid, and one in four receives a grant totaling at least the full cost of tuition. Grinnell students graduate with an average debt that remains the lowest in the state among four-year universities and liberal arts colleges, and is close to half that of Iowa’s public university graduates, yet real challenges remain for some of the College’s neediest students. Grinnell is strongly committed to maintaining its generous financial aid policies.
Currently, about 52 percent of the College’s operating budget is drawn from the endowment, 40 percent from net revenue from students, and eight percent from gifts and other sources. Grinnell remains committed to preserving the economic diversity of its student body and is carefully reviewing ways to increase revenues and control costs in order to continue its generous funding of financial aid and to reduce its dependency on endowment income. The College’s goal is to work toward a revenue allocation to the operating budget of 45 percent from the endowment, 45 percent from student revenue, and ten percent from gifts and other sources.
Planning for the future, Grinnell has steadily built several reserve funds outside of the endowment, valued at more than $45 million, for use in special emergencies, to pursue a significant opportunity, or to smooth out finances in the case of a deep stock market reverse or recession.
Grinnell is currently in the seventh year of an eight-year capital campaign with a fundraising goal of $175 million. To date, it has raised $171 million. Historically, the College’s alumni giving rate and average donation size have lagged many of its peers, but with large investments and great effort by the development staff, these metrics have improved in recent years.
Grinnell has a long tradition of shared governance that engages faculty, staff, students, and trustees. The faculty Executive Council serves as a board of review for the president and has oversight of the curriculum. It also provides important input on the appointment of new faculty and long-range planning for the College. The Staff Council was formed in 2011 to support the professional well-being of Grinnell College staff members and advocate for staff on issues of campus climate. The Staff Council meets regularly with the president and other senior administrators. Grinnell’s Student Government Association (SGA) has an unusually active role on campus. SGA allocates student funds, represents student interests to the College administration and faculty, encourages student debate, and addresses any other student needs.
Grinnell College is ably governed by a highly engaged and accessible board of trustees. The 28-member board has a fiduciary responsibility for the welfare of the School. The College's rich history and strong endowment are a testament to its trustees’ financial acumen, dedication, and service. The College is also served by an Alumni Council, a group of 26 Grinnell College alumni and two student representatives, whose purpose is to foster strong connections between and among the 20,000 Grinnell alumni located in 50 states and 55 nations, as well as with the campus community.
Grinnell College is located in Grinnell, Iowa—“the Jewel of the Prairie”—approximately one hour east of Des Moines and one hour west of Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. The city has about 9,000 residents and the College is one of the biggest employers in the region. Known for its historic architecture, especially the Louis Sullivan-designed Jewel Box Bank, Grinnell has been listed as one of the “coolest” small cities in America. The College has made significant investments in Grinnell in recent years, especially in the “zone of confluence,” an area between the campus and the heart of downtown where it owns a number of buildings and plots of land. The College supports an active downtown and aids the city with capital and program contributions. Students, faculty, and staff benefit from the many restaurants, cafes, and small businesses, including a new hotel and independent movie theater, that line the downtown streets. The College has moved office space for some administrative functions to downtown and is actively considering a plan to deepen its presence in the town by building a downtown residence hall.
The opportunities to engage in the community are significant. Many students, faculty, and staff work with other members of the community in local charitable organizations, in the schools, and in local arts programming, which helps to create a vibrant and engaged community. The College works consistently and systematically with the civic and elected leadership of Grinnell and is an integral partner with the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation. The combined efforts of the city, college, and foundation have greatly improved the town of Grinnell and aid the College in both recruitment and retention of students, faculty, and staff.
The Role of the President: Challenges and Opportunities
Over the last two decades, Grinnell has cemented its place as one of the very best liberal arts colleges in the country. It has a clear mission, a high-quality academic program, accomplished and dedicated faculty and staff, talented and intellectually curious students, a renovated and well-equipped campus, and enviable financial resources. The next president will encounter a three-fold charge: to foster a stronger sense of community and connection to the College among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees; to better communicate Grinnell’s distinctive strengths both internally and externally; and to build on the existing excellence of the College’s academic and co-curricular programs. Specifically, the board of trustees and the Grinnell community will look to the next president to:
Make the case for the relevance and value of a Grinnell liberal arts education today
The president must be an inspiring advocate for the power and possibility of a liberal arts education at Grinnell, clearly articulating the ways in which the vibrancy and rigor of the College’s academic program encourages intellectual exploration while simultaneously preparing students to navigate life after graduation. In delivering this core message, the president’s impact should be experienced close to home, working with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees to offer a galvanizing vision for the liberal arts in our time, one that captures traditional strengths and prepares students for the future. Grinnell also needs a president who can offer a strong voice nationally in the ongoing dialogue about the critical importance of a liberal arts education. To be successful in this effort, the next president must be an intellectual leader with an impressive scholarly profile who appreciates deeply the transformative potential of the liberal arts.
Foster a stronger sense of shared community among Grinnellians, on and off campus
Part of the president’s central work will be to harness the incredible energy and passion across campus in service of the College’s collective well-being, building community and a stronger sense of belonging, and publicly celebrating the amazing achievements of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. As is often the case on many college campuses today, community members are stretched and pulled in many different directions—each person’s intense commitment to individual pursuits making it difficult to connect in meaningful ways. Indeed, at Grinnell today, strained dynamics among constituencies can at times interfere with attempts to improve relationships across campus. The College’s next president will prioritize seeing past these inadvertent and unproductive divides and will work to create shared spaces on campus—both literal gathering spots and the more symbolic sense of shared community. Grinnell’s strong tradition of shared governance among students, faculty, and staff provides the opportunity for dialogue and discernment.
In addition, there are opportunities to extend these community-building efforts to key constituents off campus as well, by regularly acknowledging the contributions and successes of alumni, friends of the College, and local community leaders. The “we” of Grinnell is a diverse, dynamic group; intellectual and opinionated. It has all the elements that it needs to become an exemplary community. The opportunity and the task for a new leader is to deepen connections across campus, stitching together the diverse pieces and parts of Grinnell into a celebrated community that takes pride in its debates, welcomes a breadth of perspectives, and extends the joy of learning to the joy of living.
Effectively lead and inspire Grinnell’s dedicated faculty
One of the College’s greatest assets is the dedicated group of faculty who develop and deliver the College’s best-in-class academic program. They are all committed scholars in their respective fields and also deeply committed teachers and advisors, who give a tremendous amount of their time and energy to creating an unmatched academic experience for Grinnell’s students. The faculty care deeply about the College, and they participate actively in discussions about its future through robust systems of shared governance. There is great interest among the faculty in a president who will articulate a clear and bold vision for the Grinnell of tomorrow, and who will appreciate the faculty’s important role in getting Grinnell there.
The president’s leadership and participation will also be critical in the ongoing conversations about the current academic program, not only its tremendous intellectual rigor, but also the very real pressure it exerts on students. Encouraging continued faculty participation in these discussions—both about the existing challenges and, more importantly, about the possible solutions—is likely to be the most effective way forward. A president who can create the right environment for these conversations will be key to their success. Similarly, the president will be expected to lead ongoing discussions on campus about the liberal arts in today’s landscape of higher education. Student expectations and enrollment patterns have changed significantly in recent years, straining the capacity of many liberal arts institutions to provide an education with depth and breadth. The president must work with faculty to identify and further develop resources essential to supporting the high quality of a Grinnell education.
Bring clarity and cohesion of purpose to the College’s co-curricular and student support systems
The student experience at Grinnell is incredibly rich, rewarding, and empowering in a way that is distinct across the higher education landscape. Students have the opportunity to chart their own academic journey through the Individually Advised Curriculum; to participate meaningfully in the governance of the College and assert their voices on key campus-wide issues; and to develop meaningful relationships with the College’s exceptional faculty. To enhance the potential upside of these and other highlights of the Grinnell experience, the College needs to continue its efforts to strengthen connections and coordination among the many units that contribute to student advising and wellness, drawing together staff and faculty into collaborative relationships with common purpose. The outcome of these efforts, ideally, will be a more comprehensive and effective suite of co-curricular and wellness offerings that is relevant for, accessible to, and understood and appreciated by the students, including offices and initiatives focused on mental health, work-life balance, emotional support, and career counseling that is allied to advising by the faculty.
These efforts will also foster a stronger culture of inclusion on campus that will, in turn, result in improved student retention numbers, especially for students of color. Retention rates for students from historically under-represented groups are lower than Grinnell’s averages, with a six-year graduation rate of 72 percent for African American students compared to 88 percent for White students. The six-year graduation rate for Latinx students has varied considerably from year-to-year. Most recently it was 93 percent, above the overall college average, but the previous year it was 70 percent.
This important community-building work cannot succeed without a stronger shared sense of ownership across the academic and co-curricular units of the College. There are several notable areas of excellence in this work already—the strong relationships between faculty and students developed through the advising process, the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, and a greatly enhanced student life operation, for example—and there is unlimited energy across campus to build on this foundation. The next president must prioritize partnering with the campus community to more fully address a central question about the student experience at Grinnell: What is the College currently doing, and what more can it do, to guide, advise, counsel, and support each student from matriculation to graduation and beyond? At this moment in its history, the College needs a leader who can take advantage of the collective expertise and enthusiasm across campus in service of these efforts.
Sharpen the College’s identity and distinguish its reputation in the broader higher education landscape
Over the last decade, Grinnell has built on its many institutional strengths and fortified those areas across campus in need of attention. The task ahead for the College’s next leader is to ensure that Grinnell’s reputation in the marketplace—among prospective students, potential faculty, peer institutions, alumni, and donors—matches the dynamic reality of life at Grinnell today. There are a handful of notable differentiators that underscore Grinnell’s distinct place among its peer schools, including the Individually Advised Curriculum and the close student-teacher advising structure; the holistic approach to post-graduate planning through the Center for Careers, Life and Service; and its geographic identity rooted in the Midwest with a global footprint that connects students to meaningful learning opportunities around the world. The magic of the Grinnell experience on campus is also noteworthy, and students often leave with a deepened commitment to social responsibility, to equity and inclusion, to sustainability, and to direct action that will make their communities stronger. The next president must effectively broadcast this distinctive and powerful story to increase the number of potential students—and their families—that consider Grinnell and to make the College more successful at persuading accepted students to enroll. The College has already completed research on possible pathways to boost application numbers and improve yield. The challenge for the next president is to achieve these goals in a manner that is consistent with the College’s history and core values.
Continue to strengthen the College’s alumni relations and development efforts
Historically, the lifelong loyalty of Grinnell alumni has not always translated into supporting the College financially. The strength of the College’s endowment may deter some, but the endowment alone is not the whole story. Grinnell alumni, like alumni elsewhere, can be very critical, rarely about the faculty but often about the administration, despite a deep affection for the College. Over the past several years, Grinnell has successfully re-engaged many alumni who have not been in regular communication with the College and deepened engagement with those alumni that were already involved. The next president has a real opportunity to further boost alumni engagement and to make it more productive and positive. Building bridges and pathways to Grinnellians around the globe will require a commitment of time and energy—traveling to meet with them where they live and work, and also, importantly, developing new and different ways to re-connect alumni back to campus. Grinnell has a lower rate of alumni giving than many of its peer institutions, but when engaged, alumni are eager to stay informed about the happenings of the College and give back to their alma mater. The new president must be an authentic people person and savvy relationship builder, a leader who—in close partnership with a strong alumni and development office—can inspire enthusiasm about Grinnell’s future among donors and alumni, and in doing so improve Grinnell’s overall culture of philanthropy.
Lead and actively engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion work across campus
Honoring and celebrating the diversity of the College community is a core and lived value at Grinnell, and one the next president must wholeheartedly embrace. Particularly on a campus where its size and geography can create a deeply personal and intense experience, a clear commitment to inclusion and equity work from the president’s office is essential. Diversity work—critical and at times difficult and uncomfortable—must not rely entirely on the personalities of particular leaders on campus. Instead, the right systems and structures must be in place to encourage open lines of communication, inclusive decision-making, equitable hiring, and space for students, faculty, and staff to debate opposing viewpoints productively. This work is already well underway, as part of Grinnell’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan, which is updated annually by the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, the governing body charged with making recommendations to the College’s president.
Create a values-driven business model that ensures Grinnell’s financial sustainability
Grinnell has made fundamental commitments to need-blind admission and to meet full demonstrated need, and it manifests in a particularly intense form, surrounding students with rich opportunities. The College has marvelous social and economic diversity and propels student success after graduation. Unlike many of its peers, Grinnell does not attract a large group of full-pay students. The discount rate has been stable at 61 percent over the past ten years. Without intervention, the discount rate was on track to hit 70 percent by now. As the country’s demographics shift, the College, like virtually all others, predicts an even larger cohort of students who will need financial aid and the neediest students at Grinnell today still struggle to make ends meet. To preserve its values, Grinnell will need a new, sustainable economic model, widely understood by the College and its constituencies. There are several pathways open to the College, including improved fundraising, successful investment strategies, greater appeal to a broad constituency of potential students and parents, and the careful allocation of resources among Grinnell’s many priorities. The next president of Grinnell will join a college blessed with rare resources, but it will be a high priority to explain them and to steward them for many future generations of success.
Develop a strategy for prioritizing and addressing the College’s capital improvement needs
Building on a wave of recent enhancements to the physical plant, including the new Humanities and Social Studies Center and the new Admission and Financial Aid Center, the next president will need to continue the work of refreshing—and potentially expanding—Grinnell’s campus, prioritizing sustainable, energy-efficient practices and policies wherever possible. High on this list is a potential project already under discussion about constructing a residence hall in downtown Grinnell, as well as remodeling some existing residence halls that have not been updated for decades, and an ongoing conversation about modernizing the College’s library. All of these projects would add significant value to the student experience with concrete residential, co-curricular, and academic upsides. Generally, the campus would benefit from more and better spaces for students to gather, study, collaborate, and socialize; this is likely less about the construction of new buildings and more about how to reimagine the existing structures with this goal in mind. These big-ticket items notwithstanding, the College has remarkably little deferred maintenance on campus buildings. However, the next president will need to continue the College’s efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy and customer-service orientation to the College’s information technology infrastructure and support systems.
Build on the College’s strong external relationships and partnerships, across Grinnell and statewide
The president should make it a priority to continue the College’s longstanding position as an engaged, respectful, and contributing member of its local and regional ecosystems. Cultivating strong working relationships with key community, business, and political leaders in the town of Grinnell and across Iowa will be important. Given the College’s significant footprint in the local community, its decisions and on-campus happenings can have an outsize impact on the town. Grinnellians have long been good citizens and neighbors—“making a difference in the world starts in Grinnell”—and the next president should share this ethos, eagerly welcoming opportunities to connect with the College’s important external stakeholders. A bustling town and a positive town-gown relationship support student, faculty, and staff retention, all key drivers for Grinnell’s continued success—and, without careful attention, all potential challenges given Grinnell’s small-town community.
Experience and Qualifications
Grinnell College seeks an engaged, bold, and highly personable president whose intellect and experience will inspire confidence in the Grinnell community. The search committee understands that no single candidate will have all the ideal qualifications, but it seeks candidates with many of the following qualities and characteristics:
- A deep understanding of and commitment to the liberal arts and the undergraduate liberal arts college coupled with an appreciation of and enthusiasm for Grinnell.
- An optimistic leader with the ability and desire to help lead and represent the College in a discussion about the future of the liberal arts and undergraduate education in an evolving national context and an increasingly globalized society.
- A strong appreciation of the academic world, its scholarly values, and professional culture; a demonstrated respect for academic freedom and diverse opinions on key social and political questions of the day.
- A record of successful administrative leadership, including oversight and development of senior leaders, comfort with budgets and budgeting, and a demonstrated ability to develop a strategic vision and the skill to execute that vision in a practical and inspiring way.
- Recognized skill as a gifted communicator in diverse settings; an effective and persuasive storyteller.
- A record of leadership and skill with tackling complex issues of identity and belonging; a demonstrated commitment to leaning in to difficult and nuanced conversations and problem-solving in order to achieve greater equity, diversity, and inclusion in higher education.
- Proven ability to build consensus by listening carefully, balanced by an ability to make decisions confidently when necessary.
- A capacity to connect with and relate to members of the Grinnell community on a personal level; an excellent listener who is visible and present, and can build strong relationships and maintain open, accessible lines of communication with students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and community members.
- Experience building relationships with a diverse range of external constituent groups, including elected and appointed officials and those that are not obvious supporters.
- A talent for leading productive fundraising in an academic environment. An established background of fundraising success and campaign experience is highly desired.
- Proven efficacy in working with a governing board, as a group and as individuals; experience in building and maintaining an engaged and supportive board.
- Kindness, patience, and integrity.
Grinnell College has retained Isaacson, Miller to assist in this search. Please direct all inquiries, nominations, referrals, and applications in strict confidence to:
John Isaacson, Chair
Katie Rockman, Partner
Jeff Kessner, Managing Associate
Electronic submission is strongly encouraged.
Grinnell College is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to attracting and retaining highly qualified individuals who collectively reflect the diversity of the nation. No applicant shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, marital status, religion, creed, or disability.