President Torgerson's 'State of the College' address announces plans for new task group to address challenges, use resources to greatest advantage

Aug. 26, 2010

Luther College President Richard L. Torgerson announced during his annual "State of the College" address that he will appoint Task Group 150, an eight-member campus group, to address the most serious challenges confronting the college at a time of economic constraints and demographic shifts.

In an era of instability, volatility and challenges to higher education institutions, Luther is fortunate to enter its 150th year from a position of strength and stability, President Torgerson told an audience of about 300 Luther faculty and staff on the evening of Aug. 26 in the college's Center for Faith and Life.

"It would be hard to imagine serving a better institution than Luther College, and I can’t imagine a better group of people to serve with than all of you," he said. "This is a place of abundance and achievement. We do so many things so very well, and now I’m asking us to join together and do some difficult but vital work to ensure a vibrant future.

"It will involve risk and some hard choices, but in the end Luther College will be stronger."

Named in recognition of the college's yearlong sesquicentennial celebration in 2011, Task Group 150: Mission, Realities, and Resources will work in tandem with the five members of the Luther Board of Regents’ Institutional Planning and Board Affairs Committee to assure that the college's plans and operations are grounded in current reality and can be sustained in the future, President Torgerson said.

His announcement of the formation of Task Group 150 followed his positive assessment of the stability and security of Luther as the college begins the 2010-11 academic year.

He presented a snapshot summary of a dozen important projects and programs the college has accomplished in the past year to better position itself in the higher education market, including enhanced webpage architecture, new mobile device communication capacities, an invitation to join the Wabash Group of national liberal arts colleges studying the critical factors that affect the outcomes of a liberal arts education, a $1.5 million renewal of the Student Support Services grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the construction of Bentdahl Commons and other landscape and facilities improvements to campus, renovation of the cafeteria and upgrades to residence halls.

The college's wind turbine project, a key feature of Luther’s commitment to sustainability, awaits an environmental assessment to approve a Department of Energy $750,000 grant. To be erected in 2011, the turbine will provide one-third of the college's electrical energy.

President Torgerson also presented a candid overview of the economic, demographic and educational transformations that are reshaping the philosophy and business of higher education institutions, both pubic and private.

"Luther isn’t immune from the challenges the world is facing," President Torgerson said. "I would be remiss if the State of the College speech on the cusp of Luther’s sesquicentennial didn’t focus on some of those challenges.

"Past leaders of this institution had to make difficult, but in the end wise decisions. Now in our 150th year we, too, find ourselves at an important crossroads.  We must make some strategic decisions to ensure a strong and vibrant future," he said.

"At a time when our nation continues to be whipsawed by high unemployment, unpredictable financial markets, and a tepid economy, it is easy to be captured by scarcity thinking and overlook the abundance that surrounds us," said the president, referring to the "scarcity mentality" concept put forth by best-selling author and business professor Stephen Covey.

He said Luther would address its challenges with an "abundance mentality that flows out of a deep sense of personal and institutional worth that results in the sharing of recognition, achievement, and decision-making.

"Abundance opens possibilities, options, and alternatives," President Torgerson said. "I begin this year confident in our abundance, thoughtful about Luther’s position, and hopeful about the future."

He said Task Group 150 will spend the year exploring a critical question: Is Luther using its resources to the greatest advantage to fulfill its mission? "The goal is to assure that the mission, vision, and strategic plan of the college are grounded in current reality and can be sustained in the future," he said.

Issues the group will address include student recruitment, tuition and fees, financial aid, capacity and demand of each academic program, the demand for and purpose of cocurricular programs, and how to best serve society's need to prepare first-generation students, U.S. students of color, and international students.

"My hope is for the work of Task Group 150 to result in a multi-year plan for positioning the college that is consistent with Luther’s mission and Sesquicentennial Strategic Plan," President Torgerson said.

"Luther must prepare for an uncertain future by identifying known risks, planning aggressively to manage the controllable risks, and developing a strategy for responding to outside forces that may seem uncontrollable," President Torgerson said. "It also requires making tough decisions and prioritizing programs in light of constrained resources.

"Re-positioning is no small task. It will not be easy or comfortable, but it is necessary," he said. "Its success will require leaders and decision-makers who have the courage and the will to see the task through to a good end."

The membership of Task Group 150 will be announced in the first week of September.