Strategic Planning Committee Focuses on Inclusion

Rachel Needham, Staff Reporter

By the end of the spring ’17 semester, the 2016-17 Strategic Planning Committee will have nearly completed its first phase. Co-chaired by President Kathy Murray, Vice Chair of the Board Nancy Serrurier and Chair of the Faculty Melissa Clearfield, the committee is responsible for designing the future of Whitman College.

“Strategic Planning is something that happens very typically when a new president arrives,” Alzada Tipton, Provost and Dean of the Faculty said. “It’s a good way for the new president’s vision for the College and the College’s vision for itself to come together and blossom.”

From over two dozen meetings, the committee–made up of faculty, staff, administrators, board members and students–has developed five strategic imperatives: Diversity and Inclusion, Access, Academic Curriculum, Life After Whitman and Community Involvement. “We haven’t heard much pushback on any of [the imperatives] … so what we are doing now is just further developing [them],” Melissa Clearfield said in an interview. Subcommittees on each strategic goal are responsible for making specific recommendations and shaping the plan.

Tipton serves with professors on the Academic Curriculum subcommittee. “The curriculum is in the hands of the faculty, and so how the faculty decides to develop the strategic plan is in their hands,” she said. Tipton noted that the College has difficult choices to make in the coming years, especially as student enrollments shift from some departments into others. “My role … is to make the best use of college resources … We’re in a period of reallocation right now, [but] I feel that it’s really important that we don’t lose academic programs here.”

ASWC President Arthur Shemitz (’17) is one of two student advocates on the Strategic Planning committee and also serves on the Academic Curriculum subcommittee. “I think, in my role as ASWC President, what I work on remembering is that in the end, everyone wants to do what’s best for students,” Shemitz said. “We all have different life experiences, we all have different backgrounds, we all have different trainings, and you can end up with really reasonable disagreements about what is best for students.”

Shemitz and fellow student advocated Kaitie Dong (’18) met with around 30 student groups and campus organizations for feedback on what students wanted to see from the 2016-17 Strategic Plan. 

Throughout the planning process, committee members have emphasized that Strategic Planning requires decision-making. “I like to think that in some sense we all share the same goal, which is to make Whitman as fantastic as possible and to bring it to as many people as possible, but … this is about choices,” Clearfield said.

Tony Cabasco, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, serves on the Access subcommittee and knows firsthand how difficult strategic decisions can be. “What we’re trying to do at Whitman is [figure out if we] can find a way to [increase access for low-income students] without sacrificing the things that we like about what we are,” Cabasco said.

Financial aid is a big expense. According to Cabasco, Whitman College spends around $20 million every year on need-based aid, and yet another $4 million in merit awards. To award financial aid, the college has to maintain the ratio of students paying full tuition and those receiving aid. If they get rid of merit awards, Cabasco estimated, many affluent prospective students would choose to attend a college which granted them a larger merit award.

“There is a cost … Something’s got to give. And that’s maybe the challenge to students. I would challenge Whitman students and say, ‘Okay, [in order to have better access] are you willing to give up the Bob Carson Outdoor Fund? Are you willing to give up the 24/7 library? Are you willing to give up small classes? What if the food’s not as good?’ … [Access is] very easy to go in front of Mem and protest, but if you really want the rubber to hit the road, you’ve got to contribute.”

Katie Dong sits on the Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee for the Strategic Plan and hopes students will feel empowered by the strategic planning process.

“[Arthur and I] have heard that students want a voice, but that means that they need to step up and move to action … I want students to know that they can voice their concerns to Arthur and me,” she said.

The Strategic Planning Committee hopes to have a finished outline by November 2017, but even then, there will still be more to do. The process will be open to students and faculty who want to engage in helping to achieve strategic goals. “Next year, there will be even more opportunity to get involved in the task forces,” Shemitz said. “The window isn’t anywhere near closed. The Strategic Plan is getting close to crafted, but the details of that plan and how we achieve that plan is still to come.”