The semester ahead

President Bob Iuliano updates the campus community on the status of the curriculum review and strategic plan, and their implications for the semester ahead and Gettysburg College's future.

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to a new year and to a new semester! I hope you all had a chance to relax and to renew after a busy but successful return to fully in-person education this fall. The months ahead promise to be equally busy, as the important work on the curriculum, the broader strategic plan, and our response to a changing enrollment environment comes into clearer focus. It’s work that will help shape the future of the College. As we begin to make concrete decisions in each of these areas, I am writing to offer a few related observations.

We formally launched the strategic planning process in October 2020. In comments at the launch, I spoke to the timeliness of our efforts. The need to anticipate the profound implications following from the declining number and financial means of college bound students. The opportunity before the College to be ahead of the demographic curve and to help define what an ambitious, forward-looking institution can accomplish. The chance to harmonize core institutional processes, including a curricular review the faculty had already begun, the expiration of the existing strategic plan, an upcoming comprehensive campaign, renewed accreditation through Middle States, and a transition in presidential leadership.

Since October 2020, I have watched with admiration and gratitude as more than 60 fellow Gettysburgians have devoted enormous time and creativity to the strategic plan and curricular review. The strength of this institution has long been its people, and that strength has been vividly on display these past 15 months. I know I speak for the community in extending a hearty thank you for the selfless contributions these colleagues—faculty, staff, and students alike—have made to the College.

In large measure, their work is now done. In the coming weeks, the Faculty will begin formal deliberations on the proposals emerging from the Curricular Review Committee and will decide what changes, if any, ought to be made to the existing curriculum. Likewise, the Strategic Planning Committee will soon distribute a draft strategic plan to the community for comment—a document that represents the synthesis of the remarkable thinking done by the various strategic planning subcommittees. The Board of Trustees will have the opportunity to reflect and comment on the draft in February, leading to a request thereafter for the Board to adopt a final plan—and for the College to begin the exciting work of bringing the plan to life.

All of this is occurring in the context of the other conversation on which we focused as a community during the fall semester: the increasingly challenging enrollment and financial environment affecting so much of higher education, including our College. As we have discussed, adjusting to a smaller student body, both in size and means, will require hard judgments and important tradeoffs among competing priorities. While necessary, these are not the actions that will ultimately define the College’s future. In the long run, far more important will be the steps we take to strengthen the College’s attractiveness to prospective students and to diversify our sources of financial support.

This brings us back to the strategic plan and curricular review. The Curricular Review Committee has outlined its vision about what a contemporary liberal arts and sciences education should offer. I look forward to the Faculty’s consideration of that vision, informed by its collective assessment of what the College should do to ensure that we are effectively preparing students for the world into which they will be graduating. I have no doubt that what emerges from the Faculty’s consideration will be the right path forward for our students.

Relatedly, the strategic plan is singularly focused on the student experience—including by seeking to integrate the curricular and co-curricular in ways few other institutions have done, and by creating additional opportunities for students to learn through hands-on activities and structured moments of reflection. In doing so, its purpose is to create a truly transformative undergraduate education. The strategic planning process also calls on the College to look beyond its traditional educational activities as a means of broadening our reach and finding new sources of support for our residential liberal arts and sciences education—the enduring heart of the College.

I recognize that much of what is being proposed would represent significant change for the College, and that institutional change is hard, even more so after the disruptions imposed by the pandemic over the past two years. Yet, we find ourselves in a moment that requires all institutions to adapt to a very rapidly changing external environment. The measure of our success will be found in how we adapt. We have an abiding commitment to preparing students for a life of meaning and service, a mission grounded in our distinctive location and history. By using that as our touchstone—as has been true through the strategic planning process and curricular review—there is no question that the College will approach its third century with the same vibrancy and optimism that has long defined this special institution.

Welcome to the New Year. Thank you for all you will do during this most consequential semester to help shape our collective future.

With warm regards,

Bob