Westminster College President Dr. Brian Levin-Stankevich Website
Kick Off Breakfast 2013

Kick Off Breakfast 2013


Good Morning and Welcome! Everyone in this room is part of creating a best-in-class education for our students, for helping them achieve their goals, for supporting each other in our respective roles and responsibilities. We all need to work together to make the whole of this college greater than the sum of our individual parts. From our colleagues who keep our campus beautiful, facilities working, and our campus community safe to those who account for our revenues, track our benefits, recruit our students, help them pay for college, raise scholarship funds, promote the college, coach our athletes and, of course, create, deliver and improve upon an outstanding curriculum and co-curricular experience - everyone makes this college what it is. That's why it's important for us to start this year together.

I want to recognize someone who has been my partner for over 40 years, who is already recognizable to so many of our students and to many of you – our first lady, Debi. I also want to extend my personal gratitude to Emmalee Szwedko and Christian Roberts for their extensive work in planning this breakfast along with everyone who made this possible. And my special thanks to Jen Simonds who has had to work feverishly over the past days to align the faculty retreat with the late summer discussions of the strategic planning steering committee.

It was important to me that we start this year together, but it was also important that this not come at the expense of other priorities we face. We are deeply grateful to two sponsors who have made this breakfast possible.

First, Al Richer, Trustee, CEO of Arnold Machinery, and the donor behind Richer Commons, who has covered half of the cost of this event. Al could not be here with us this morning. Al and I agree about the importance of organizational culture, and that depends on communication and everyone having the opportunity to hear and respond to the same message.

The other half was graciously provided by one of our newest community members. I would like to invite Kenneth Dale to the podium, District Manager for Bon Appetit.

Thanks to both our event sponsors this morning.

I’d like to invite our Vice Presidents to the podium, beginning with Curtis Ryan. They will read the names of those who have joined us since last April and are starting their first full semester with us in their current roles. We’ll ask those who are here to stand and save our welcoming applause for each group.

Normally, we will report out at an All-College meeting in a few weeks. I won’t try to replicate that report, as much of it will not be fully known until a few weeks into the fall semester. Neither will I recount all of our points of pride from the last academic year. I do want to touch on some items that are of continuing interest and relevance as we enter this new academic year.

The final report from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities reaffirmed our accreditation for the full seven year period. There were three recommendations. We will need to report on our compliance with two of them in our First Year Report in Spring 2014, namely the development of a policy or set of policies related to intellectual property and policies related to hazardous and toxic materials. We must include in our Third Year Report in Spring 2016, improvements in the assessment of student achievement of the general education (LE) learning goals. Again, my thanks to Provost Seidelman and to all involved in preparing for and now following up on the accrediting team’s visit.

We opened two facilities last fall. The residence hall – Westminster on the Draw and the Bassis Center. The commercial floor of the Draw remains unoccupied, much to our chagrin. We are up to about 75% occupancy this fall, and we are looking at potential operations that could generate student residency and rental revenue.

A group including David Dynak, faculty representation, Dean Gentile and others has been continuing to work on the Garfield concept. As we clarify our strategic direction, Garfield will need to contribute in multiple ways to our goals and present an attractive project that will garner donor or foundation support. This planning group will present its recommendations by the end of this month, and this project will be a primary topic at the Board of Trustees retreat in mid-September. I am pleased that we were also able to address the access ramp on the west side of Foster over the past couple of weeks as well.

We continued to collect respectable rankings from the Princeton Review of best colleges and of green colleges, an enhanced 4 star Pride College Ranking for LGBT inclusion, and again a listing in Great Colleges to Work For. As we have with the STARS program, it is beneficial to use ranking data in support of further improvements, so in getting 3 of 8 checkmarks on the Great Colleges to Work For survey, I want to know how we can address the other five categories and improve in them.

Last spring, I brought together an expanded budget advisory committee to examine our athletic affiliation with the NAIA and the Frontier Conference and to look at alternatives. There followed discussion with the Faculty Senate and Board of Trustee support to pursue alternatives. We have had continuing discussions with our NAIA conference and with NCAA Division II conferences. We are awaiting an initial consultant report on readiness, costs, facilities, and staffing that will give us a better handle on short- and long-term costs and benefits. Meanwhile, this process resulted in a very promising discussion and plans to expand a number of lower-cost sport clubs that attract good students and aid in our overall tuition revenue.

In fundraising we had a year of mixed results in 2012-13. Our overall philanthropy was less than hoped for. But very positive structural changes have occurred that lay the foundation for future support. 50% of the graduating seniors contributed to the Hardship Fund, meeting a challenge gift in the process; our alumni participation rate reached 15.7% a 16% increase over the prior year and zeroing in on achieving the highest alumni participation rate in the state with Brigham Young currently holding that title and not very far ahead of us. The President’s Innovation Network reached an all-time high membership, and I want to thank all of you for making this past year an all-time high number of faculty and staff supporting the college’s philanthropy. You give of your talent, time and energy, and you show your commitment financially as well. I want to give special recognition to the members of the Employee Giving Committee for their extraordinary work. Would you please stand so we can thank you. I also want to recognize Alan Rogers of the Gore School of Business. Alan called as many of his former students as Advancement could locate and generated over 100 alumni gifts through those calls while also reconnecting with these students in a very personal and special way. Alan, please take a bow.

 

Our scholarship campaign, targeted at $10M, reached $5.9M by July 1, but we have now had major gifts reaching $1.25 M already since July 1 moving the success for this mini-campaign to $7.2M.

 

As many of you are well aware, our enrollment for fall has been lagging behind comparable numbers for last year. We had a large graduating class in spring. Graduate enrollment overall is stable, but redistributed with continuing challenges in the MBA. Dips in MBA enrollment are affecting most institutions as you can tell by the proliferation of billboards, GMAT waivers advertised by the University of Utah, and a decline in tuition support for employees by many firms. The freshman class is about 30 students smaller than last year. Interestingly, we received just over 30 deferrals from students going on LDS missions and other service travels. How many students simply did not defer their admission for these reasons is unknown, and we will not be able to decipher the effect of public in-state tuition to non-residents until sometime in the spring.

Nevertheless, we are off to a great start thanks to all of you involved in welcoming new and returning students to the college. Parents raved about their experience and the process of entering Westminster. Thank you to all who have been and continue to be involved in the start-up activities of the new academic year.

· Financially, although we are still auditing the 2013 fiscal year, we expect to close the year with a modest surplus, the 30th straight year of financial health. We continued to fund projects improving our facilities, faculty and staff raises, and health care premium increases. I want to particularly thank everyone for your stewardship of resources in aiming for our 5% savings target. This year will also be a challenging year, but we have shown that this community can work together to assure that priorities are met.

Importantly, as you heard from the introduction of our new employees, we continue to attract outstanding talent. We are engaged at present in a number of searches that continue into the fall semester.

What does all this tell us? First, we are financially sound. We have continued to grow the endowment, slowly but steadily. Scholarship investments are holding their value. We are off to a much better start in fundraising than last year. But the endowment fund at 5% maximum payout and largely in scholarships is no substitute for operating funds. We remain tuition driven in our budget, and that means enrollment is our coin of the realm.

Second, although we can find all sorts of explanations for what is now a three year trend at the undergraduate, transfer and higher revenue graduate levels, we clearly need to improve our recruitment and retention strategies, marketing and new revenue opportunities. We also need to accept the need for a more realistic relationship between admission criteria and processes, academic policy and planning, and our actual applicant pool.

Certainly smart recruitment and strategic marketing will have some results, but they won’t materially alter the basic nature of our applicant pool. That will require changes in some form to the four “Ps” that comprise success – Product/Programs, Promotion, Pricing and Place. However, we should heed the indicators (enrollment, room occupancy, applicant characteristics, financial aid stresses). We are doing well on net tuition revenue per student for freshmen and on holding our discount rate at what is actually an enviable level among institutions like ours.

But we have significantly fewer of our applicants and enrolling freshmen from the lower family income levels, many increasingly deciding to attend lower cost institutions. We need to address cost, for it results in less, not more diversity in every sense of the term. Unless we embrace change that can attract the student who will be successful and bring diversity to our campus, simply increasing our promotion without addressing price, product and place will amount to no more than talking louder to the person who just doesn’t understand English.

Externally, there continues a drumbeat. Education is too expensive. Your business model is broken. MOOCs are the answer. So-and-so will disrupt Harvard and the elites. A tsunami is coming. College isn’t worth it. Disrupters are everywhere. Did I say: a tsunami is coming? Even President Obama jumps on this bandwagon.

This is the background, internally and externally, against which we are engaged in charting a strategy for our future.

In my inauguration speech, I talked about a number of my core beliefs and values. I think you will see that I intend to stick to those even as I continue to learn more about our community here at Westminster.

A key theme of my speech last October was the Franciscan definition of labor – to give example and to serve. I have worked to do just that during my first months at Westminster. Pretending to know enough to lay out a strategic direction for the longer term in just a few months would have been rash and rather arrogant. I have spent this past year learning as much as I could from you, from our students and graduates and from our neighbors in this community. Yet as I did so, I also focused on how I might give example and serve.

 

To me, the culture of an organization is paramount. It is the context in which every behavior, decision and judgment is made. I have tried, in my interactions with you to encourage conversation, to accept questioning and constructive criticism as healthy to our dialogue and our sense of community, to exercise inclusion, and to treat artificial divisions among us as just that - divisive, because I value these behaviors in the working environments I’ve most enjoyed.

I have attended faculty meetings and senate meetings when appropriate. I have held roundtables with students. I tried to visit with and listen to as many of you as I could manage. I don’t know all of you yet by face and name, but I’m getting there. I worked with a broadly representative group of faculty and staff to discuss budget priorities and athletics. I created a cabinet that includes administration, faculty, students and now a staff representative. Kelly Hill brought together, at my request, a working group of staff who have formed a plan to create a Staff Involvement Group. This will provide an opportunity for staff, hourly as well as salaried, to participate more fully in the life of the college and to have their voice heard on matters that affect them and the important roles they play in the lives of the college and our students. A staff retreat will be scheduled very soon and more information forthcoming in the next couple of weeks. We are all in this together.

I have also tried to serve, and my service obligation now is my duty to provide parameters and guidance based on what I have learned and to set our course for the immediate and longer-term future.

You will learn that barring some radical change in our environment, I will almost always talk about and explain what I expect or intend to do.

I want to recall some key points I made in my inauguration speech.

· Our graduates should be prepared for more than just employment, but they also need to be prepared to step into a job/career.

· Liberal education is a set of outcomes, not specific disciplinary knowledge. We all contribute to these goals.

· We must broaden opportunities for access to Westminster and focus on affordability as a key to that access.

· We need to adapt to technology and delivery systems but they do not trump our reliance on human relationships.

 

Collectively, we share a strong and consistent core of beliefs and values that course through the entire history of this college. After decades as a secondary school and then a junior college, Westminster became a four-year college in 1944, offering majors in Secondary Education, Biology, Chemistry, English, History, Music, Philosophy and Business Education along with Premedical, Pre-dental and Secretarial science programs. Since that beginning, we have had to react to the enrollment-driving or enrollment-depleting effects of wars, economic booms and recessions, and demographics. This college has chased after enrollment with inconsistent results.

What has remained constant has been the insistence on relationships as the fundamental building block of learning and of community.

I believe that our Westminster community is today poised to respond to the challenges surrounding us in higher education, that we are obligated to raise the standards of the dialogue about learning and education and to seize an important leadership role not only among independent institutions like ours, but internationally. Amid all the hype about disruption and tsunamis are a dire need and a deep longing for a truly legitimate institution to step forward and show how the best of what is new to education can be used in a framework that preserves the best of traditions. While some are using on-line course distribution to finance real campuses and real faculty, they do not often come from a tradition of relationship-based, residential learning with a sense of place and history. Westminster has responded to changes in the environment by innovating, sometimes with specific programs to reach new student markets and in more recent years by adopting active, experiential and engaged learning. As an independent college, we have the flexibility and nimbleness of our own board and governance, manageable scale, and versatile talent that others do not possess. Moreover, we are at a critical point of creating a living strategic plan, setting our core themes for the next seven-year accreditation cycle, and assessing our liberal education outcomes and how to achieve them.

Our values and beliefs and the progress made during the prior strategic plan have put Westminster in a position to model a truly unique learning environment. Nearly every program has embraced advancements in active, experiential and engaged student learning. All students will be documenting their learning in creative and individualized portfolios. Programs that use project-based methods and embed competency-based assessment of learning outcomes throughout the curriculum have evolved and demonstrated their value and the extraordinary enthusiasm of their graduates toward their experiences. Formal coaching and mentoring programs and practices have helped to reframe our thinking about those relationships that we believe are so essential to the success of our students and our graduates. Our staff members are deeply committed to student success and the provost’s recent reorganization undergirds that commitment.

We have fully operating degree programs that prove the concepts that are now called competency-based assessment. We have an inclusive mission that is built more on a philosophy of learning and expectations of outcomes than on limiting that learning to any one type of student, field of study, or form of pedagogy. We have the support of technology-knowledgeable colleagues who are extraordinary in my own experiences, who are true partners in our academic and administrative roles and who were rightly singled out for recognition by our visiting accreditation team members. But most distinctively among institutions that are forging new thinking about higher education, we believe that faculty members are essential to the curriculum and to our success. In this regard we stand in sharp contrast to those who would have faculty move from sage on the stage to guide on the side to “cheerleader” in the stand.

We all know about our success in the traditional class-based form of education. We do not all know about our successes in alternative models. They evolved in isolation and organizationally discrete units. We have taken down those walls in order to create understanding and ownership, but also to create dialogue and learning so that we bring the best of all worlds to our students.

Listen to what students have to say about their experience in just one of these programs, the MSC:

“I got more personal attention in this semester than I’ve gotten in any other academic setting.”

Like each of our “competency-based” programs that use a formal coaching or mentoring approach, the students are enthusiastic fans who want to turn around and give back to the next cohort of students unlike any I’ve ever witnessed.

“This is not like those online courses.”

“I got something that students in no other programs will have.”

These innovations are the result of the last strategic plan. Our future needs to build on these achievements.

That has been the effort of our strategic planning process. Over the summer, working with the steering committee and our consultant Ian Symmonds, I have repeatedly pored through all of your recommendations and comments, our foundational documents, and our history. We begin today to work toward creating the measurable and targeted goals that will support a living strategic plan that includes important contributions from all of us and that vaults Westminster into a position of leadership in learning.

In our work to date the Strategic Planning Steering Committee has incorporated the input from the town halls and the working groups into five Strategic Priorities. They are:

An Empowered Student Learning Experience – creating a “best in class” student learning experience regardless of program, place or degree level.

Excellence – what we choose to do, we should do with a commitment to excellence. We should not confuse rigidity with rigor.

Innovation – continuous improvement, a living strategic plan and investments targeted at strategic outcomes to create best-in-class learning environments.

Inclusion – a culture and improvements that make diversity and access possible. Each of us seeing our role in learning, excellence, innovation and stewardship.

Stewardship – a conscious and collective development and stewardship of our resources, human, fiscal and physical.

We have labeled these priorities: Learning Empowered.

These are included on a handout available to all of you as you leave Behnken this morning along with the overview of campus recommendations from our gatherings in the fall and spring. Faculty members will use this in their discussions with steering committee members at their retreat this morning. Staff members will work in similar fashion when we schedule your retreat date and time. I have asked Brian Fredericks, ASWC president, to develop opportunities to involve student input as well. From there we will create implementation teams to develop and then continuously monitor progress on our priorities and specific goals. Our expectation is to present a planning document and process to the Board of Trustees in time for their November 7, 2013 meeting.

This plan must prioritize an even more aggressive integration of the successful approaches to teaching and learning that evolved in our previous plan.

Composing words to use this morning was difficult, because I know that no matter what I say, two of you sitting beside one another will walk away having heard very different versions. Many of you will believe that what I've said supports your view of the world, even if it didn’t. So let me be very clear and specific about a couple of things. We must continue to change. We must use the tools that we've already created to lead that change and the practitioners of those skills to teach us how to use them. Years from now, we might well still have some courses that meet on a schedule familiar to us today. But the student learning in them will be conceived, demonstrated, measured and recorded in ways that mirror the learning that occurs through more active and experiential pedagogy and competency-based assessment of learning. We will also have students meeting our expectations for mastery in other, different ways. I will invest in making sure that we take advantage of the position we are in and that we continue to lead in the development of curricula that empowers students, that achieves even higher levels of learning and deeper levels of understanding than today, and that offers greater access to a Westminster degree for a diversity of students.

It is time to reach the next level in creating learning environments that exceed expectations of excellence, engagement and inclusion. We who are Westminster will set a standard for transformative learning that incorporates our belief in the importance of human intellectual and social relationships, assesses and demonstrates what students learn and what they can do with that learning, applies the most appropriate teaching and learning models, and supports students through mentoring and coaching practices within and outside the curriculum.

We will welcome ever more diverse learners in a campus-based environment, while we also bring together the best of tradition and innovation to benefit students beyond our campus boundaries. We will demonstrate that Westminster graduates acquire the skills and attributes for success, that access to Westminster can be broadened, and that this education can be affordable, all while preserving our principles.

It is Westminster's time to show how a college dedicated to the best attributes of a “small college” and a commitment to student preparation through the liberal arts and professional study can meet the challenges of a changing environment and how that education can be even better than the past or the present has demanded. We will take the high road in meeting the challenges to higher education.

This is our time to lead. It is Westminster’s time to “give example and to serve.”

Thank you. Have a great year!