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Students discuss points of interest, contention at Strategic Plan forum

Members of the Strategic Planning Committee met with students last Wednesday, Nov. 19 from 5-7 p.m. in Weyerhaeuser Chapel for a forum on the draft Strategic Plan.

The forum was organized by MCSG President Rothin Datta ’16 and Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees Lisa Hu ’15.

Datta and Hu decided to hold the forum in order to provide a space where students could hear directly from the Committee as well as voice their concerns about the draft Strategic Plan. Roughly 50 students attended.

President Brian Rosenberg, Associate Dean of the Faculty Kendrick Brown, and political science professor Patrick Schmidt, all members of Strategic Planning Committee, formally represented the Committee at the forum. Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre and Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton observed from the back of the chapel. Only Rosenberg addressed the room, with Brown stepping in to answer one question near the end of the forum.

Hu began the session by acknowledging the enormous amount of effort that has gone into the Strategic Plan, but she then called on students to embrace their role as critical thinkers by questioning the content of the Plan.

Rosenberg explained that the process for developing this Strategic Plan began two years ago, when only half the current student body was at Macalester. A committee writes a new Strategic Plan every 10 years; the last Plan was published in 2005.

This most recent process began by holding listening sessions open to all students on campus that sought to discover what was important to Mac students. It also included questions directed to the Trustees about what objectives the Strategic Plan should address.

Published with the intent to solicit responses and suggestions, the first draft will soon be replaced by a second, which will be released within the next few weeks. The second draft will include changes reacting to feedback, such as designating sustainability a strategic priority.

When the Board of Trustees eventually approves the Strategic Plan, they will approve its main strategic priorities rather than the rationale or specific tactics.

Rather than the signal of conclusion, the Board’s vote is the “moment when discussion begins” regarding actual implementation of the Plan, Rosenberg said. He emphasized that, while discussion should continue once the Board of Trustees have approved the Strategic Priorities, it will be important to make a concerted transition from debate toward implementation. The Plan will simply recommend actions that become subject to regular avenues of implementation on campus.

After Rosenberg’s outlining of the Strategic Plan, he opened the forum to students’ questions. Areas of interest included the college’s financial plan, sustainability, fine arts and theater, diversity, the three-year residency requirement, entrepreneurship and how implementation tactics will be decided.

Sara Saltman ’15 represented the student coalition that wrote STRIVE, the proposed revision to the diversity section of the Strategic Plan, and asked about how the Committee will receive the suggested revisions. After Rosenberg spoke about his overall satisfaction with the section as it stands and stressed the difficulty of taking faculty positions away in order to create new ones for faculty of color, elisa lee ’15 spoke again on behalf of the STRIVE coalition. In a direct response to Rosenberg’s comments, lee said that the students who wrote STRIVE seek a large culture shift that allows students of color to feel that Macalester’s campus is for them rather than simply improving numbers.

Kendrick Brown responded to lee, speaking about his experience in a majority-white liberal arts college. Brown said that a culture shift promoting inclusivity for students of color is indeed a priority for the Committee.

John Stark ’16 asked why no Fine Arts Faculty members served on the Strategic Planning Committee.

Rosenberg responded by saying that Kathy Murray, a very vocal member in the process, is a distinguished pianist and a scholar in the Fine Arts and advocated for them.

Rosenberg also mentioned that efforts toward social entrepreneurship would start from “the ground up.” From his view, this concept is not new to Macalester, as programs like Mac-a-thon and the Live It! Fund show the strategic plan simply needs to expand those programs.

However, Rosenberg specified there would be no additional academic programs or courses to accompany this expansion.

“If anything, that objective [social entrepreneurship] derives most directly from student energy and interest,” Rosenberg said.

The third-year residency requirement was also brought up, and Rosenberg quickly said that all plans for that are “a long time in the making” because there is currently no capacity to house an additional 500 students.

He continued to say that ideally, new housing created for options would actually make upperclassmen want to live on campus. Rosenberg specifically mentioned “living and learning communities.”

Rosenberg returned several times to the same theme: the balance between quality and access in education. Especially in reference to the college’s plan for financial sustainability, but also regarding issues of accessibility and financial aid, Rosenberg stressed that while quality and access are undoubtedly in tension, Mac will continue to work toward both.

November 21, 2014

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