III. Four Fundamental Priorities and Four Strategic Themes
Mindful of its history, aware of its current position, and sensitive to unprecedented challenges in the coming years, Hamilton will sustain the momentum established since the 2002 Strategic Plan. Four priorities guide our planning:
- An academic program that is rigorous, challenging and relevant to a new generation of students
- Student services that encourage and support personal development and responsibility
- Financial aid that meets the demonstrated need of every student, and a long-term goal of being need-blind in admission
- An inclusive community whose demographics reflect those of the coming generation of faculty and college-bound students
New fiscal constraints will slow the pace of construction on campus and may delay our goal of becoming need-blind in admission. As a result, we will focus over the next several years on revamping programs and protocols that position the College to take advantage of an economic rebound. At the same time, we will undertake new initiatives that provide strategic advantage in the short term. Woven throughout those initiatives is an appreciation for how inclusion advances the intellectual and social infrastructure of the institution for the entire campus community. Four themes furnish the structure for advancing Hamilton's fundamental priorities.
1. Education for Self-Direction:
An open curriculum challenges students to acquire a broad liberal arts education. We will help students meet that challenge by making structural and policy improvements to existing advising and course selection procedures. Likewise, we will assess College programs and procedures to ensure that the educational experience is sufficiently rigorous, accessible, and pertinent to our changing student demographic. Action programs for implementation in this plan are organized into four areas:
A. Advising and Curricular Programs, Policies, and Procedures
Hamilton’s highest priority is maintaining the quality of its academic program, and effective advising, both formal and informal, is a critical component of a residential liberal arts college; it is even more important for Hamilton because of our curriculum and because highly effective advisor-advisee relationships help ensure student success and satisfaction. Hamilton's faculty members have a history of serving as mentors and advisors, but there are inconsistencies in our practice that need to be remedied. We will use our growing array of assessment tools to address these inconsistencies and to identify and correct weaknesses in our advising program. We have an equally strong commitment to evaluating performance and satisfaction, and we will convene task forces, working with the Committee on Academic Policy, to address curricular matters raised during the strategic planning process. These include a decline in the number of students taking courses with a quantitative literacy component; a rise in average grades since the implementation of the new curriculum; a perception that students and departments may incline toward curricular depth at the expense of breadth; and enrollment restrictions that make it difficult for some students, especially juniors and seniors, to enroll in courses outside their concentration.
B. Co-Curricular Programming
The links between curricular and co-curricular programming expand the dimensions of a Hamilton education. In order to be a college whose students will be intellectually prepared for the society into which they will graduate, we will ensure that Hamilton has programs and services that foster our commitment to inclusiveness. For example, we will evaluate the reallocation of existing space for the creation of a cultural education center whose goal is to engage students and faculty from all backgrounds in an ongoing examination of their similarities and differences, as well as the effect of shifting demographics on all aspects of society. The community will confront and engage most rewardingly with the issue of diversity when it is pursued not just as a social issue, but also as an intellectual one. Diversity thereby expands the breadth and augments the rigor of the intellectual life of the College.
C. Athletics and Physical Education Program
We view physical education as an important component of the academic program. Therefore it is incumbent that we provide an athletic program that sufficiently challenges our scholar-athletes. Consistent with this objective, we will continue pursuing Hamilton's full integration into the New England Small College Athletic Conference for those students who currently do not have the opportunity to compete in that conference. We will also continue exploring ways in which physical education may be more effectively partnered with academics through seminars, workshops, and co-curricular programming.
D. Academic Facilities
The facilities in which learning takes place are an important part of the educational experience at Hamilton. Renovation and expansion of academic facilities have been guided by the Facilities Master Plan and funded by generous alumni donations and a favorable bond market. Some projects have been completed (the Science Center), others are in process (the Kirner-Johnson expansion and renovation), some are being planned (arts), and still others have been identified for future consideration (library, humanities). In every instance, pedagogy guides design. We will complete, as scheduled, projects under way, but will slow the pace of new construction until the necessary fundraising is in place. Planning and design will continue so that we can move ahead when the resources are secured. After discussing the possibility of using the summer for the academic program, committee members agreed that the College undertake a fuller study of the viability of such a proposal to help bring clarity to an idea that has resurfaced over the years. At the same time, they were drawn toward an alternative concept of increasing the number and scope of academic workshops, seminars and institutes (e.g., summer writing workshops for students and writing center directors, seminars and development programs on assessment and undergraduate research, among others) that would make use of the College's physical plant without fundamentally altering the undergraduate experience.
2. Self-Governing Community:
Education for self-direction demands an inclusive self-governing community. To the extent possible, constituencies ought to be self-regulating – students regulating students, faculty governing faculty, and staff administering to staff – as well as interlocking, to assure consistent, inclusive, and effective exchange and interaction. Some of this happens already: students regulate themselves through Student Assembly, the Honor Code, and the Judicial Board, and faculty do the same through policies and procedures set forth in the Faculty Handbook. Because all employees add an important perspective, new governance policies will incorporate a fuller range of voices and accommodate greater representation among and between campus constituencies. Various planning subcommittees called for enhancing self-governance at Hamilton; ideas fell into three categories:
A. Community Building
While Hamilton’s strong sense of community is attractive to students and employees, there are improvements that can be made to further our commitment to inclusiveness, assuring that new members of the community feel they are on equal standing from the day they join the campus and that all community members feel respected and valued. The role of alcohol in the student culture is not only inherently dangerous but also polarizing. Pre-orientation programs that do not accommodate the entire first-year class may disenfranchise those who do not participate. Likewise, the traditional classifications of employee groups magnify differences, exacerbate communication difficulties across campus, and can create unhealthy competition for attention and resources. We will foster a greater sense of common purpose among all employee groups. Most of these issues can be addressed with minimal impact on the operating budget. We will continue our progress toward an inclusive campus population whose diversity reflects the broader population of college students and faculty.
B. Governance Policy and Procedures
Much of the work of the College is accomplished through committees, from those of the Board of Trustees and the Senior Staff, to the policy and oversight committees of the Faculty, the Staff Advisory Council, and the Student Assembly. The effectiveness of these governing bodies is uneven, and there are concerns that some committees are merely representational rather than participatory. Committees at all levels and across all divisions will be evaluated to ensure transparency, inclusiveness, and representation from the widest possible cross-section of College constituencies, including students and non-faculty employees. We consider the opportunity for students to participate in College governance to be an important aspect of co-curricular education at Hamilton. The viability of new governance structures, such as a staff assembly for non-faculty employees, will be studied, as will a more inclusive governing organization to strengthen community.
C. Co-Curricular Social and Residential Facilities
High quality student services are one of the College’s four chief priorities. The renovation of Emerson Hall (ELS) into a center for student activity and student-faculty interaction is consistent with this priority and will be pursued, though probably on a slower timetable. Due to a lack of available housing on campus, the reluctance to construct additional student housing in the current fiscal environment, the desire of some seniors to live independently, and the likely negative effect on town-gown relations, we will not seek to achieve 100 percent on-campus student housing in the near term as recommended by the residential life subcommittee, although we remain committed to the residential life strategy adopted in 1995. The subcommittee on resources, facilities, and the environment suggested the creation of additional faculty housing on campus. For similar reasons, we will not pursue this goal in the next five years but will work to achieve its larger aim, which is to increase opportunities for co-curricular faculty and student engagement. We recognize the long-term needs for athletics and recreational facilities that were identified by the athletics subcommittee, and will pursue those projects that can be accomplished in the short term through the plant renewal budget or through philanthropic support.
We understand the pursuit of sustainability goals as a partnership between institutional policy and personal responsibility. The College is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Green Team, to the extent possible under anticipated economic conditions, and to fulfilling the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment by modifying as appropriate institutional policies and encouraging sustainable practices among students and employees.
3. Dialogue and Debate
Self-direction and self-governance require and engender dialogue and debate; opportunities to enhance skills and deepen expertise will be provided to all students and employees, ensuring that the College is an educational institution for all. Hamilton stands firmly in support of academic freedom. We also recognize that with such freedom comes the responsibility to accept ownership of one’s ideas and to be prepared to defend one’s position, and to be able to articulate the positions of others and engage them respectfully. The strategic planning subcommittees identified three areas in which to focus our efforts:
A. Effective Communication
All members of our residential campus are part of the educational process. We are a stronger and more vibrant college – and we provide a better education for our students – when more, not fewer, voices are heard and decisions are shared widely. Over the next several years we will remove barriers that the subcommittees said discourage full participation in the life and workings of the College, especially for non-salaried employees, and we will encourage greater awareness and involvement in Board and Alumni Council activities.
B. Student Development
Education at Hamilton is participatory. Students are expected to form and defend their opinions as they encounter a variety of teaching styles and pedagogies. It is important, therefore, that they be adequately prepared to engage in such an environment. To ensure their readiness for academic work at Hamilton, we will assess how students are welcomed into the College community, how they become acclimated to college life, how they integrate their academic and residential lives, and how they process information. We will consider more direct faculty involvement in the orientation for first-year students, establishing a common academic experience for new students and an optional residential curriculum (e.g., learning communities such as the REAL program in Wertimer House), and creating proficiency in information and media literacy across the curriculum (e.g., access, analysis, evaluation, and communication of messages in a variety of forms). The financial investment necessary to house first-year students together is not practical at this time, nor is the creation of dedicated housing for seniors.
C. Faculty and Staff Development
Long-term employees provide the College with knowledge of past practices, enriching on- and off-campus relationships and institutional loyalty and commitment. It is important to cultivate a sense of community among all our employees, especially those new to campus, by providing professional development opportunities and by communicating effectively so that employees feel invested in Hamilton’s purposes and goals. Since colleges and universities will experience a wave of retirements in the coming years, investing in our own employees will help ensure a smooth transition to the next generation of faculty and staff.
4. Engagement with the World:
The purpose of an education centered on self-direction, self-governance, and thoughtful dialogue is to prepare students for effective engagement with the world. Society is served by giving students and faculty alike a place for thinking, imagining, and creating. But on a more practical level – and especially in this economy – we recognize that everything we do on College Hill is influenced by the world around us. While our purposes and goals are lofty, our realities are shaped in part by forces beyond us. At the same time, we are not here simply to perpetuate Hamilton College, but to help students prepare themselves for careers and service in the nation and beyond.
A. Diversity and Access
Hamilton encourages awareness, understanding, and acceptance of diverse points of view and perspectives. The cultivation and refinement of ideas adds intellectual texture and balance to the way all members of the community experience the College, including those who serve Hamilton as trustees and Alumni Council members and in other volunteer roles. Hamilton meets the demonstrated financial need of every student it admits, and we reaffirm that admission policy to illustrate our commitment to socioeconomic diversity. We recognize that demographic shifts and the economic crisis of 2008 will mean that our financial aid budget must increase. Our long-term goal is to become need-blind in admission because it is consistent with our heritage, mission, and purpose. A second emphasis of our diversity efforts is to increase the number of students and employees of color by making access to Hamilton a strategic imperative throughout the College.
B. Scholarship and Creative Activity
Whether a student participates in a research or creative endeavor with a faculty member or benefits from the scholarship of professors, Hamilton views research as an important component of a liberal arts education. That emphasis has guided the design and construction of new academic facilities and places us among a group of research colleges where scholarly and creative productivity are acknowledged as indispensable to a fully engaged pedagogy. We will continue to ensure the primacy of teaching, research, and service when considering faculty compensation, support faculty scholarship that leads to publication or presentation, increase the number of opportunities for student research and presentation at scholarly conferences, and will determine the feasibility of summer conferences or institutes that reflect academic themes and institutional priorities (e.g., writing, research and creativity, diversity, and assessment). Meeting these objectives will lead to increased career and graduate school opportunities for our students.
C. Employee Satisfaction
Our goal is to be an employer of choice in the region by fostering a community of inclusivity where all voices are heard, all contributions are valued, and employees recognize their importance to the mission of the College. Competitive salaries are important for all employees; so, too, is a clearly articulated process for evaluating performance and determining merit raises. To attract talented employees from outside the region, we will try to help their spouses/partners find suitable employment in the area, for we understand that limited professional opportunities locally can present challenges to recruitment. In addition, the members of the Budget Committee are reviewing employee salaries to make certain they are competitive. They will also review health insurance subsidies for retirees and policies governing long-term disability for all employees.
D. Community Service and Outreach
A Hamilton education should encourage civic engagement through classroom work and co-curricular involvement. The College will continue supporting initiatives such as those organized by the Levitt Center, VISTA, HAVOC, Alternative Spring Break, and more recently COOP, and will add ad hoc volunteer and service-learning programs, including a programmatic presence in Utica and continued partnerships with the Town of Kirkland and the Village of Clinton.
Next: IV. Action Items