The First Word

Jay Lemons

The past 25 years have been marked by a period of extraordinary change and development for Susquehanna. We have experienced tremendous growth in enrollment, faculty and staff appointments, academic programs and facilities. In 2000, Susquehanna found itself elevated into the company and competition of the national liberal arts colleges, leaving behind a long run of recognition as the top liberal arts college in the North. In the mid-1990s, an important decision was made: Susquehanna could be stronger if we increased our enrollment over time. The decision prompted an intentional period of modest growth, which began in the latter part of the decade and continues today. To support our continued growth, and most importantly, to retain and strengthen the special characteristics of the Susquehanna student experience, more than 40 new faculty positions were created; new student housing and academic buildings were built, and a new Central Curriculum was developed. All of this activity has given us valuable and significant momentum.
 
This institutional momentum remains and yet is matched by the university’s determination to maintain a sense of community amid the growth and change. The faculty continues to provide students with a highly personalized education, and people still greet one another when their paths cross on campus—although the ubiquitous cell phones do make it more challenging. At the same time, the diversity of thought and experiences that accompany faculty growth and increased enrollment has enhanced the Susquehanna community in exciting and innovative ways. (See cover story.)

Amid the new buildings and new faces, the most profound improvements at Susquehanna can be credited to the new Central Curriculum. Introduced in 2009–10, it retains the qualities and elements of a traditional liberal arts education, emphasizes essential skill development, and, more innovatively, stresses the acquisition of cross-cultural competence. The work to review, revise, re-imagine and redesign curriculum is often slow, frustrating and frequently full of teeth gnashing on college campuses. For our faculty, the conceptualization of the new curriculum has been a rich activity that has engaged the whole community in considering the learning goals we have for all students. I am very proud of our faculty and grateful for their vision and effort.

The momentum Susquehanna has enjoyed is to be celebrated. Our achievements are all the more precious for having been achieved largely during the deepest recession our country has experienced in 80 years. For the more tuition-dependent colleges and universities, like Susquehanna, the effects of declining family income, loss of equity in real estate and sustained high rates of unemployment have created great challenges for our students’ families, leading to increases in institutional financial aid and reductions in operating funds.

In the face of such trials and the attendant fear that often results, the most common response is retreat. Thankfully Susquehanna’s Board of Trustees recognized that the institution’s momentum, bolstered by the academic strength and financial muscle developed during the past 25 years, might allow the university to approach this new era differently.

In the same week of September 2008 when the credit markets froze, Susquehanna finalized a debt issue that provided a portion of the resources necessary to construct a new science building, renovate another major academic facility and build new residence halls. These capital improvements were part of a strategy that ultimately supports the new curriculum, but which also might have been deferred. Yet the resolve of our faculty, staff and trustees was to stay the course.

We were also confronted with the decision about whether we would proceed with planned faculty searches. These faculty positions were critical in fulfilling the requirements of the Central Curriculum. Again, the board determined that we should persist in our plan, placing a priority on the learning of students through these exceptional investments in our academic program.

In addition to mounting a strong offense, there are many ways that we are playing defense. Reductions in administrative and general operating costs continue, and sacrifices have been required of every unit and employee of the institution. We are seeking greater efficiencies in all university processes, working to lower energy costs, and implementing a disciplined approach to the review of all open positions.

Although Susquehanna remains focused and committed to the investment necessary to sustain the Central Curriculum, we know that there is much work ahead. The challenges of providing for the increased costs of the Global Opportunities (GO) program and the other investments associated with the Central Curriculum are financial stressors for Susquehanna. But supporting the new curriculum is one of our highest strategic priorities because it is the keystone for providing transformational learning experiences to our students.

As we begin a new academic year and the headlines are filled with signs of continued and renewed economic challenges, I continue to be grateful to all of our alumni and friends whose support is significantly responsible for our momentum, along with dedicated faculty, staff and trustee colleagues who all work to support the university’s mission. We are continually strengthened by the voices, vision and generosity of all in the Susquehanna family, and this provides confidence and assurance that the outstanding and innovative educational vision of our faculty will serve our students for generations to come.

 L. Jay Lemons, President

 



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