By David Svenson
In case anyone is mistaken, Saint Joseph’s Strategic Planning process is for everyone. “A college or university strategic planning exercise is different from what you’d find in other industries,” says President James Dlugos, “where it’s done by a relatively small number of people in upper management. In education, everything we do is in the tradition of ‘shared governance.’” In that collaborative atmosphere, everyone has a welcomed, vested interest in participating.
Before the new Strategic Plan is approved and implemented in the first half of 2014, students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the Board of Trustees will all have had the opportunity to weigh in on different aspects of the College. Facilitating this are the Listening & Visioning Sessions that were held on campus in 2013. These sessions were intended to provide all members of the College community with the opportunity to share their hopes and ideas about Saint Joseph’s future.
These sessions were framed around nine topics: the size of the College; College and campus community culture; academic and educational programs; facilities and physical environment; the College as a place to live and work; Saint Joseph’s image and reputation; revenue sources; the College’s relationship to the region; and the College’s Catholic identity and Mercy values. Students, staff and faculty were invited to these sessions in addition to two sessions solely designed for students.
“The Listening & Visioning Sessions are essential to the Strategic Planning process,” says Dr. Dlugos. “If dialogue is one of the core activities and skills of a liberal arts education, we were practicing that in these sessions. It’s in the moment when you listen to other people, when you share your ideas, your own sense of the world and the possibilities are widened.”
The results of these sessions are a significant part of the entire Strategic Planning process. “They provided virtually all the raw material for what will come out in the plan,” says Dr. Dlugos. “The job of the Steering Committee is to take all of what they heard and put it together in a coherent and compelling vision for the future.”
The Steering Committee is an important part of this process. Composed of staff, faculty and students, it is a diverse representation of the College: Class presidents, professors of art, philosophy, communication and education, deans, and facilities managers.
“I facilitated three Listening & Vision Sessions groups,” says associate professor of education Dr. Janice Rey. “I enjoyed each one. It is always truly informative and energizing to participate in integrated grouping. The opportunities to interact for a specific purpose unite us in a cooperative effort, but also provide us the opportunity to share perspectives. Focused groups like this boldly remind us that we are Saint Joseph’s College, and it takes all of us to reflect, refine and renew our path to fulfilling our mission.”
That committed sentiment is reflected among the student representatives as well. Doe Leckie, president of the Class of 2015, says, “We want to help make changes for the better, so being a part of this process and sharing our perspectives will only make students more satisfied and happy.”
The results of these sessions form the Strategic Narrative: a look into the College’s next decade of advancement. That jump in time doesn’t dampen the importance of being a part of this process for Leckie. It just makes it more important. “I would like to be here to experience the changes we’re planning,” she says. “However, it will give me more of a reason to come back as an alumna and say, ‘I was a part of the reason why this is here now.’”
The legacy that Leckie speaks about is a wise perspective on this process. Dr. Dlugos says that forward thinking and anticipating the College’s future needs are each traditions at Saint Joseph’s. “Every generation is an opportunity to find the right kind of expression of our mission. Sister Mary Xavier Toohey experienced the same thing in 1912, when students told her they’d like to become teachers. And it happened again in the ’70s when the Board of Directors grappled with the idea of distance education. The College has been responsive and innovative in a lot of ways by paying attention to needs and opportunities.”
Claire Bowen ’70, chair of the Board of Trustees, takes it upon herself and the Board to ensure that the voice of the College community is heard and continually considered as the College advances. “We are beckoned to work together with the entire College community to navigate through a period of change,” she says. “As we work together during the Strategic Planning process, I am confident that we will embrace change and transform ensuing challenges into opportunities of distinctive magnitude, while retaining and advancing the core values and sacred mission of Saint Joseph’s College.”