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THE COURAGE TO DEFINE OUR FUTURE

August 28, 2013

President Pamela Fox

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Today we open our 172nd academic year. I never take for granted the privilege of this time each year. It is a new threshold of promise, a sacred start to the cycle of academic inquiry. It is an exhilarating affirmation of our truest and highest endeavor — teaching and learning as a community enabling the personal transformation of each student. Through our liberal education, Baldwin graduates are imbued with the critical powers of reason. We transmit our values of leadership and ethical citizenship. Our graduates take these qualities forth into their communities locally and globally.

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Courage is our theme this year, Defining Courage, as expressed for the class of 2017. As you recall from your first day of school or college, our new students experience fear and uncertainty along with excitement. They must call forth courage. Courage is the enabling virtue. Without courage, we cannot develop the confidence of leadership, the capacity to serve, and the drive to make a difference. C. S. Lewis reminds us: Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.

Our outstanding professors are summoning their courage to teach. Each academic year we find ways to keep our hearts alive as we serve our students. As Parker Palmer has stated: “Good teaching is an act of generosity, a whim of the wanton muse, a craft that may grow with practice, and always risky business.”

We summon our values collectively each year as a courageous community. That is what this hour is all about. Under the microscope of scrutiny and transparency within higher education, others will continue to attempt to “define” us. In an era of constant change and challenging externalities, together we command the courage to shape our future.

Last year at this time we considered “The Place of MBC in a Changing World.” I reviewed my summer reading list with you, a list reflecting the rapidly evolving landscape of higher education. We were still bucking the trends and doing better than many other colleges. In September it became apparent that enrollment was falling short of projections. By January the Board took the lead in convening a working group to proactively determine how MBC must adapt to external trends to ensure the sustainability of the institution. An intensive semester of difficult and emotional work ensued. Forty members of the faculty and staff along with members of the Board of Trustees met on Saturdays, and additional members of the community volunteered to be part of five study groups in March. On April 19, the Board took into account all the excellent work and requests of the community and passed a resolution outlining further work to be conducted between April and July.

We were able to end the 2013 fiscal year with a balanced budget despite the enrollment shortfalls by holding open positions, releasing unrestricted campaign gifts, and raising an additional $150,000 beyond the original Baldwin fund goal. We continued our zero-based budget work and organizational audit. In anticipation of further enrollment declines in RCW and ADP, we reduced the 2014 budget by about 5%, or $1.2 million.

Over the summer we continued our year-round campus with five concerts weekly of the Heifetz International Music Institute and the young artists in the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp. Thank you to our physical plant and dining services staff, who not only worked tirelessly through the summer and made the campus ready for move-in this week on a short turnaround — but also responded to serious unforeseen issues in just the last week caused by power and water outages over which the college had no control.

The Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences continued to implement their aggressive timeline: we held a “topping off” ceremony as the final structural beam was hoisted; the site visit of the Physical Therapy accrediting agency was successful; and admissions for the first classes of physical and occupational therapy opened. Significant gifts to name key spaces in the building were secured.

We took action upon key recommendations from all the study groups. The R2 faculty committee (Repositioning and Restructuring in RCW) met weekly and completed a draft proposal that addresses all aspects of its ambitious charge. The education faculty met to lay the foundation for a new flagship identity and organization. Extensive research on ADP’s market position was completed. Professor Klonoski created a discussion document for the potential pilot of Baldwin Online.

It was a busy summer. Thank you to all faculty and staff members who dedicated so much time and effort over the summer. I am truly and deeply grateful.

How are we moving forward?

We are creating the college of the future consistent with our mission by aligning our distinctive strengths with trends in higher education. We must achieve simplification and sustainability, attract and serve new segments of students, and imbed flexibility to respond to the unpredictable flux of enrollment patterns. We are, in essence, generating a new strategic plan, which we will complete by 2014.

We developed our last strategic plan, Composing Our Future, in 2004 and updated it in 2011; these plans have guided us for 10 years. We have accomplished much but have not achieved the ambitious 25% enrollment growth goals we set for ourselves. As a result we have not yet been able to complete some key capital projects, and we have not been able to adequately invest in improved compensation for our dedicated community.

Our work over the last three years informs our next steps. We are on track to launch transformational new graduate programs in less than a year. We have instituted strong academic programs such as Social Work and created synergies across programs through faculty-led efforts such as the 12-1 committee. We have raised $64 million to date in the Ever Ahead campaign toward our goal of $80 million, making a positive impact on all parts of the college. The more than $20 million of unrestricted giving has functioned as an endowment supplement and augmented our maintenance and replacement budget. We have enhanced academic excellence and endowed undergraduate research and the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement.

Now we must consider how each part of the institution interrelates and contributes to the vitality of the whole. The Board has asked us to envision the blueprint of the college of 2020. Each major segment of the college needs to be as self-sustaining as possible.

Our approach to strategic planning is to be data-driven, nimble, flexible, and iterative. This is a pragmatic process. Rather than designing a set of initiatives, we are working intently on our entire ecosystem and repositioning each component for adaptive success. The college of 2020 will have six key complementary components under a compelling vision of a united college or university.

  1. The repositioned Residential College will likely be somewhat smaller and more self-sustaining, serving a diverse population of students with the capacity to succeed and contribute to the college community.
  2. ADP must evolve through its own restructuring and repositioning and potential name change, building upon its personalized pathways and hybrid instructional model. The landscape of competition requires our immediate creative action.
  3. A college or school of education will highlight this key area of strength, positioning it for further program development and greater marketability.
  4. Shakespeare and Performance will be a contributing component.
  5. Murphy Deming will be a new component beginning next year with growing enrollment and revenue generation, expanding our mission and enhancing our role in the community.
  6. Another new component will be an online degree completion arm, which could also offer in-demand undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs.

These components of the MBC of 2020 together will balance our financial chemistry, with each component contributing to the vitality of the entire institution. The components are not static. We must continue to identify new programs and markets and we must market our strengths and messages in a clear and compelling way on web and in print as we continue to restructure admissions for all programs. We need to explore further potential graduate programs in the arts and sciences and in Murphy Deming and consider flexible programs such as three-year degrees, additional five-year combined undergraduate/graduate degrees, and market-oriented certificates. We need to develop further partnerships in our community with non-profits, other colleges, corporations and much more.

What vision animates these six components and guides a cohesive identity?

The essence of an achievable, real-world vision is before us and within us. This is a time to confirm our core values with an eye to the future and reverence for our legacy. The centennial history of MBC by Mary Watters contains the address of President L. Wilson Jarman, delivered on June 6, 1942. Jarman lists factors ”that have caused our school to live, with a lack of completeness to be sure, yet with a rather general inclusiveness”:

  • the vision of the founders and
  • location — our connection to place as a college within a community.

The vision of the founders was a wise synthesis of the practical values of education as preparation for an engaged and fulfilling life and the cultural values of a liberal arts tradition. We now translate this as leadership for life and global citizenship — confident, compassionate changemaking, and the liberal arts as the best preparation for careers. We are committed to diversity and inclusive excellence and to providing personalized pathways to lifelong transformation.

Our historic location in Staunton and Augusta County remains a strength. We make a difference where we are and serve needs specific to our community. In striving for distinctiveness, one of the essential aspects of positioning ourselves toward 2020, we can build upon this concept of college in community. Mary Baldwin would not exist but for the initial partnership with First Presbyterian Church. Our Shakespeare and Performance program would not exist without the American Shakespeare Center and the Blackfriars Playhouse. Murphy Deming is already a cornerstone of community growth as an anchor in the economic development of the Blue Ridge Life Sciences Corridor. The Spencer Center stands on campus in the center of our community and connects our work with the broader community, as was documented in this week’s inspiring article about our May Term work with the Booker T. Washington School. It sends our changemakers out to communities across the world.

We can extend this concept in focused ways to our regional centers and our entire MBC family. The evolution of ADP can be guided by serving regional needs and fostering community and corporate partnerships. Our alumni stand ready to even more purposefully connect to one another and our students. And as we develop new online options we will extend the sense of personal connection and service through new pedagogies.

Connections, intentionality, interdisciplinarity, and scholarship in practice are central.

Transforming lives for leadership and citizenship

Engaged in community locally and globally

The essence of our achievable vision.

What are our next steps? 

We are already well under way in creating our Mary Baldwin of 2020 with six main components, a new thriving era for our college engaged in community, locally and globally.

The faculty meets this afternoon to consider in detail the R2 proposals. R2 has suggested a working group on General Education reform, with particular focus on the needs of first-year students that will be constituted soon. Another group of faculty and staff will form to develop a comprehensive plan to integrate career development across the curriculum and co-curriculum. I will invite faculty and staff to be part of the team evolving ADP and creating Baldwin Online. Murphy Deming continues exactly on schedule. The Education faculty are working together on key dimensions of pulling together into one unit, including organization and budget, curriculum, and facilities.

To increase communication, the Executive Staff will include open dialogues with these various groups as part of our regular meetings. We will facilitate two staff forums per semester so everyone can keep up-to-date. The Board of Trustees will conduct monthly conference calls. We will invite students into important conversations. Alumni and volunteers will be engaged even more deeply.

Our timeline is as follows:

  • October 17-18, 2013: Progress report to the Board of Trustees on all planning efforts.
  • December 13, 2013: Specially called Board conference call to receive the faculty recommendations from the R2 group.
  • February 13-14, 2014: Next progress report, including General Education reform, career connections across the curriculum and co-curriculum, and draft of strategic plan.
  • April 17-18, 2014: Final recommendations to the Board and approval of strategic plan framework.
  • June 16, 2014: Murphy Deming opens for first doctoral classes in PT and OT.
  • July 1, 2014: Initial changes in college organizational structure take effect.

Finally, and most importantly, how do we approach this work and keep it in perspective?

I have every confidence we can do this. We have our distinctive MBC culture to bring to the task: faculty leadership, committed staff, engaged Board of Trustees, open discussion and open minds, willingness to effect logical change; and recognition that we are all in this together and that we rise and fall together, as a courageous community.

We will need to continue to present competing views and confront internal contradictions. We must resist choosing between the ideal long-term potential and short-term reality, instead holding both in our awareness. Such tensions offer opportunity for both productive creativity and humor. After all, we have faith in one another and in this college we love—even when we disagree.

I continue to draw inspiration from our mission and our history. As I stated at the outset, this is the opening of our 172nd year. We are here for our students, for the joy of teaching, for the fulfillment of learning. Can you imagine how Mary Julia Baldwin felt on the first day of the Augusta Female Seminary on September 16, 1842? She was only 12 years old — she turned 13 that fall on October 4, the date we now celebrate Founders Day. She was 12, had lost both of her parents, and suffered facial deformity. One of her classmates said later that she never would have imagined that the shy girl with largeness of spirit would lead the seminary through its golden age. And then there was her first day as principal on October 1, 1863. The local paper had just declared the seminary would need to close. For 34 years she more than kept it going through repeated challenges such as the panic of 1893 when enrollment dived 27%.

The Jarman remarks I referenced earlier offered this statement: “there has never been anything extravagant about the prosperity of the school.” Yet, how magnificent is our spirit. How noble is our mission.

I am very proud of you. I am very proud of MBC. We, the community of Mary Baldwin College, throughout our continuous evolution, will never lose sight of our legacy, our core values, and our strengths of perseverance, courageous patience, and innovative tradition that have and will sustain us.

Thank you very much. It will be a defining year for our courageous community.