President's Report -- January 2012

January 13, 2012

Dear Willamette community,

Happy 2012, and welcome back to campus! I hope you enjoyed a peaceful and restorative winter break.

I write to you from the halfway point of my first academic year here. Six months have raced by in meetings with hundreds of people, visits with alumni, donors and foundations, and most important, getting acquainted with and learning as much as I can about the university community -- our people and programs.

During this period, you have carried on with the important business of teaching and learning, and we've marked the successful completion of projects started well before my arrival, including re-affirmation of our accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities in August, a very positive site visit from the United Methodist Conference University Senate, and the creation of the Northwest Five Colleges (NW5C) Consortium, funded by the Mellon Foundation.

Although we are all aware of the shortcomings of such rankings, I'll note that last fall, Willamette made the best of the perennial "best-of" lists, from Forbes magazine's "Top 100 Best Colleges and Top 75 Best Business Schools", and Prelaw Magazine's "Best Value Law Schools," to Kiplinger's "Best Value Liberal Arts Colleges," to specific recognition of Willamette's commitment to service (Washington Monthly's Top 30 liberal arts colleges for "contribution to the public good"; the Corporation for National & Community Service's Top Five for Exemplary Service; and Newsweek & The Daily Beast's top schools for "giving back"). These and more can be found at

Whether we like it or not, rankings like these continue to be used by potential applicants and their parents, and we benefit from all this positive attention. Applications for admission to the College of Liberal Arts so far this year are greater than ever, showing that demand for a Willamette education remains strong. Applications to programs in the College of Law, GSE and AGSM are generally healthy, though more mixed, reflecting a national flattening or decline in interest in professional graduate degree programs that is quite different than has typically been seen in previous times of economic hardship.

Despite little economic growth nationally and globally, the university continues to be in good fiscal health, although deferral of maintenance and other capital expenses during this extended downturn has left pressing needs in facilities and technology, as you probably observe every day. This maintenance cannot be put off much longer. It is also important that we find a way to make at least modest progress on salaries, after most were held flat this year. Willamette's endowment is holding steady at $206 million.

What's Next: Developing the 2010 Strategic Statement into a Five-Year Strategic Plan

As I said in several public forums at the outset of this academic year, I have two primary goals for this year: (1) Clarify strategic goals and priorities, with commensurate alignment of resources, and (2) develop a comprehensive implementation plan, including assessment measures. Nearly two years ago, an inclusive campus planning process led to approval by the Willamette Board of Trustees of the 2010 Strategic Statement that identifies a number of shared commitments and broad strategic themes. Together with the draft university-level mission statement and enunciation of shared values, on track to be approved by the Board of Trustees in February, we have a strong foundation for the next phase: school-level strategic and operational planning.

To that end, I have asked each of the academic deans to lead discussions at their respective college or school that will result in a detailed strategic and budgetary plan for each school for the period from 2012-13 to 2016-17. I would like each school to reflect on its own mission and strategic position, and then develop an operating plan that facilitates progress in the next five years on specific internal goals while also increasing its contributions to shared central obligations.

As a secondary goal, I have asked each school to consider and prioritize opportunities over the next decade or so to utilize significant new capital or endowment funding. This is a first step towards planning our next capital fundraising campaign. Integral to the alignment of our resources with our strategic goals must be a development and fund-raising strategy that offers a compelling vision and that comports with identified needs and opportunities. It is my intent that, when complete, each school or college's five-year plan will be integrated with the others and with the Strategic Statement to create a comprehensive operational plan for the university.

I have made a commitment to the Board that we will have this next phase of planning complete in time for their review in October 2012, so that we can use the outcome to guide development of the 2013-14 budget. I will be talking more about this in smaller groups of faculty, students, administrators and classified staff, and will endeavor to keep the community apprised of our progress.

Alignment and Reporting Improvements

Also, in order to better coordinate strategic and operational planning within the College of Liberal Arts, I'd like to announce a modest reorganization of administrative committee structures and reporting relationships.

In the recent past, most administrative coordination has occurred through two standing committees: the Administrative Council, which consists of all of the Deans and Vice Presidents, and the Deans Council, which includes the four academic deans and the Dean of Campus Life. In practice, neither committee effectively serves the purpose of efficiently facilitating coordination amongst the senior administrators who share responsibility for managing our undergraduate programs.

I am therefore establishing a new College Council, to be chaired by Dean Moore and including Dean Douglass and Vice President Rhyneer. This committee of three will be augmented with other members of their staffs as they see fit. The College Council will be the primary administrative coordinating body for the CLA, advising me on issues relating to strategic planning, budget, policy, and college operations. I am hoping that by moving this CLA-specific work from Admin Council to a smaller, more focused group, we will increase transparency of administrative structures within CLA. Among its first tasks, I will ask the Council to consider how it can work effectively with existing CLA faculty committees to ensure robust communication between faculty and administration within the College, and effective shared governance.

Within the College, I have moved responsibility for the Office of the Registrar to VP Rhyneer, who will become VP of Enrollment Management, as has become common at many institutions. This will help us advance towards a longstanding goal of improving coordination between two key student-service offices, the Registrar and Financial Aid, and will bring together our staff members with Datatel expertise in a way that we hope will improve cross-training and backup during busy periods.

In addition, I have asked Dean Douglass to take formal responsibility for the Office of the Chaplains, recognizing the great value that has come from the close collaboration between that office and others in Campus Life. Although this reorganization reflects the fact that much of their daily work is with students, Chaplains Wallace and Wood will retain campus-wide responsibility, including pastoral support of all of our faculty, staff, and students. Finally, earlier this year I asked our General Counsel, Professor Yvonne Tamayo, to report directly to the Office of the President, rather than to the VP of Financial Affairs. These changes are effective immediately.

I am pleased and excited about working together towards a shared vision of Willamette's future; I hope you are too. Thank you for your commitment and support.


Steve Thorsett

President ThorsettPresident Thorsett