Campus Update: Welcome to the New Academic Year

September 05, 2019

Dear Grinnellians,

Welcome to Grinnell College's fall 2019 semester: a time to celebrate new beginnings and new community members; reunite with friends and mentors; and engage in our collective commitment to teaching, learning, and research that serve the common good.

A special welcome to the 463 new first-year students who are joining our academic community this fall as members of the Class of 2023. Official enrollment data will not be available until late September, but here are a few preliminary statistics to help introduce our first-year class: 

  • 44 U.S. states and 20 countries are represented in the new class
  • 23% are domestic students of color
  • 20% are international students
  • 12% are the first in their family to attend college

In addition to a strong academic profile, these new Grinnellians were active members of their high schools and communities. Approximately two-thirds were involved in community service activities, active in the arts (art, dance, drama, music, speech, or other cultural activities), or participated in high school athletics or club sports.

Also, more than 20 new faculty members, both term and tenure track, have joined our distinguished faculty ranks this fall.

Whether you are just beginning your college experience, a returning student, or one of the faculty and staff members who facilitate this intellectual passage, you will be enriched by - and in turn enrich - our core attributes of strong academics, commitment, and community. I encourage you to take a few minutes now to read about and consider how you might help support some of the ongoing and anticipated developments that will inform our work this year.

Academics

Our reputation as a learning liberal arts college continues to grow as we deliver outstanding academics and mentored research, powered by constant innovation and creativity, in order to provide individually advised learning for the intellectually engaged.

New Leadership 

Anne Harris has joined us as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College. As Dean of the College, Anne will serve as our chief academic officer, ensuring that faculty have the support and resources they need to do their work of providing an education in the liberal arts through free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas.

First-Year Experience Expanded 

This semester, we will begin a two-year pilot of a First-Year Experience course focused on helping new students develop skills that will contribute to their academic engagement and personal well-being during their time at Grinnell and beyond.

Second-Year Retreat 

The "Unpacking Grinnell: Passion, Purpose, Pathways Second-Year Student Retreat" will be held Sept. 14 in Pella, Iowa. A supportive group of student leaders, faculty, staff, and alumni will explore the second-year experience in ways that will empower students to make free and informed choices during their time at Grinnell and beyond.

Common Read 

Grinnell's common read program rests on a simple idea: reading the same book brings people closer together as a community by creating common ground for discussion. This year's common read, "The Book of Unknown Americans" by Cristina Henríquez, should provide outstanding opportunities for community-building discussions.

Commitment

In order to further our exploration of issues of purpose, responsibility, and justice on campus and beyond we must remain attentive to how we balance our commitment to student success, critical thinking, and providing the physical and financial resources needed for our work, while remaining mindful of and true to our history and legacy.

HSSC 

Construction on the new Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) is complete and it is open for full use this semester. Alumni Recitation Hall (ARH) and Carnegie Hall will remain closed during ongoing renovation and preservation efforts expected to be complete in summer 2020. The HSSC is home to academic departments in the Humanities and Social Studies and faculty and student spaces, as well as the Institute for Global Engagement; the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment; and the Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab (DASIL). Importantly, HSSC is already proving to be an exceptional facility for facilitating different kinds of scholarly and creative work that faculty and students are undertaking.

Landscaping and Other Campus Improvements 

Work completed this summer includes outdoor learning spaces, a courtyard, landscaping and bike parking around HSSC; and, new pedestrian pathways connecting central campus to the Bear Center. Special note should be made of the installation near HSSC of the sculpture, "Broken English," by Gregory Gómez '80. Work is ongoing along Park Street, between 6th and 8th avenues, and new campus wayfinding signs are being installed.

Student Union 

A new contract has been negotiated with the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers (UGSDW) for a one-year term, effective July 2019 through June 2020. UGSDW, the existing bargaining unit of student dining workers, was established in 2016, when the College supported the establishment of the first independent union for undergraduate students in the nation, as it continues to do. As was announced this spring, discussions about a potential limited student union expansion are on hold until the next Board of Trustees meeting in October. The Board deemed it prudent to use this time to further study and deliberate upon the implications and long-term impact of expansion on the educational mission of the College. As part of their study, the trustees are planning to meet with the faculty executive council for discussion about the union expansion. They also are planning a listening session with UGSDW representatives and an open listening forum for all students.

Community

We are fortunate at Grinnell to have a location, people, and a spirit of generosity that foster a strong community, rich in multiple meanings of that word. Our sense of community allows us to bring together and celebrate diverse perspectives that help us embrace and appreciate differences.

Diversity and Inclusion Plan 

A diverse community of people and perspectives is one of Grinnell's core values, and diversity in the liberal arts is a cross-cutting theme across our strategic plan. I am pleased to note that Lakesia Johnson has completed her sabbatical and will be resuming her role as Assistant Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer. She will continue her work helping lead our campus community in implementing the latest Grinnell Diversity and Inclusion Plan.

Restorative Practices 

Ombuds Chinyere Ukabiala will help us to embark on a campaign to emphasize the importance of valuing and supporting a culture of respect and accountability in our community, focusing on community building and shifting the culture around conflict. These efforts are being launched with the aid of restorative practices consultants currently visiting campus.

Campus Climate Surveys 

The results of the campus staff climate survey administered by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) this spring will be shared fully with the community this fall. This survey sought staff input about job satisfaction, general issues and concerns, and areas for improvement, and will be used to help develop an action plan. Later this fall, faculty will be invited to participate in a HERI faculty survey.

The new academic year will bring opportunities, as well as challenges, but I am confident that together, as Grinnellians, we can navigate any complexities that might arise in a way that allows us to responsibly contribute to the common good.

Sincerely,

Raynard S. Kington
President

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