The Mellon Foundation awarded President Celeste a generous self-study grant in 2007. By learning about “best practices” at comparable institutions, it has enabled us at Colorado College to highlight our mission, our unique academic system, and our commitment to building community across the campus.
President Dick Celeste appointed a committee of 25 faculty, administrators, trustees, and alumni to the team. The task was to analyze what makes Colorado College unique and to examine how CC could better achieve its potential.This group visited three excellent liberal arts colleges — Carleton, Davidson, and Grinnell — in 2008-09 to see what we could learn from them. Under the able leadership of Larry Stimpert, professor of economics and business, and with the support of Amanda Udis-Kessler, director of institutional research, we made the most of our whirlwind visits.
Meeting at those institutions with faculty and administrators, we discussed eight broad topics, including academics, student life, finances, human resources, and diversity. Through studying the unique cultures at each of these impressive institutions, we were in a stronger position to define CC’s own mission and distinctive features. All of us came to a deeper appreciation of how CC’s entrepreneurial spirit, especially the independence and initiative that we foster and value among ourselves, both helps and hinders achieving our institutional goals.
These visits paid off in many ways. They allowed us to build good relationships with our counterparts at the other schools. But we were particularly excited to see how this experience helped us recognize a community among ourselves. Although representing different “constituencies” (i.e., departments and offices), we came to realize that we shared many similar values and perspectives. Whether faculty or alumni, business officers or technology specialists, we agreed on the relative strengths of the college and the most important challenges facing us as an institution.
The following year, we began to disseminate what we had learned throughout the CC community. With Larry Stimpert on sabbatical leave, President Celeste appointed us (Rebecca Tucker, art, and Tip Ragan, history) as co-chairs of the Mellon Team. The group hosted dinners with faculty and staff, held a series of focus groups, and fostered conversation across the community, generating terrific questions: What makes Colorado College truly distinctive? What are our fundamental strengths? What are our most-pressing challenges? How do we move the academic program forward? How can we reinvigorate our sense of community?
Randy Stiles, vice president for information management, has created a “Metrics that Matter” report, which looks at factors that we use to measure our successes and challenges. Randy and Gail Murphy-Geiss, sociology, also initiated a program of campus-wide lunches. Attended by current students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the lunches have had an extremely good response; attendees have raved about the productive brainstorming over issues that occurred. Randy and Gail will continue to host these community lunches this year.
One result of the faculty focus-group discussions was the generation of ideas to improve the academic mission of the college. Dean Susan Ashley (a member of the Mellon Team) and the Faculty Executive Committee asked the Mellon Team to structure a faculty-wide discussion at the annual Faculty Fall Forum before the beginning of this academic year. Three proposals served as the focus of deliberations: 1. How to regain the flexibility that was originally part of the Block Plan; 2. How to increase access for all students to the college’s programs and courses; and 3. How to lower class sizes to enhance our pedagogical mission? Following a very active discussion, the faculty unanimously advocated moving ahead on all three fronts.
The Mellon grant has allowed us to move forward on a wide range of initiatives to achieve our goal of providing the finest liberal arts education in the country. We are certain that the payoff from this initiative will continue in years ahead.