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 www.muhlenberg.edu/committees/stratplanning
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?