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In recent months President Helm has spent a lot of time on the road, getting to know alumni and friends at various events. More travels are planned for the spring, so check the map to see if we’ll be in your area soon!

On campus, the President has assembled a group of Muhlenberg constituents who are developing a strategic plan for the College’s future. Here are the basics of strategic planning, and what it means for the Muhlenberg you know and love. President Helm wants to hear your ideas, so be sure to meet him at the alumni events listed or visit to learn more and offer feedback!

Q. What do you mean by “strategic planning”?
A. Effective strategic planning means several things: first, all members of the institution must share a clear understanding of the College’s mission and commit themselves to it. So the first step in strategic planning is of fundamental importance: state your mission clearly and make sure that everybody is on board with it. Closely linked to consensus on mission is articulating our shared understanding of institutional values and the basic principles that will guide our planning efforts. Once these conceptual foundations are in place, we can proceed to analyze our strategic strengths – what do we do particularly well in pursuit of our mission? What has made us successful? And finally, we need to consider new strategic initiatives – those investments we can make that will have the greatest impact on our ability to achieve our mission. This is the toughest part, because we will have many more good ideas than we can implement. We have to choose the best ideas, and then commit, as a community, to achieving them. So, in a nutshell, “strategic planning” is about placing the smartest bets on the College’s future.

Q. Why is it necessary? Isn’t Muhlenberg doing well already?
A. Muhlenberg has a long history of continuous improvement and has achieved extraordinary progress on numerous fronts in recent years. So of course we’re doing well in many important areas. In fact, I would venture to say that we’re providing a more rigorous and supportive learning environment than many better-known and better-endowed schools. But we are far from perfect and we dare not be complacent. As Bob Dylan sang almost 40 years ago, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” We have academic programs that have potential for even greater excellence, we have academic support services that are innovative and superb, but stretched too thin, we have facilities that were once state-of-the-art but are now outmoded. Our endowment is too small and, frankly, our alumni giving rate is too low.

Q. Who develops Muhlenberg’s plans for the future? How does the process work?
A. Let me tell you how the process doesn’t work. This is not a process where the President retreats to his Fortress of Solitude and emerges some months later with the College’s strategic plan engraved on bronze tablets! The process has to be highly participatory and consultative because the final product must represent a shared vision of Muhlenberg’s future and how we will get there together. Accordingly, the process includes numerous opportunities for members of the Muhlenberg family to comment on early drafts of primary planning documents and frequent opportunities for open discussion about our priorities. At the core of the process are three groups: The Board of Trustees, the President’s Staff, and a new group convened last fall called “The President’s Planning Group” or “PPG.” The PPG has elected representatives from the faculty, managerial staff, staff associates, service personnel, and student representatives appointed by the Student Government, and members of my staff. Former Interim President Jim Steffy helps me chair this group. Fundamental questions and issues are discussed by each of these groups in a non-linear process that one colleague has compared to the “tacking” of a sailboat. I believe this is an apt metaphor. A plan has to be able to adapt to multiple viewpoints and changing events as a sailboat responds to changing winds, waves, and tides. The process must also be flexible, allowing for give-and-take among these groups. But the process is also open in other ways: a discussion of planning principles with the Parents Council, of fundamental values with the Heritage Society, of the mission statement and strategic goals with the Alumni Executive Council Committee, and of all these documents with various alumni and parent gatherings around the country.

Q. What kinds of things does the committee discuss? Where does it get its information?
A. We started with the basics – the Mission Statement, the key principles that will guide the strategic planning process and the goals of the strategic plan. We then involved faculty and managers in various evaluations, analysis and benchmarking activities. We will examine what’s working, what’s not working, and what could work even better in every area of the College from the academic program to Greek Life and campus atmosphere to finances and beyond. Our consistent measuring stick will be: how effectively can this activity support the mission of the College?



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