She Can See for Miles

The year is 2024. You have just arrived back at Colorado College, the place you once called home. The place where you dressed in spandex more often than you thought possible. Where you developed your intellect and made friendships you still cherish. The mountains look majestic, as always, and Rastall is still the peculiar social dining experience it was those many years ago.  But something has changed. CC isn’t quite the same place it was 10 years ago. It isn’t just the people who are different. You look around and there are impressive buildings you don’t recognize. Faculty members possess airs of grandeur, and something of an über-block-plan is breaking in a new breed of student. It is still CC, but it certainly makes you wish you had been born 10 years later.

Change is to be expected, especially after a decade. However, you can’t help wondering how CC achieved so much in such little time. You think back to your college years and try to find an explanation. That’s when you remember—Jill’s plan for the future.

This plan for the future, or as CC President Tiefenthaler calls it, “Strategic Planning,” is a college-wide initiative that seeks to build upon the college’s strengths, significantly enhancing what the college can offer its students. It is part of a three-year process of determining the future of the college—a future that Jill hopes will transform CC into the finest liberal arts institution in the country. The process began with the “Year of Listening” at the start of the 2011-2012 academic year. It is taking shape this year with the “Year of Planning,” and will culminate next year in the “Year of Innovating.”

“The term ‘Strategic Planning’ sometimes gets a bad name, but overall it’s just making a plan for your future,” Tiefenthaler said. “That’s important for several reasons, I think. One is so you can think about how you use your resources on campus … to focus on something rather than just … randomly distribut[ing] [them]. You can really think about who you want to be, and what you need to do to get there.”

One of the most crucial aspects of this process is happening this year. Since Block 1, five different committees of faculty, staff and trustees have met  regularly to discuss, reach out and plan. These are the Steering Committee, the Engaged Teaching and Learning Committee, A Distinctive Place of Learning Committee, the Extending Our Reach Committee, and the Institutional Effectiveness Committee. With the community’s input, the committees will have vast influence over what our alma mater will become.

“The vision of who we want to be shouldn’t be the president’s vision or just the board’s vision, but it should be of those people as well as the faculty, staff, students [and] alumni,” Tiefenthaler said.

The Extending Our Reach Committee, for example, is in charge of assessing how we can become better at what we do, and how our entrepreneurial spirit can extend its reach. “Our committee has chosen three goals,” Elliot Mamet, Constitutional Vice President of the Colorado College Student Government Association, said. “One is to promote the Block Plan to new constituencies. [Another] one is for Colorado College to be a center for civic and critical engagement in the region. And the third is to better develop and promote CC’s identity. The committee hopes that Colorado College can respond to the changing environment of higher education while retaining our identity.”

A Distinctive Place of Learning Committee, on the other hand, will develop the role of our college’s surroundings in the lives of students and alumni. “Realizing our connection to the Rocky Mountains and to the West is kind of how the committee arose, thinking about our place within the environment,” CCSGA Student Concerns Vice President Charis Whitnah said. “The first goal we are looking at is focusing on the aesthetic: building a well-built campus and one that encourages collaboration and engagement. The second one speaks to recognizing our place in Colorado Springs. The third speaks more to building programs for students on and off campus … thinking of the residential experience and how that influences our sense of place.”

On the administrative side there is the Institutional Effectiveness Committee. “Our goals are not as specific, but instead [focus on] how to be a better place in general for staff, for faculty and for students, and how we start [planting] the seeds of change,” Political Science Office Manager Jenn Sides said. “We are helping people get ready and understand that there is change and that there has been change going on already. This isn’t a lip service kind of strategic planning as I think people have felt in the past.”

These transitional teams have devoted tremendous effort to keeping to the CC community informed. Every CC student, faculty and staff member has received information about Strategic Planning. “There have been several emails and a lot of talk and buzz around campus,” junior Mollie Hayden said. “I know that [Strategic Planning] has taken a lot of their time and a lot of their energy. We have been receiving pretty regular updates and there is a lot of information on the website.”

However, exposure does not necessarily mean engagement. In general, students are not that involved in the process. Many students simply delete the committees’ emails upon receiving them, questioning why, exactly, they should care about Strategic Planning. “I don’t think it is a common topic of conversation for those who are not [directly] involved,” Hayden added. “I think most people read the main blurb [of the emails] only.” Considering that the college will undergo significant transformation if these initiatives come to fruition, shouldn’t students attempt to instigate and actively participate in these discussions?

“If you are not directly involved in the process, it is a really abstract concept, and [you wonder] ‘What’s Strategic Planning? What are people doing? It doesn’t really affect me, and if it does why should I care?’” CCSGA President Nathan Lee said. “I think the nature of the Block Plan, the nature of our pace, is that sometimes things like these are outside of people’s realm. They don’t want to deal with it, they don’t know how to deal with it, they are focused on their classes, they are focused on their social life [and] they are focused on their extracurriculars.”

The lack of student inclusion in the planning process may help to explain this indifference. Students are clearly underrepresented in the different committees. There are 66 committee members in total for the spring semester. Only nine are students. Over half of those students are white males, and this select group has just one non-white student. Two thirds of them will graduate in May, and there’s not a single member of the freshman class.

What’s more, the average member of the CC community does not have a clear sense of how these students were selected in the first place. The different committees have invited students to participate through online submissions and different “Listening” events, such as Town Hall meetings and the Winter Conference. However, it wouldn’t be an enormous surprise if in 10 years someone wonders how all of  this happened.

“The way [in which] each of those committees was selected was very executive,” senior Ryan Haas, another member of the CCSGA, said. “There wasn’t any sort of application process. The student body was just hit at the beginning of this year with ‘Oh, Strategic Planning is happening.’” The committees’ member selection happened before this school year started, thereby not allowing all students to express their interest in being a part of the process.

“I was appointed to the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, which is chaired by Jill Tiefenthaler, and then I was responsible for making the appointment of the other students,” Lee said. “Having an election for the Strategic Planning process would be incredibly inefficient. It would take a really, really long time from the leadership and bureaucratic standpoint.”

Yet elections are not the only means of giving everyone a chance to be selected for the committees. “I don’t like that being a part of it depended on knowing the right people at the right time,” a female sophomore who chose to remain anonymous said. That a majority of student committee members are 2013 graduates is, to an extent, a consequence of the fact that Lee is a senior.

“I didn’t look at statistics when I made those decisions … obviously I am limited by my knowledge of who is around. Obviously I am a 2013 graduate,” he said. “I have the most faith in general with people that I already know. While there may not be an accurate diversity or skin color or international or whatever representation [sic] among students that I have appointed, I don’t want people to get the sense that they are being left out, because there are pathways to contribute, not necessarily by serving on the committee.”

When asked about the student selection, Tiefenthaler recognized that more student voices in the committees would have been better. “In retrospect I wish I had more [students] … I do wish we had done more like four per committee, I think I made a mistake there,” she said. However, she echoed the sentiment that the committees are working to incorporate non-members’ voices and implored everyone to express their ideas going forward. Moreover, as Mamet observed, “The fact is, we are asking the question, ‘There [are] only nine students, why aren’t there more?’ We are not asking the question, ‘Why are there no students?’”

“Strategic Planning is not necessarily supposed to be a representative government,” Tiefenthaler said. “You try to pick leadership when you [form] committees like this … you really want student leaders who are going to do the work, who are really engaged, and are willing to go out and talk to other members and get students involved. We can’t have a great Strategic Plan without input from our constituencies, but we don’t need input from all of our constituencies to have a great Strategic Plan. In fact, it is probably not possible.”

The breadth of the CC community feels that this process could be very successful. “I am excited by the prospect of certain benefits that will come out of it. I am excited about the idea of a new library. I am excited about using who we are as a college, and our identity, in such a way that we can teach the rest of the world how to do some things that we are excellent at,” junior Isaac Green said.

Strategic Planning is providing the community with an opportunity to look at how great CC is and how much better it can become. “The best part of the Strategic Planning process is that it grounds the college in its core mission,” Mamet said. “It is reacquainting us with our core values … and everything that comes out of Strategic Planning is based on who we are.”

Moreover, it can be an opportunity to bring the community together for a shared goal. “The most exciting thing is getting a large amount of people on the same page,” Hayden said. “I think that’s something that is always good in an institution: having a set of goals and ideals that are similar and worked at from a variety of angles.”

Transitions are never simple. Getting people excited about a project that will take years to complete requires enormous effort. In addition, implementing all of the initiatives will require staff and faculty to devote time to the realization of the project. In several of the committees’ meeting minutes (which are publically available on the Strategic Planning webpage)   members have expressed concern about the added responsibilities.

Yet the extra effort might be worth it. “If you are going to make change, if you want change to happen, you have to work towards it,” Sides said. “And yes, some things might get added on to your duties. That’s no different than being on a committee. I think what a lot of people forget working here is that we are working for the college, and we should be working for the greater good of the college. I am not working here just because I get a salary and I go home and I forget work.”

“Strategic Planning is not the sexiest term,” Mamet said. It is hard for the community to think about things that seem fairly distant and to get excited about them. “Strategic Planning happens every time there is a new president. In many ways people are pessimistic [about] Strategic Planning and really don’t think that stuff is going to get done,” Whitnah said. However, as little glamour as Strategic Planning possesses in name, it can still mean exciting real-life payoffs for all of us.

Committee members are quick to point out that there are “active initiatives” that are bringing change to campus right now. According to the Strategic Planning website, active initiatives “are ideas that surface during the outreach process that are good suggestions to improve the college.” Some of these initiatives, such as improving the Career Center or addressing issues with the Campus Calendar, have already begun.

Students do not have to wait for years to find a reason to get involved. “While current students won’t see all of the impact as students, I think that their input has led to changes already,” Tiefenthaler said. “I also hope that every student here realizes that the college has given them a lot, and that every student here is subsidized by the generosity of the past through the endowment and giving … I think they should care about Strategic Planning if they love the institution and care about CC.”

Participation in the planning process is about more than the immediate benefits that students can get from involvement. “I would hope [that] students will engage in Strategic Planning because they are proud of Colorado College and want to be proud of Colorado College after they graduate,” Mamet said. “[It’s] not just some place where you happen to eat, sleep and study for four years. It’s a part of all of us who go here and are members of this community … Therefore, I think students should have a vested interest in the process.”

What’s going on matters—to all of us. “This is going to impact you whether you know it or not,” Lee said. “Once you graduate from this institution, and your degree says Colorado College on it, you are going to be associated at whatever time of your life … it is going to have the mark of Colorado College on it and people are going to look at what Colorado College is and what it has been.” We will always be CC graduates, and the name and recognition of our institution will greatly impact us. If we can contribute toward the creation of a better CC, why wouldn’t we?

While the process is well underway, it is never too late to make your voice heard.  The committees have worked tirelessly to ensure that anyone who has an idea gets a chance to share it. Not all ideas will materialize in the final plan, but think of the pride you would feel if, upon returning to CC for your 10-year reunion, you notice that an idea you suggested made a significant difference to the college. “If you are a person who cares about this institution, who cares about your friends who attend this institution, who cares about yourself, you’ll become involved in this process and give your voice. This is a unique situation where your voice will be heard,” Lee concluded.

Ultimately, the new phase of CC starts when we want to start it. Every day, we make little decisions that shape the identity of the college. Anything from where we eat to the types of parties we host and attend and the issues that we decide to fight for make CC what it is. Strategic Planning affords us a unique opportunity to make a long-lasting difference. So why sit back and observe? Think of the students who were in your place back in 1969, deliberating the final details of the Block Plan. Imagine their feelings when they come back and see what a difference their involvement made. Ultimately, what will distinguish this Strategic Plan from other five- or 10-year initiatives will be the degree to which we can sustain the community’s involvement.

It is time to plant the seeds of pride for our 2024. Let’s speak up and make CC the excellent institution we want it to be.