In the month since the release of the draft Strategic Plan, the Macalester community has turned both a hopeful and critical eye on the proposed future goals. The entrepreneurship section, which promotes increased support of social and commercial engagement and innovation, has received much discussion on campus.
For Grace Putka ’16, the Student Representative on the Strategic Planning Committee, the entrepreneurship section is more about promoting pre-existing practices rather than introducing controversial initiatives.
“The focus of [the entrepreneurship] section is partially about naming a lot of things that we already do at Macalester,” Putka said. “We do a lot of really cool things and we’re sometimes not great about talking about [them] … so I think categorizing some of the things we already are doing really well, in a phrase like social entrepreneurship … is a neat thing to do. Because it makes us more recognizable to prospective students and peer institutions.”
James Lindgren ’15, the Student Organizations Committee (SOC) Chair, said that he too sees social entrepreneurship as a defining part of Macalester. He said he takes issue with the promotion of commercial entrepreneurship in the plan. He views this most distinctly in what he calls the plan’s focus on “vocational preparation.”
“There’s a difference between getting a job and being a social entrepreneur,” Lindgren said. “I think we can do both things, but I wouldn’t say vocation should be a focus of this institution. A focus could be rigorous liberal arts, you know, [a] top-tier liberal arts program as well as a focus on how to create change for social problems. That’s a great mission, that’s a school I would apply to. But I wouldn’t apply to a school or am not interested in a school that says ‘we’re interested in a top liberal arts education that gets you a job.’”
Lisa Hu ’15, the Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees, said criticisms like Lindgren’s have been voiced by several students and staff members.
“Students and faculty seem very hesitant and deeply concerned about this new direction, which some describe as moving away from a reciprocal model of civic engagement and towards a model of self-reliant entrepreneurship,” Hu said.
Putka said many of these concerns come from a misunderstanding of the goals of the section and how they will be enacted.
“We’re not saying that Macalester’s just going to have business classes, because we’re a liberal arts institution. We’re not saying that the economics department is going to host this thing, because it’s really interdisciplinary and I think it’s written … to suggest that we’re hoping for this to be organic,” Putka said.
Putka and Hu said that while they have seen some questions arise about the section, they have also seen a growing support of entrepreneurial habits.
“From my interactions with the Board, I know that some strongly identify with entrepreneurship, and imbue that process with a knowledge of failure, of strategy, of triumph, and of philanthropy,” Hu said. “These folks care enough about this school to want to extend that model to students broadly. From interactions with some students and faculty, there is similar support and willingness to move in this direction.”
While Lindgren may have some concerns, and the responsibility of passing on the concerns other students have shared with him to the Board of Trustees lies with him, he did say that he was glad that students would be able to shape the role of entrepreneurship at Macalester by interacting with the plan.
“I think the role we can play as students this year or in the next few years, is helping the college take action. We can innovate and think about how can we make the Dream It Fund be successful, how can we continue social entrepreneurship. That’s a role that students could be really helpful in the details of stuff like this,” Lindgren said.
Lindgren believes the plan will need to work through some language issues first.
“The reason people don’t like the word entrepreneurship is because it is associated with finance; it’s associated with this capitalistic greed. So let’s not associate with that. Let’s make it about social innovation,” Lindgren said.
Putka said this engagement is important to the success of the plan. By discussing and engaging with the section, the plan will become a representation of what Macalester is to the world.
“This document is going to affect everybody. It’s going to affect faculty and staff, it’s going to affect current students, obviously as changes are made on campus, but even the graduates. When they say Macalester on their resume, you know this strategic plan is going to be what that name means. So I hope that everyone does feel a sense of ownership about this and feels like they have a voice and can contribute, because I really encourage to get involved as much as possible,” Putka said.