In his June 1906 inauguration speech, Grinnell president John H.T. Main predicted a future when a person could sit at the breakfast table and speak by phone with a friend in Berlin or Hong Kong “while the wheat cakes are coming in.”
Forty-six years later, another of my presidential predecessors, Howard Bowen, faced off against claims that “closed-circuit TV is as good as live teaching. That street-car colleges are as good as residential colleges, or that assembly-line teaching is as good as individualized instruction.”
Main and Bowen were each setting out a vision for Grinnell: for how this small but ambitious school would fulfill its mission and values in changing times.
Today, with tremendous help from alumni, the College is on a strong footing — strong enough that the board of trustees felt confident reaffirming our need-blind admission policies at its last meeting [See Need-Blind Policy Retained]. But times are changing. With our admission pool and alumni engagement at historic highs, now is the time to articulate a new vision for Grinnell’s next phase of excellence.
What does it take to prepare Grinnellians for meaningful lives and careers in the future? We need to invest in our educational core. While there will be many aspects to this work, they all ultimately relate back to our commitment to excellence in teaching and learning and to helping students connect their education with their goals for meaningful and rewarding lives.
This must be done in ways that are financially accessible and sustainable, and which uphold our commitment to diversity.
Following are some of the areas where we need to direct our attention and investment:
- Individualized advising from faculty and staff, who respect students enough to involve them in shaping their own education.
- Advanced research and creative experiences that equip students with analytical, communication, and other critical skills, earning them the honor of being mistaken for a graduate student.
- Courses and co-curricular experiences enriched by global connections and local perspective, proving that if you truly want to explore the world, you need to come to central Iowa to do it.
- Attention to the unique benefits of learning as part of a residential community, including the educational value of diversity, self-governance, and student leadership.
- A commitment to helping students from day one connect their education to the lives they want to lead, the careers they want to pursue, and the difference they want to make in the world.
This approach takes advantage of our distinctive strengths and upholds our enduring values, while equipping students for a new and changing world.
We are strong in many of these areas already. But fulfilling Grinnell’s promise of an innovative education for every student will require shared effort. All of us need to work together — as teachers and mentors, donors and volunteers, coaches and supporters — to ensure the success of Grinnellians, and Grinnell, in new times.
Following his reverie about a world connected by transoceanic calls, John Main observed that “the college, a home of culture and ideals, must respond to the spirit of the age if it is to be an effective agent and helper in working out the complicated problems of society.”
Forty years later, Howard Bowen shared his similar hope, “that through the increasing excellence of our program, we [Grinnell] shall serve as a constant reminder of what higher education should be and can be, and that through our example, standards of higher education generally will be raised.”
Today’s world has moved far beyond transatlantic telephones, far beyond closed-circuit TV. We need a vision for achieving our timeless mission in new conditions. It is up to us — all of us — to envision the College’s next future together. And then to realize it, for the sake of generations of Grinnellians still to come.