Welcome to a new academic year - September 2, 2016

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Welcome to a new academic year!  We were pleased to welcome 700 students in the Class of 2020 last week, and it is wonderful to see the campus back in full swing. At yesterday’s faculty meeting I shared some news about the coming year, and I am writing to share that news with all of you to be sure you are aware of some important initiatives we have to look forward to this year.


At their meeting last May our Board of Trustees approved a series of facilities projects that we will begin or plan for this year.

First, towards the end of the fall semester we will begin construction on a much-needed addition to our admissions building, the Eisenhower House, thanks to a gift from Geoff Jackson ’91 and his wife,  Gretchen. This addition will stretch towards Stevens Hall and will provide additional space for receiving guests, staff offices, and interview rooms, as well as a large room that will be used for information sessions for prospective students.  This space will also support small gatherings and receptions when not in use for admissions purposes.  Our statue of President Eisenhower will be removed and stored safely until the construction is complete, and will be positioned more prominently when it is returned.  We expect this project to be completed by September of 2017.

Second, the Board voted to borrow funds in support of a reconstruction of the end of the College Union Building where the old swimming pool and Bullet Hole are currently located.  The end of the building will be removed and we will build an addition that will house expanded dining capacity, the Center for Career Development, the Garthwait Leadership Center, and some other offices in support of student activities.  If you have been in either the Bullet Hole or the Center for Career Development recently, you know that both are in need of enhanced space, so we are very pleased to be able to move this project forward. Demolition of that end of the building will begin after Commencement next May, and construction will continue through the 2017-18 academic year, with completion of the project scheduled for the summer of 2018. 

Finally, you might be wondering what will happen if we don’t have the Bullet Hole open for a full year! To compensate for its temporary loss, next spring we will put a small addition on the Dining Hall (near Specialty Dining) which will serve as our temporary Bullet Hole.  After the new and improved dining space in the CUB is open, the addition on the Dining Hall will become our new Specialty Dining and what is now Specialty will become space for student seating—once again, space that is sorely needed.

Together these projects will be of great benefit to us all, and will have especially strong impact on the experience of our students and visitors.  We are very pleased that the Board has approved them.


We continue to make excellent progress with our comprehensive fund-raising campaign and look forward to a major campaign event in Boston in October. This summer we crossed the $118 million mark in gifts and commitments.  We have received strongest support for scholarships and annual giving, followed by engaged learning initiatives (such as student research, public service, and career development), and faculty positions and professional development.  We also continue to make progress in raising funds in support of global initiatives, and in particular the renovation of Plank as a global learning center.  I appreciate the work of our Development, Alumni, and Parent Relations staff, as well as the efforts of many other members of our community who have participated in this fundraising effort by participating in events and talking with donors.

Sustainable Excellence

As you all know, our sustainable excellence process has focused on thoughtful use of current resources and the potential for reallocation of some existing funds to strategic initiatives—with the primary goal of assuring that we can continue to offer an extraordinary liberal arts experience to our students while assuring our financial sustainability.  The first phase of this process accomplished through divisional reductions has allowed us to reallocate funds to a variety of areas, including financial aid, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and new regulatory requirements. 

Last year Dan Konstalid and Clif Presser led a second phase of our sustainable excellence process, which focused on three specific areas of potential cost-savings: administrative operations, benefits, and curricular efficiency.   Three working groups were charged with generating ideas in these areas, and I am grateful for the time, effort, creativity, and good thinking that the members of these groups devoted to this project over the course of the year.

The Forward Thinking Group met in May, reviewed all 143 ideas that were generated by these groups, and made recommendations to me about which should be implemented.  I have now reviewed all of the ideas and recommendations and have made some decisions about which ideas we will pursue or investigate further.  Dan and Clif will provide a full report to the campus community on the status of the sustainable excellence process in October with a complete listing of those ideas that we intend to pursue further.

I want to be clear that this is certainly not the end of the consultation process.  Obviously we want to be sure that we are serving our community in the best way that we can, and the input of others will help to guide us as we consider implementation of these ideas.  As an example, we have now established a Benefits Advisory Group that will provide input not only on future health insurance decisions, but also on other benefits.

Strategic Planning

As most of you know, it has been nearly a year since we kicked off our strategic planning process with a gathering of trustees, faculty, staff, and students to talk about the future of higher education and of liberal arts colleges, in particular.  Out of that discussion emerged three themes: distinction; inclusion and internationalization; and innovation.  My thanks to Chris Zappe and Sharon Stephenson who led the planning process last year and helped to facilitate working groups who developed ideas related to these themes.  These groups completed a large and important task in a short period of time, and I thank them for their efforts. The ideas they generated were shared with trustees at their meeting in February, and at a series of meetings with the Forward Thinking Group and with faculty, administrative staff, support staff, and Student Senate. The opportunity for input was provided both in-person at meetings and on-line to all members of our campus community.  During the course of the summer, Chris Zappe and I pulled the pieces of the plan together.  We have consulted with the Forward Thinking Group and will put finishing touches on a draft for the Board to review this fall.

Our location in Gettysburg—as a place of historic significance and with proximity to Washington, DC—was lifted up during the planning process as a truly distinctive feature on which we should build.  Therefore, the draft plan has as its foundation the Gettysburg Address and focuses on preparing students for the “unfinished work” still before our community, our nation, and our world.  More specifically, the draft plan focuses on preparing our students for lives of impact in a diverse and globally interconnected world which is rapidly changing. The foundation of the plan rests on our strength as an excellent residential college of the liberal arts and sciences.

Although there are many goals associated with this plan, key themes include a focus on preparing students for their lives post-Gettysburg by:

  • enhancing opportunities to apply their learning;
  • strong mentoring;
  • an increased focus on social justice;
  • using campus climate survey results to enhance the educational and social climate;
  • increasing the domestic and international diversity of our community and our curriculum; and
  • fostering an innovative spirit of teaching, learning, and working.

We look forward to sharing the full strategic plan with the College community as it is completed.  We believe it represents well the best ideas that emerged during the planning process, and we thank those of you who participated in it.

Some Final Thoughts

I hope all of you read my message to students earlier this week regarding our national climate, a climate that is likely to become even more divisive and emotional as we near the presidential election.  That context makes it all the more important that we teach and model for our students the art of civil discourse, well-reasoned debate, and respectful discussion.  Thank you in advance for your help with setting this example for our students.

My best wishes to all of you for the new academic year, and my thanks for all you do to assure a superb Gettysburg education and overall experience for our students.