1866 Thomas Rhys Vickroy Society Dinner Remarks
by President Lewis E. Thayne, November 16, 2012
Good evening. It is wonderful to be here with you tonight. Before I offer some initial impressions and make some remarks about my goals and priorities for the year, I would like to recognize a few special people.
I want to thank the entire advancement staff, and in particular Lindsey Snyder and Jamie Cecil, for their hard work in putting this dinner together—and for persevering through the fall without a vice president.
I would like to recognize Fred Sample and Steve MacDonald, my illustrious, heroic predecessors in the office of the president. And Glenda Synodinos and Mary Warner, spouses of John Synodinos and Steve MacDonald, respectively. To which I will add my own wife, Dorry. We could not be the College we are today without your commitment, good judgment, and good humor.
I would also like to acknowledge Wes Dellinger, our chair and my new constant companion. In the four months that I have been at the College, I have learned a great deal from Wes about the history of LVC, about its character and traditions, and about its challenges over the years. Wes always talks about the College in ways that inspire confidence, that cause me and others to take a longer term perspective, and that inspire us to move ahead knowing we may not get it exactly right at first—but over time we will, in fact, get it right. I cannot tell you how much easier it makes my job to work with someone who loves this College so much. Thank you, Wes.
Most importantly, I want to recognize the extraordinary role that the group of people in this room have played in the life of the College. Leadership matters and, as Skip Missimer has pointed out, each of you has been exceptionally generous with your financial support of the College this year and in previous years.
I have never gone to a prospective donor who has not asked: What are the trustees doing? I can say tonight that 100% of the trustees have already made a gift or pledge to the Valley Fund this fiscal year. This is our top priority for development. Thank you in advance to the members of the board for your support.
Impressions after Four Months
I have many early impressions of Lebanon Valley College, one of which I would like to share.
In an interview with the student newspaper, La Vie Collegienne, I was asked how I wanted to be treated by the students. I just said that I wanted students to know that I was “approachable” and I hoped they would say hello when they saw me on campus. I never imagined that every student reads La Vie. My advice to you is this: Never say something to La Vie that you do not want students to take to heart. Every student now says hello to me wherever I go. Of course, this is great for me and I would never want it otherwise.
One Saturday morning, Dorry and I were in Mund having breakfast and a student-athlete came up to me, shook my hand, looked me straight in the eye, and pretty seriously said, “President Thayne, how are you doing? How have your first weeks been going?” I thought to myself—how great is this? He is welcoming me to HIS college. This student does not simply go to LVC; it is, literally, HIS college. Our students “own” the College in ways that are not true at other colleges. They are shaping their experience and the evolution of the College…and they know it.
I absolutely love our students. They are talented, charming, open, modest, and industrious. I see a lot of leadership on campus. The Unity March held this week was another example of students taking the lead and shaping their experience with the support of the student affairs staff, faculty and others. Tomorrow, we have the Revolution Music and Business Conference.
I could give many examples of student work that has greatly impressed me. Dorry and I had 50 members of the cast of "Into the Woods" at Kreiderheim. There was one faculty member, Dr. Kevin Pry. That’s it. They did the rest themselves.
Goals and Priorities for Fiscal Year 2013
What are my goals and priorities for the year?
• Assessment and Middle States. No evening would be complete without mentioning assessment. We are working diligently and intensively to make every effort to have our warning status lifted by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. But a dinner at the Hotel Hershey is not the venue to go into any detail. Please know that our faculty and academic and student affairs staffs in particular have been energetic in their efforts to get our assessment practices in line with best-in-class programs. We have two years to complete this process, but we are aiming to complete it in one year and have the warning lifted.
• Achieving Enrollment Goals. Bill Brown and his staff have redoubled their efforts to attract the 500 new undergraduate students we will greet on campus next August. We fell short on our incoming class this year and the enrollment division’s response to this shortfall has been to target our approach to new students with even greater precision and personalization, to involve faculty departments and communications efforts more extensively, and to cast a wider net geographically. LVC will be successful in enrollment as we continue to refine our marketing and our personal outreach to those students whose academic interests and co-curricular interests match our offerings. To date, we are at an all-time high in applications received, more than 30% ahead of last year and 5% ahead of the previous record year! Our offers of admission are up 98% from last year and also at an all-time high. Our processing and decision-making has accelerated, a key advantage in getting offers out the door. As we look to the future, inquiries are up 110% and we are looking to develop an international student market.
The last three priorities I would like to cover in a bit more detail.
• Create a Marketing and Branding Campaign
• Define and Expand High-Impact Experiences
• Rebuild Advancement
Alumni and Advancement
Last weekend, I went to the Albright football game and stood along the sidelines with Governor Corbett, Class of 1971, and Dave Stover, Class of 1991. As former lacrosse and football players, Tom and Dave looked out on the beautiful, new turf field and reminisced about the crown on the field in their time, a straight uphill run to the middle of the field and then a scramble down the other side. They were arguing about how much better the College is now than it was in their day. I listened and thought about my first Oktoberfest, a month earlier. There were echoes of alumni conversations at Oktoberfest in the discussion between the Governor and the graduate of the 1990s. The discussions were always about the degree to which the College has improved.
I am reminded of a joke Bill Bowen, then president of Princeton, told when I was a graduate student: the Princeton light bulb joke.
How many Princeton alumni does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is three. One to change to bulb and two to talk about how great the old bulb was.
It seems to me that at Lebanon Valley, the answer to the LVC light bulb joke would also be three. One to change the bulb and two to talk about how much brighter the new bulb is.
I only hear about how much brighter the new bulb is, how much better the campus looks, how much excitement there is over the new programs. This is a College that is eager to move into a bright future. This is an alumni group that is very aware of the forward progress of their school. It is this sense alone that causes me to believe that we have so much potential in advancement.
You all know that I spent the last seven years at F&M as the vice president for college advancement. When asked what I am proudest of at Franklin & Marshall, I always say that it is the advancement infrastructure I built during my tenure, in particular a global alumni network and leadership groups who are multifaceted resources to the College.
Every college needs to engage its alumni and parents if it is going to reach its potential. Certainly that is true at LVC. I plan to make it a priority to engage our alumni and parents more fully in the life of the College and as a resource for our students. In career development, admissions, advancement, and in many other ways, alumni and parents can be—and need to be—part of the strategy.
I saw figures from our alumni survey: 95% of our graduates would definitely recommend the school to a young person looking at colleges and 80% intend to make a gift to the College.
But, what was the alumni participation in giving last year? 16%.
We need to build networks and develop infrastructure to take that good feeling and pride and turn it into tangible benefit for LVC. And turn it into an intangible benefit to our alumni and friends. They want to help; they want to be involved. We must build those vehicles so the alumni and others can help.
Our alumni have to become a strategic advantage. The role of alumni in recruitment and in job placement cannot be overstated.
Our search for new leadership in advancement is of critical importance, because our alumni are such an asset.
I can announce tonight that we will have a new vice president of advancement on January 14, 2013. Her name is Janet Wiley and I could not be happier with her appointment. Janet serves currently as the vice president for advancement at Goucher College in Baltimore, Md. where she has just completed a $117 million campaign, capped off with a $7 million gift. Janet also served as associate vice president for advancement at Gettysburg College during their $100 million campaign.
Academics and High-Impact Experiences
I have met a number of faculty members who spent the summer working with small groups of students on research projects in biology, math, anthropology, art, and accounting. Several faculty members have already put together plans and grants for the coming year. This is LVC at our best when individual students can collaborate with faculty members in hands-on research and learning.
LVC students completed study abroad programs in 13 destinations in Europe, South America, and Australia. I met with Dr. Mike Green and Jill Russell, our director of study abroad programs, to review progress, challenges, and the future of the program. I see this program–broadly defined—as an essential part of our academic strategy moving forward and even of our institutional strategy.
You may have seen the exhibit, “Transformation,” that Professor Michael Pittari and his students created based on their Arnold Grant for Experiential Learning. The catalog is an elegant record of this high-impact experience. Here, we have the perfect example of what a high-impact experience is meant to accomplish. It should go beyond growth; it should aspire to be transformative for both the students and the faculty member. These high-impact experiences should test limits, be ambitious enough to take on intellectual risks, and result in deep learning.
Last year, we had $138,000 in requests and $50,000 in funding. Is there any strategic priority more important than expanding these experiences and by doing so to transform our students and our faculty members? Is there any other experience that corresponds so closely to the question: who are we at Lebanon Valley College on our best day?
Recognition and Marketing
There is other strategic work to do over and above the extraordinarily important work of educating our students and running a college. The trustees have charged me with developing strategies to expand enrollment and recognition of the College through more aggressive marketing of the College and by developing a marketing and media plan to make the College better known within the region as well as beyond it. This will be a priority for our work through January, and well beyond. I believe we have the makings of a very promising marketing and branding effort.
What is distinctive about LVC must be a singular focus on the individual student. At our best, we are a College that changes lives. We take students who come to us with a base of experience, often from small towns, and onto that base of experience we add a great liberal and pre-professional education. In time, every student will also participate in specific high-impact experiences. With that combination, we send our students out to encounter the world, to build careers, to build lives, to solve the issues of their times. The quality of the academic experience at LVC must be second to none in our comparison group.
There is, however, no reason to expect people to know about us if we do not rouse ourselves to let them know about the important work we do. And it is very important that our work—the work of our students, faculty, and staff—be recognized. It is important that the quality of the College and its programs be better known. Why? The answer is not vanity or boastfulness. The answer is that without that recognition our graduates will not be considered for opportunities for leadership that they are qualified for and which they could perform in an outstanding fashion. Without that recognition, our graduates may not even consider applying for those leadership opportunities.
In the Alumni Survey that I referenced, recognition was the number one priority for alumni. I have no doubt it is a high priority for parents and students. This needs to be a strategic focus.
On Tuesday, I spoke to a group of college counselors from all over the country. One counselor asked: “I have visited 36 colleges so far this year. Every one of them says pretty much the same thing about critical thinking and hands-on learning. You all seem to be competing for the same kind of student. But a lot of students haven’t even heard of you. How do you expect to address this?” I was waiting for the part where I was also expected to solve the global warming/climate change issue. However, her question is a reminder that education is changing rapidly; institutions must be nimble and forward-looking; and the marketplace is highly competitive.
Let us remember that being recognized means getting people to notice and that means we will assume a more assertive posture than we have been doing. One alumnus from the class of 1972, a conservative banker from Lancaster, put it this way: “We can afford to be a little edgier than we have been.”
So, these are my priorities:
• Achieving Enrollment Goals
• Creating a Marketing and Branding Campaign
• Expanding High-Impact Experiences
• Rebuilding Advancement
I will need your help and I will ask for your help and financial support in the coming months and years. These are only the goals and priorities for the current year. And as you can see, I am beginning to think about the future as I hear from more of you and identify those ideas that will make a real difference.
In the spring, we will prepare for the development of a new strategic plan. You will all have an opportunity to be part of the planning process.
In the meantime, I am following the counsel my 103-year-old father gave me. I asked him what advice he had for me as I started my new role as president of LVC. He thought for a moment, a long moment, and said, “Listen carefully.” I am listening carefully.