Comings & Goings, University Communications, and Other News

August 19, 2013

Dear members of the Willamette community,

I wanted to welcome everyone back to campus as we embark on a new academic year, and provide a general update on a few notable developments since the end of spring semester: 

In staffing news, Arnie Yasinski will retire from his positions as VP for Financial Affairs and Treasurer of the Board of Trustees at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.  We will have an opportunity in the spring to thank him for his many contributions during the four years he has been here.  Meanwhile, plans for recruiting his successor are currently in the works.  

Curtis Bridgeman, Dean of Law, arrived the first week of July and launched quickly into high priority projects.  Ramiro Flores, long-time member of our CLA enrollment team, was named Teresa Hudkins successor as Director of Admissions.  Erica Charbonneau, most recently from Oklahoma State University, has joined the Advancement team as Associate VP for Development, and James Lippincott arrived in June from the Claremont Colleges to lead the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations.  

As previously announced, Michael Beseda, VP for Enrollment and University Communications, joined us in late June.  Since then, he and I have spent a great deal of time talking about Willamette's communications, reputation, and visibility. 

Institutions like ours — small, private, focused on a high quality personalized education, located outside major media markets — often feel they don’t receive the attention they deserve in a world dominated by large public institutions of higher education. From my first visit to campus as a presidential candidate, and particularly during the listening sessions I held last year, I’ve heard frequently from members of our community that the Willamette story needs to be better articulated and more boldly and effectively shared, so that our many institutional achievements are more broadly known. “Marketing” is a word that does not always fall easily on an academic’s ears, but none of us should underestimate the importance of confidently and authentically telling our story to prospective students and their families, to guidance counselors, to our alumni and donors, to our surrounding community, and, frankly, to ourselves.

Of course, another thing I discovered on my arrival is that Willamette has long recognized this need. A dozen years ago, Willamette’s long-range plan called for “invest[ing] in people and programs to strengthen our visibility so that we become better known by more people.” The last decade saw a number of studies and reports on marketing that made many recommendations, few of which were fully implemented. Except for an effective highlighting of the motto, which has helped communicate Willamette’s service focus, our positioning has been indistinct. I am convinced that our significant investments over the last decade in an expanded faculty, academic facilities, and innovative programs have significantly advanced Willamette as a regional and national leader for educational quality, but if anything it seems that we are losing ground in external visibility and perception relative to our traditional competitors. We cannot allow this gap to grow.

We have a new strategic plan that strongly calls for an emphasis on telling our story better, both at the university level and in each individual school. This time, we cannot afford to “put the report on the shelf” and let things drift. Fortunately, the strategic plan also helps sharpen the story we have to tell: about rigorous, personalized education, about the student experience, about lifelong value and engagement, and about the importance of place. By approaching communications with a “Big W” sensibility and a willingness to collaborate for the good of the whole institution, we can — and will — do better.

Last spring, I announced with his appointment that Michael's responsibilities would be expanded to include leading institutional communications. The search committee that recommended Michael was impressed, as was I, by his experience in this area at an institution that faced many of the same challenges we do now — a diverse set of programs and needs, a highly competitive external environment and limited resources.

I have charged Michael with creating our university-level marketing communication plan, coordinating marketing communication efforts across our various units, and developing a robust university communications function — including media relations, creative services, marketing communications, editorial services, interactive media and internal communication. He will be assisted and advised by a broad-based institutional Communications Council comprised of representatives from faculty, the deans' offices, the President's Office and WITS.

Although its charge is broad, I have asked Michael and the Communications Council to place special priority in the near future on improving our website. As he works to transform the Marketing Communications department into University Communications, Michael will periodically report to the campus community on the work of the council, progress on the plan, and plans for the website.

Beyond the pride we experience when we receive broader affirmation of our institutional strengths, such as our recent inclusion in Colleges That Change Lives, telling our story in a clearer and more compelling manner is a critical step toward achieving our strategic goal for Willamette to be “attractive to students and faculty across the nation and around the globe.”  I look forward to working together in support of this shared vision for Willamette. 

In other campus news, as you may recall, I appointed the members of the President's Working Group on Sexual Harassment and Assault in early summer and gave them their charge, which, along with the membership roster, work plan and meeting schedule, are posted online, see  I wanted to note that meeting summaries will be posted on that site, and most of its meetings are open to the campus community and the public, so I encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity to learn more about these issues.  Working group co-chairs Kristen Grainger and Margaret Trout have engaged the Oregon Attorney General's Sexual Assault Task Force to assist with a campus climate survey and conduct focus groups of students, faculty and staff throughout the fall.  The data and analyses will help inform the working group's final recommendations, scheduled to be delivered in the spring. 

The campus has been busy with facilities work this summer, with substantial maintenance work completed in a number of residence halls (including a major refreshment of Lausanne), as well as turf and track replacements at McCulloch Stadium, and of course the major ongoing remodeling work at Sparks. The latter was made possible by our best year in fundraising since the close of the last campaign, including a new record level of annual fund giving, and a remarkably generous faculty and staff campaign with more than 60% participating.

In light of these and other accomplishments this past year, including the adoption of the new strategic plan, I am feeling energized and excited about the road ahead and I hope you are too.  Thank you for your leadership and commitment to Willamette.   



President ThorsettPresident Thorsett