Community Update, April 15, 2016

President Williams writes to the Muhlenberg Community

 Friday, April 15, 2016 10:00 AM

I'm writing to provide you with another of my periodic updates on our progress at Muhlenberg. I have wanted to send these a bit more frequently, but I have been doing a lot of traveling lately to get out and meet more of our alumni and parents.

It has been a busy semester here at Muhlenberg. While we're still awaiting true spring weather that lasts for more than one day at a time, the cold and rain of early spring in Allentown this year have not deterred our faculty, students and staff from completing truly amazing amounts of work. Finals begin in just a few weeks, and the sprint to the finish line has begun. Everywhere one looks, team project presentations are being pulled together, actors, dancers and musicians are rehearsing for productions, and spring sports teams are beginning to think about post-season berths.

Throughout this, my first academic year, I have been traveling to various gatherings throughout the U.S. to meet with our alumni and parents and get to know our community. These “Meet the President” events have provided me with a terrific opportunity to listen to the variety of alumni and parent perspectives on Muhlenberg to complement those of our students, faculty and staff. Prior to Commencement, I will have met with every one of our academic departments and most of our administrative departments. My wife, Diane, and I have hosted numerous student groups (e.g., athletics teams, honor societies, Greek organizations, etc.) for dinners at the President's House, and I have engaged with countless students over lunch in Wood Dining Commons.

One area of focus for me has been to get the Muhlenberg College name more widely known and recognized. In this regard we have been reaching out to the press. Ihad an opinion piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer and was cited inForbes, The Huffington Post,Inside Higher Ed, The Hechinger Report andThe Washington Post, among other media outlets.

The semester has been flying by! Just after the new year, I attended the annual conference of the Council of Independent Colleges in Miami where presidents from over 350 liberal arts colleges assembled to discuss and review various dimensions of what we do. I found Muhlenberg compares favorably to the vast majority of colleges represented at this conference in practically every dimension. Our financial affairs are in good order and we fully expect to end the fiscal year in a strong operating condition.

These are challenging times for much of higher education. There is great concern among the presidents of several other colleges, many of whom are facing declining enrollments, small endowments and challenging budgets. Thus, I am delighted to be able to report the overall state of our College is sound. Most importantly, the strength of our academic programs and the range of our extra-curricular programs and support functions are growing on almost a daily basis. For example, we will soon announce an excellent cohort of new faculty appointments. Moreover, word appears to be spreading that exciting things are happening at Muhlenberg College. In fact, we are seeing increased numbers of students who having chosen originally to enroll elsewhere, are correcting their errors of judgment and seeking to transfer to Muhlenberg.

There is a great deal happening here on campus. We appear to be having a very strong year in admissions. As of April 13, we have filled 73 percent of our target first year class. Last year was also a very strong year, yet on the same date, we had filled 60 percent. Some of this year's results to date can be explained by the fact that our Through The Red Doors accepted student event (which brings together students, faculty and staff from all across the campus to help introduce Muhlenberg to prospective students and parents) occurred a bit earlier than usual, due to the calendar. There is still important ground to cover between now and the May 1 National Candidates Reply Date, but as of this moment, we are in a positive position.

In our efforts to strengthen further the outcomes realized by our students, earlier this year we moved our Career Center to report to our Department of Alumni Affairs. We have since hired a new Director for the Career Center Tom Dowd, who joins us from Lehigh University. Tom is off to a terrific start and we are already seeing excellent developments based on connections within our alumni network to open career opportunities for our students. Just a couple weeks ago, students from Muhlenberg traveled to New York to visit Standard & Poor's, thanks to alumnus Sam Stovall '77. Students heard from Mr. Stovall and several alumni at S&P, as well as talent acquisition representatives regarding opportunities within the company. This is a pilot program that we hope to replicate in the fall of 2016 in multiple metropolitan locations and across a variety of industries.

We are putting the finishing touches on a new mentoring initiative that will be incorporated into a class for a pilot group of students entering Muhlenberg next fall, which will focus on building one's developmental network. Of course, we encourage all our students to reach out to any of the many alumni mentors who are already registered as MuhlNet volunteers.

We are making great progress in our ongoing efforts to upgrade our IT infrastructure. We have increased our Wi-Fi capacity in our residence halls substantially and will continue that work over the summer. Committees are hard at work selecting a suite of modern systems:

  • an upgraded Enterprise Resource Planning system (business process management software that supports integrated applications automate many back office functions supporting almost every function within the College);
  • a learning management system to replace Blackboard;
  • an email/calendaring system; and
  • a phone system

Collectively, these new systems will permit us to operate more smoothly and efficiently.

Here at Muhlenberg, as at many colleges throughout the nation, the issue of race and racism has been a focus of much discussion and concern. We held a terrific town hall on this topic last semester and discussions and planning have continued. The President's Diversity Advisory Council has begun its work to oversee and direct our activities to implement the College's Diversity Strategic Plan (adopted well over a year ago by the Board of Trustees), led by Associate Dean for Diversity Initiatives James Peck. I am delighted to have sponsored two excellent speakers on the topic of Race and Social Justice this semester. Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, spoke to a packed house in the Empie Theatre on Monday, February 29, on the topic “Extremism and Diversity in America.” Tom Gerety, a lawyer, philosopher, university professor at NYU and the former president of both Trinity College (Conn.) and Amherst College, spoke to an engaged audience in the Baker Theatre on April 7 on the topic, “Liberal Arts Reflections on Inequality and Diversity.” Just last week, we hosted Anna Deveare Smith, who also took up these themes in a powerful stage performance.

We will continue to have nationally-recognized speakers on this topic come to Muhlenberg. It is my expectation they will continue to stimulate and inform our discussions on how to move forward on our commitment to equity and inclusion within our community.

We have also formed a President's Committee on Sustainability. This committee will engage the entire Muhlenberg community in an open, participatory process to integrate sustainability into the fabric of our institution. Target areas include academic and co-curricular integration; a comprehensive energy and climate plan; food and dining; purchasing and waste management; and grounds and water management. The establishment of this committee is based on the recognition that addressing sustainability is consistent with the long-term stewardship of the College; our core focus on ethical and civic values, leadership and service; that our actions and operations on campus not only directly impact the health and people in our own community but also contribute to global sustainability challenges; and that we have a responsibility to prepare students in ways that will allow them to contribute to the creation of a just and sustainable future through changes in their lifestyle and through their professional contributions.

Our women's basketball team won the Centennial Conference championship for the second consecutive year. The Mules hosted the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament at home. The team ended the 2015-16 season ranked in the Top 20 in both Division III polls. The Mules were ranked 14th by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and 19th by in the final polls. The WBCA ranking matches the best in an end-of-season poll in program history: Following the 2008-09 season, Muhlenberg was 14th in the final poll.

Unranked in the preseason, the Mules entered the polls early on and remained there the entire year, reaching as high as ninth. They finished the season with a record of 25-3, winning their ninth Centennial Conference championship and earning the right to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, where they defeated St. John Fisher in the first round.

Our ongoing outreach to engage alumni, parents and friends is being met with enthusiastic support for the College:

  • The fourth annual Mule Madness fundraising campaign took place the week of March 14. Sixteen varsity teams faced off in a battle to see which sport has the most alumni athletes, parents, student-athletes and friends giving back to Muhlenberg. Overall, 846 gifts supported the College with contributions totaling in excess of $48,000. The wrestling team won with 68 participation points. Special thanks to Trustee Jerry Galgano '80, P'11, P'14, for once again sponsoring the D-III Challenge.
  • The Muhlenberg Match continues to be an incredibly successful program in raising needed funding for financial aid, study abroad, student research and summer internship funds. To-date, more than $7.6 million has been raised for this important initiative, utilizing more than $6 million of the $11 million in matching dollars available.
  • The Office of Advancement's annual Volunteer Summit brought more than 100 alumni volunteers together on campus April 9. The day consisted of training sessions in social media, career volunteering, fundraising and reunion planning. Training sessions were followed by a lunch and the Volunteer Recognition Awards, which recognized nine of our most exceptional volunteers. The College depends on the work of our tireless volunteers, and we extend our gratitude for all that they do for Muhlenberg!

The annual Lifetime Giving Society Dinner will take place on April 15 to honor donors who have contributed more than $100,000 during their lifetime. These individuals have set fine examples for all of us to follow in being generous in our support of Muhlenberg College.

The College's 167th Honors Convocation and Reception on May 1 will recognize outstanding student achievement.

This summer, our Summer Music Theatre program will feature Gypsy and In the Heights.

Alumni Weekend is September 23-25. The Evening of Distinction event will take place on September 23, where eight Alumni Achievement Awards will be recognized and the Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Society (HMMS) will celebrate its 50th Anniversary.

On April 3-6, seven members of a review team visited Muhlenberg to interview Trustees, faculty, students and staff to ascertain if the College continues to meet the standards of accreditation set by our granting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. This visit was the culmination of 30 months of work by more than 60 members of the faculty and staff, as well as liaison groups of Trustees and students. The Steering Committee was co-chaired by Jack Gambino, professor of political science, and Kathy Harring, dean of institutional assessment and academic planning and professor of psychology. The team gave the College a glowing oral report at the culmination of their campus visit on April 6. However, the final approval lies with the Commission; we look forward to hearing their decision in July.

Finally, here's a link to other College News – just a sampling of the hundreds of events, presentations, and performances that have been going on this semester.

I want to thank the entire Muhlenberg community – both on and off campus – for the effort that has produced the year we have had thus far. Together, we have moved Muhlenberg College ahead farther and faster in just about every area. As I approach the end of my first year as President, I can truly say I'm so very proud, honored and privileged to be charged with the leadership of this outstanding community of people dedicated to learning, and to our students' growth and development. Thank you.