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The writing on the walls:
Major planning effort collects notes and opinions
What makes Skidmore Skidmore? What should it do less of? more of? What risks and opportunities does it face? Such questions are very much on the college’s mind—and on its Web site and even walls lately—as part of a major institutional planning effort. The early phase this fall focused on gathering ideas from trustees, faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, and visitors. This winter the Institutional Planning Committee takes on the task of charting the college’s priorities, perils, and path to the future. By spring the IPC report will be circulated for public comment, and then the final result, a long-term strategic plan for Skidmore, will be presented in the autumn.
The early phase (coordinated by vice president for advancement Michael Casey) has exploited such avenues as mail-in and Web-based surveys, campus roundtable discussions, and alumni gatherings in Boston, Washington, D.C., and other cities. Top themes at the alumni sessions so far: preserving the sense of community at Skidmore, supporting the faculty and their work with students, capitalizing on Skidmore’s strength in the arts, keeping the interdisciplinary and liberal studies emphases, improving athletic programs, and energizing alumni philanthropy (“Make sure students understand how good they have it and that they need to support the place when they leave”).
Another idea-gathering tactic entailed decorating seven buildings around campus with six-foot-tall posters: each “planning wall” displayed five strategic questions and provided ample blank space, plus marking pens, for jotting answers. While students were the main users (sometimes filling up the huge sheets in as little as a day or two), faculty and others contributed as well.
Here a common theme was the quality, commitment, enthusiasm, and accessibility of the faculty (“Knowing teachers, teachers who care about us, is one of the best parts of Skidmore”). Another popular topic was the role of the Liberal Studies program in establishing a common foundation for all students—or, for some of the respondents, in annoying and frustrating them! Several students argued for more rigorous academic standards (“I’d like to see more focus on academic excellence and intellectual curiosity; keep accepting only the best students—they bring an energy to the learning environment”), and others called for a more ethnically diverse student body and faculty. Curricular issues got a lot of ink, ranging from support for a broad yet practical liberal studies program, to complaints about breadth requirements (“Don’t waste our time: physics majors don’t need to take 2-D design to feel complete”), to concerns that bricks and mortar are draining resources from academics (“We need to start putting money toward new courses, new majors, and more professors. A new student center is aesthetically pleasing but does it provide us with a better quality of education or better prepare us to go out and serve the world?”).
Among the gripes: not enough professors, some classes that are too big or fill up too quickly during registration, crowded dorms (“It’s becoming Tokyo”), not enough parking, and the lack of a rock-climbing wall. Among the thumbs-up: the natural campus setting and the North Woods, the faculty-lecture program for area senior citizens, and the grilled-cheese sandwiches at the Spa snack shop.
By way of summary, when asked what Skidmore should look like in ten years, planning-wall respondents called for more and better-paid faculty, more diversity, improved and expanded science offerings, better preparation for graduate school, upgraded art and dance facilities, a new athletics complex, new or upgraded residence halls, and preservation of campus aesthetics.
As IPC digests the comments and develops its map for the future, watch for news and updates in Scope and at www.skidmore.edu/planning. —SR