For the last couple of years—which means that the practice now qualifies as a tradition—the President has issued an overview of the institution’s priorities for the coming year. The purpose is not to construct a rigid blueprint or a set of goals and objectives, but rather to summarize the issues we will be addressing, our hopes and aspirations, and the concerns that should receive our attention. Other topics will surely emerge as the year progresses and the ones outlined below will evolve. But it is useful to begin a new academic year with a common framework in the spirit of a shared enterprise—shared by students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and friends.
Liberal arts colleges nationwide are engaged in discussions about student learning. As participants in that discussion, we aspire to lead it on one important aspect and core theme: the evolving role of the teacher-scholar and the centrality of the student-faculty relationship to a liberal arts education. Faculty who are knowledgeable in their fields, skilled in pedagogy and committed to the intellectual and personal development of their students are indispensable to our mission. During the coming year, we shall continue deliberations begun last year on a set of interrelated subjects. These include the close connections among advising, teaching and scholarship; the distribution of resources to promote the professional development of faculty; the benefits that students derive from conducting original research; and what we mean when we say we take teaching and learning seriously. The Lenfest Challenge Grant of $33 million to support faculty salaries, which we must match with an equal amount of private funds by December 2010, and the commitment in the strategic plan to recruit and retain exceptional faculty, obligate us to renew our long-standing commitment to this core theme of Washington and Lee.
Our School of Law also aspires to lead a national conversation. The third year of law school—the bridge to the profession—is ripe for creative reform. Preparing students for the intellectual, ethical and moral questions they will immediately face upon graduation is imperative for our law school. We shall spend the year considering significant changes to the third-year curriculum—changes that will influence legal education well beyond the borders of Lexington.
And finally, we shall seize opportunities for creative curricular development. For example, we need to envision the Spring Term as the platform for challenging courses on important topics taught in accordance with the best pedagogical practices. If the Spring Term is to remain a signature feature of our curriculum, we need to make it the best that we possibly can.
The quadrennial Mock Convention, celebrating its 100th anniversary, will be held in January. W&L will once again be in the midst of national political debates, and our students will once again demonstrate their exceptional levels of political engagement. This time-proven exercise in citizenship reminds us how a liberal arts education can prepare students for lives of responsible leadership. As if to underscore the lifelong involvement of our graduates in public affairs, the Institute for Honor will hold its annual symposium the weekend before Mock Convention. The topic this year is “The Moral Authority of the Presidency.”
In addition, W&L will become even more dedicated to environmental stewardship in its practices and policies. We have recently signed the Talloires Declaration and the President’s Climate Commitment. These pledges call upon us to become aware of our impact on the environment and to implement programs to reduce that impact. We shall also continue to expand our already significant opportunities for service learning and community service. The Shepherd Poverty Program, the Campus Kitchen and the Nabors Service League are among our best known and most successful.
In addition, the Williams School Consulting Group and the School of Law’s Black Lung Clinic continue to serve individuals in need of our students’ expertise. It is increasingly clear that W&L’s mission to educate leaders with an ethic of service and responsibility is not mere rhetoric. We shall devote this year to further development of these programs, while also telling the story of how a W&L liberal arts education prepares students for lives of civic and political engagement.
We aspire to be a community where our students, faculty and staff grow and prosper as unique individuals, even as we commit to a common set of values and principles. For the coming year, we shall do three things:
With the initial funds from our transformational gift of $100 million, we shall launch the Johnson Scholarship Program this year. It will significantly restructure our financial aid programs, ensuring that the best and the brightest—the students with the personal and intellectual characteristics we have always sought—will have the opportunity to attend W&L no matter what their family financial circumstances. The program will also bring to a wider national audience W&L’s strong reputation—and track record—for producing alumni with a strong sense of personal and professional integrity.
The further development of our financial aid programs means that we will be able to meet fully every admitted student’s demonstrated financial need without loans as part of the package.
We shall also use the year to plan for the other aspects of the Johnson program: the establishment of an annual lecture series; the hiring of two new faculty members in prestigious endowed chairs; and the creation of the summer leadership experience for 30 rising seniors.
We have two major planning and assessment tasks this year. One is to implement the University’s Strategic Plan. That 10-year plan requires us now to set priorities within the priorities and to identify the sources and possible timing of funding for the projects. We can’t do everything in this ambitious plan the first year. Pressing in on us right away are critical plans for capital projects: the construction of Wilson Field (actually an unfulfilled component of the previous strategic plan and of the last campaign, now coming to fruition because of the generosity of friends, alumni and parents); the timing of the renovation of Newcomb Hall; the scope and timing of renovations to Leyburn Library; and the construction of the sixth sorority house. We also continue to plan the Center for Jewish Life and seek support for this important project. This year will be a year to detail these plans, to develop the administrative structure within the University to oversee these projects, and to refine our vision—especially for projects such as the replacement of duPont Hall.
We also have to intensify immediately our preparations for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Accreditation is a comprehensive and thorough review of all aspects of education and University operations. Each part of the University and virtually every individual will have some role in the process. This is a genuine opportunity to think hard about what we do, how we do it, how successful we are and where we can improve. We need to begin collecting data, defining our mission statement and goals and earnestly developing assessment plans in order to prepare documentation due in the fall of 2008, in advance of the site visit in 2009. The documentation has two major parts: the Compliance Statement, which documents the extent to which we meet the core standards of SACS; and the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), a University-wide plan to improve student outcomes in a specific area of education.
This is an exciting time for Washington and Lee, an institution that continues to draw from its cherished traditions even as it prepares its students for challenging futures. With deepest appreciation for all that you have already done to help us achieve our goals, I extend my thanks for all that I know you will continue to do in the year to come.