The Colgate Scene
March 2004

The strategic plan
Tradition and aspiration
Amplifying Colgate's academic excellence

The contributions of faculty members such as Jerry Balmuth, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of philosophy and religion, have helped Colgate to nurture a strong sense of community. The strategic plan, committee members say, will position the university to define a new type of liberal arts education, one that responds to the opportunities and complexities of the modern world. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

When the university's trustees hired Rebecca Chopp in July 2002, they charged the new president with "amplifying Colgate's academic excellence." Eager to move ahead, but well aware that she had a great deal to learn about an institution that was already ranked among the best in the nation, President Chopp called on Colgate insiders to recommend ways to achieve the trustees' goal.

The result was a 13-month planning effort that identified strategies to enhance the university's work for students on three fronts:

  • Multiplying connections between students and faculty members by building on the faculty's record of original research and creativity
  • Reinterpreting the liberal arts skills of communication and critical thinking to take into account 21st-century challenges and opportunities
  • Building on Colgate's strong sense of community, locally and globally

In announcing that the trustees had approved the plan unanimously at their October 2003 meeting, Chairman John Golden '66 said: "This plan recognizes the quality of the faculty and their dedication to students, the strength of the liberal arts core and off-campus study, our tradition of community, our commitment to diversity, and our record of innovation and leadership in higher education. It is a visionary plan that will make Colgate the model of a liberal arts university, providing the kind of education that our motivated and highly qualified students expect."

Planning began just two months after President Chopp's arrival on campus when she asked Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jack Dovidio -- a professor of psychology who has taught at Colgate for a quarter of a century -- to lead a steering committee of faculty members and senior administrators charged with developing a plan that would shape the institution for the next three to five years.

Assisting Dovidio was Vice President for Administrative Services Mark Spiro. Drawing on experience planning at other colleges and universities, Spiro created a structure to ensure that the process was inclusive and collaborative and reflected the best practices known for strategic planning. Kim Waldron '81, a one-time faculty member now serving as secretary of the university, staffed the 22-member committee, which included representatives from every academic division and major administrative area.

The group devoted weeks to meeting broadly with alumni, students, parents, townspeople, and members of the faculty and staff as part of a "SWOT" analysis of Colgate's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats -- opening the process to anyone who had a stake in the university. Committee members also met in smaller working groups to examine issues such as financial aid, student and faculty diversity, intercollegiate athletics, and the university's role in the region, and to research literature and websites for data and examples that would contribute to a greater understanding of Colgate's place in higher education today.

"Universities are distinct, not because they have one special program, but because through a variety of programs, traditions, and a culture with a particular personality they offer a distinct profile," the president wrote in a message to trustees. The steering committee spent months refining its understanding of Colgate's profile as a basis for its recommendations.

They found a university larger than many of its peers, with more available majors, minors, and courses. Off-campus study programs were among the strongest anywhere. Measures such as publications, grants, and awards showed the science faculty to be among the top ten teaching at liberal arts colleges. Increasingly competitive admission had produced a student body of high academic achievers, although some admitted prospects were still electing to attend colleges they perceived to be more scholarly, more diverse, or with a greater emphasis on the arts.

Colgate's campus was viewed as an exceptional asset, although with emerging needs for facilities in some areas. Some prospective students described the region as an attraction, while others viewed Hamilton as isolated. Members of the faculty were eager to help students improve their communication skills. A Division I athletics schedule set the university apart from most other top liberal arts institutions. The required core of liberal arts courses was a nationally recognized strength. The endowment was among the lowest of Colgate's peers.

While the planning committee was doing its work, a separate task force on campus culture concluded its study, recommending changes in campus life that included university acquisition of houses owned by fraternities and sororities. The task force findings led to the development of a four-year program for residential education that was incorporated into the strategic plan.

Strategic plan webcast Tuesday, March 23 at 7:00 p.m.
Join an online discussion of Colgate's new strategic plan, hosted by President Rebecca Chopp, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jack Dovidio, and Dean of the College Adam Weinberg.

Alumni, students, parents, and friends of the university are invited to read the strategic plan and submit questions before or during the discussion: visit or

Questions? Contact the alumni office at

By supporting faculty members who develop new methods of teaching and research, the university will encourage a more dynamic and open curriculum and promote innovation within and among departments. (Nina Moore, asssistant professor of political science, leads a discussion with her class.)

A liberal arts university
The combination of Colgate's assets that was revealed during the research process steered the planning committee toward the concept of a "liberal arts university." Their plan capitalizes on Colgate's size, which is larger than most undergraduate liberal arts colleges yet smaller than most research universities. It draws on the scholarship of a faculty whose research interests are more akin to those typically found at a research university, but who are attracted to Colgate by the opportunity to teach undergraduates. And it builds on the distinction of being one of the smaller institutions -- an undergraduate institution at that -- playing intercollegiate sports at the highest level of the NCAA.

Colgate, the committee reasoned, draws on qualities usually found in two distinctly different types of institutions: liberal arts colleges and research universities. Small, student-centered, with an emphasis on the interaction between undergraduates and faculty, educating also through residential and extracurricular life, liberal arts colleges provide an educational base for life in an interdisciplinary world. Research universities, larger, attracting faculty who are at the frontiers of their disciplines, introduce graduate students to the thrill of conducting original research, what President Chopp refers to as "creating knowledge." The committee found that Colgate, with a faculty of active scholars who are drawn to teach undergraduates, and who engage those same undergraduates in the processes of discovery and creativity, offers both.

Colgate is also grounded in a broad general education program taught in a residential environment, where faculty scholars teach every course and regularly engage students outside of class. But with its larger size, the university is able to offer more courses in more disciplines, more opportunities for off-campus studies, more chances for students to join teachers in original scholarship, and more energy in a setting with more residential and extracurricular options to get involved.

"Colgate's robust personality is what makes the model of the liberal arts university work," said President Chopp. "I'm struck by how engaged, ambitious, and energetic our students are -- it's visible in the classroom and in the campus culture. Our students balance being community oriented with being intellectual entrepreneurs. And our faculty members combine original scholarship with committed teaching in ways that are rare, in my experience. These qualities reflect the kind of people who have been drawn to the university over the years, creating a kind of Colgate DNA that, to me, is the glue that enables us to bring the values of the liberal arts college and the research university together in one setting."

The strategic plan, committee members say, will position Colgate to define a new type of liberal arts education, one that responds to the opportunities and complexities of the modern world. It offers a new model for residential education, and creates a modern community-based context to inform tomorrow's moral citizens and leaders.

President Chopp says the plan provides a context for "teaching core values as decision-making principles." Put another way, Dovidio said, "If someone with this education becomes president, we'll all be well served."

An important aspect of building community is to boost opportunities for civic engagement by students through volunteer activities such as the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program. Pat Kosiek '05 (front) works with Diana Cromp, assistant director of administrative services for the Madison County Department of Social Services, to prepare an electronic tax return for local resident Kristi Strong. Approximately 15 to 20 Colgate students volunteer for the VITA Program each year.

Learning through discovery and creativity
The strategic plan recognizes that, during a time when social and cultural boundaries change by the hour, undergraduate education should introduce students to new ways of discovering and analyzing the world. By establishing advanced research institutes through which faculty experts address pressing problems of the day, by advancing the creative and performing arts, by continuing to support and develop faculty scholars, and in doing so expanding opportunities for teachers and students to connect and collaborate, Colgate expects to become a model for integrating research and creativity into the liberal arts.

The plan seeks to offer to undergraduates learning experiences that are almost always reserved for graduate students in elite institutions. Those experiences would distinguish Colgate alumni as they apply to top graduate schools, enter the competitive job market, and join communities around the world.

Chemistry professor Ernie Nolen compared his lab experiences as a graduate student with the lab work he provides to his undergraduates: "I'd spent 16 years in classes, including four in college, before they threw me in a lab in graduate school, undirected. Of course, I had four years to learn to make something work. When we bring our undergraduate assistants into our labs here, they have one year to learn,

so we are eager to help them come up to speed." At Colgate, undergraduates assist professors on their research. "Sometimes their observations are pivotal," said Nolen.

Because modern research increasingly involves collaborative efforts across different disciplines and fields, Colgate will weave an interdisciplinary approach into the fabric of the liberal arts. Students and faculty members will work across programs and disciplines even as they master the depth of knowledge within traditional fields of study. Since the 1920s, the general education core program has helped students understand the integrative, interdisciplinary nature of the world. A more dynamic and open curriculum will build on the lessons of the core curriculum, encouraging innovation and providing more choices and flexibility.

A new science building will be designed and equipped to promote discovery across disciplines. Following a January trustee discussion of the program for the new science building, Trustee Gerald Fischbach '60, who is dean of medicine and vice president for health sciences at Columbia University, called the plan "a crucial investment, thrilling and transformational," and predicted that it will attract more of the most talented students in the sciences.

Some of the older buildings on the Quad will be adapted to house advanced research institutes, such as the Upstate Institute (January 2004 Scene). The university will promote the development of as many as four interdisciplinary institutes over the next several years, including a plan to develop an institute around the current Center for Ethics and World Societies.

The underlying principle is a desire to multiply opportunities for students to do real research with scholars who are also the university's only teachers. Students and scholars will collaborate on original research, and students will have opportunities to present their work in departmental seminars and at an annual Colgate conference on undergraduate research.

A renewed emphasis on the creative and performing arts will help cultivate undergraduates' understanding that the arts are fundamental to the education of whole persons, crossing cultures, connecting past to future, enriching the heart and mind, and communicating in the most personal ways. Celebrating the arts in many forms will also serve as another medium to bring campus and community together.

By supporting faculty who develop new methods of teaching and research, the university will encourage a more dynamic and open curriculum and promote innovation within and among departments. Through summer research and extended study, students will have more opportunities to engage with Colgate throughout the year and around the world.

"Colgate's robust personality is what makes the model of the liberal arts university work."

Liberal arts for the 21st century
"Colgate has traditionally educated the whole person -- mind, body, and heart -- in the belief that grounding in the liberal arts is the best preparation for career satisfaction, engaged citizenship, and personal well-being," said President Chopp. "Whatever paths they choose, Colgate graduates are enriched by having learned to ask questions and make informed judgments; they know that wisdom is the product of critical reflection. That knowledge carries through in all they do."

For generations, the core curriculum and first-year seminar have begun the process of liberal education by introducing students to common readings, reflective questioning, and the development of discerning judgment.

The goal of the strategic plan is to educate not only wise citizens and leaders, but also persons who can communicate in multiple ways and in diverse contexts, persons who will embrace the traditional skills that have always been at the center of successful communication, while having access to the technological resources that make modern transfer of information instantaneous and worldwide.

Colgate will improve and expand the teaching of fundamental skills in reading, writing, and quantitative literacy. At the same time, the university will expand its teaching of liberal arts skills to embrace the technological advances of the 21st century. The plan calls for a Center for Academic Support and Faculty Development to refine the teaching of liberal arts skills. It also projects a review of the liberal arts core curriculum, continuing the tradition of renewal that has kept the core current since it was introduced in the 1920s.

Other initiatives, including those such as the First-Year Life Skills program and the sophomore Arts of Democracy program incorporated in residential education, will help students learn how to write a 20-page essay and a three-page memo; how to engage in political debate and how to succeed in a job interview; and how to use technology to manage vast amounts of information and to write simply and clearly.

Within the year, Colgate expects to break ground on an ambitious renovation and addition to Case Library that will combine the resources of the library and information technology under one roof. Projected at $45 million, the library/information technology center will provide future generations of students and faculty access to the full range of tools and techniques used to convey knowledge in the 21st century. The center will also serve as a gathering place for people (and ideas) from across the disciplines.

The new strategic plan seeks to increase the connections between students and faculty members by building on the faculty's record of original research and creativity. Ernie Nolen, associate professor of chemistry, said the observations of undergraduates who assist faculty research are "sometimes pivotal."

Building community, locally and globally
As a residential college, Colgate has always recognized that, although people think as individuals, they learn by interacting with others. Participating in the life of the campus has helped generations of students prepare for lives as responsible citizens and leaders in communities around the world.

The strategic plan acknowledges that modern communities are more fluid. As instantaneous communication makes distances shrink, communities are as easily international as they are local. Successful citizens in tomorrow's world communities will imagine issues from many perspectives and bridge disparate points of view. Colgate aspires to build on its tradition of participation to make campus life a model for learning the skills of citizenship in that shrinking world.

Colgate students live in a world that is increasingly influenced by many cultures. In their careers, in their enjoyment of the arts, in their neighborhoods, their future success will be determined by their ability to understand and embrace the viewpoints of people whose backgrounds are different from their own. Future Colgate students will define diversity not as tolerating difference, or even as justice, but as an opportunity to expand their understanding and knowledge -- their worldview -- for the good of all.

The strategic plan calls for enhancing programs such as off-campus and extended-study groups that introduce Colgate students to other cultures. Refining student and faculty recruitment, and expanding programming in the arts and visits by distinguished guests will ensure the campus reflects the world beyond the Chenango Valley.

But the goal is not just to be connected; it calls for true engagement. Colgate plans to continue its partnership with the village and town of Hamilton and to expand its presence in upstate New York. The university will be an active supporter of regional vitality and development, and in doing so will provide students with opportunities to learn by doing.

The university will also invest in what Dean of the College Adam Weinberg calls "a pedagogy of student life," creating opportunities for students to apply knowledge and develop leadership skills throughout their college experiences, in and out of the classroom.

"A Colgate education should help students become entrepreneurial citizens with the integrity, understanding, social imagination, wisdom, humor, and passion to realize their personal dreams while serving as true leaders in a democratic society," said Weinberg.

With the president, Weinberg has authored a vision for residential life recognizing that, as students move through the process of becoming adults, they come to understand the contemporary global context in which they will live. The university has a goal of developing a four-year residential education system that will become a benchmark for maintaining close student/faculty relationships; preparing students for an increasingly competitive job market; increasing students' civic engagement; and embracing diversity in many forms.

A First-Year Life Skills Program will help incoming students make the transition to college life. A Sophomore Experience in the Arts of Democracy will give students opportunities to explore major public issues. Juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to live as part of the Broad Street Community with select groups of friends in self-governed, university-owned houses.

As part of the Broad Street Community, Colgate plans to continue the fraternity/sorority system with university guidance and oversight to ensure continuity and consistent opportunities for leadership and personal growth. Toward that end, the university seeks to acquire all Greek-letter houses, and will invest in making the properties attractive and safe residential options.

'We will reform liberal arts'
"Our vision for Colgate is student centered," President Chopp wrote in a letter to trustees. "We will reform liberal arts by multiplying connections between faculty and students as they advance the frontiers of scholarship. We will reinterpret liberal arts skills through the mediums used in the 21st century. And we will expand our community internationally, locally, and in relation to the diversity that characterizes the modern world.

"The plan addresses areas where we need more focus, such as athletics, and more support, such as the arts. Alumni support, imaginative public relations, and the creative use of financial aid to enroll the right class will help us achieve our goals. The expanded Case Library/technology center and the new interdisciplinary science building will provide the stage for the next chapter in Colgate's history and signal the university's forward momentum." -- JL

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