Good afternoon and thank you to President Carlson for the warm welcome and opportunity to share perspectives on behalf of the Board of Regents as we embark on this new academic year.
As we look back to the start of this summer of transition from one school year to the next, much has transpired. With Dr. Carlson's retirement announcement, we enter a year of significant transition… transition for Luther to new leadership, for students entering the start of their college career or graduates shifting to their post-graduate plans, and for the campus in transition from one academic year to another.
As someone who's transitioned many times in my life and career, some intentional and some in reaction to external events, I can attest to the combination of emotional extremes: fear and anxiety as well as optimism and excitement. As William Bridges points out in his book "Transitions," "...every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old before we can pick up the new, not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are”
As he says, "every transition begins with an ending" – a time to reflect past on the positives and the lessons learned… to inform the next phase. Not to define it, but to ensure we leverage our past as we bridge to our future. For Luther this means we take time to reflect… to remember our mission and purpose, to honor our history and legacy, while also acknowledging where we are in the present, facing internal and external realities. To use these as inputs to inform a path to our future.
I am honored to work alongside our board, President Carlson, our talented faculty, cabinet and staff as we begin our transition into the next chapter for Luther College. We have a lot of work to do, but a strong foundation to build upon and leverage into our future:
Legacy–where we’ve been
When I joined Kellogg, we had a challenging business environment, both internally and externally. We needed a clear plan, an aligned team, and a clear focus on the critical objectives to both deliver results but also build a sustainable path forward. We leveraged a theory defined as “the results pyramid” outlined in the Oz Principle: that results are an outcome of our actions, actions are a result of beliefs and beliefs are formed by our experiences. To change the business results, we needed to focus on the critical experiences that would shape team beliefs….simply directing from the top wasn't going to deliver. We all know an organization's strengths are not the result of a single person… but the result of the collective group, aligned, focused and acting in concert to deliver.
For Luther we have a strong foundation to build upon… a strong academic reputation, engaged alumni, proven student outcomes, strong development results, highly regarded faculty on and off campus, and significant passion and engagement across the Luther community as evidenced by the input this spring in the leadership assessment. Included were 17 individual groups across all stakeholder groups from alumni to faculty, staff, students and regents both current and emeriti – the most extensive assessment done to date by AGB. In addition, the number of emails, letters, calls and informative input that the board have received over the summer in response to our communications further reinforces the belief that we have a passionate and engaged community willing to discuss, debate and partner to realize the best future for Luther. While these are great strengths, the process has also highlighted clear and present realities that must be addressed to ensure a strong and sustainable future for Luther. Bridging to our future requires us to be honest in facing our realities.
Today’s realities–where we are
In the eight years I’ve been on the board of regents, we've been discussing and evaluating, as a board and in the broader community, the effect of external forces in higher education: a changing demographic, increased competition, questions about affordability, the perception of price/value for liberal arts private vs. public, increasing discount rates, student preparedness and strains on campus services as a result, and the list goes on. As I’ve learned firsthand, there are always external factors that impact an organization… our role as leaders is to both acknowledge and understand those realities, and to build effective strategies to deliver in spite of those headwinds. This requires everyone to be "all in" with a clear and focused path forward.
Focus–where we are going
As we head into this year of transition, we have many initiatives and projects in process. A mentor early in my career advised that while many things can be “interesting,” the primary role of leadership is clearly distinguishing between what is “interesting and important” and what is “important and urgent.”
Last week Dr. Carlson met with the executive committee of the board of regents, committee chairs and many of the cabinet to clearly define our short term focus for this transition year.
We’ve worked to delineate between “important and urgent” in our focus for the coming year resulting in what we are referring to as our “critical deliverables” – these are the projects and workstreams that MUST be delivered this year to stabilize our present, and bridge to our future…to set Luther up for the next president and to ensure our work is delivering on the most critical outcomes: enrollment, retention and revenue.
These critical deliverables include: branding, re-accreditation, development, strategic plan, enrollment, student retention and governance.
As Dr. Carlson reviewed, we begin this transition year with slightly improved enrollment, improved retention and strong momentum in development – these are important foundations to build upon.
The brand task force and strategy work led by Aimee Viniard-Weideman in partnership with the board to be completed by end of first semester is critical to defining Luther’s distinctiveness – which will inform our enrollment strategies, develop a compelling storyline to engage donor and alumni campaign support, and ensure we attract strong leadership to Luther College.
The comprehensive work on re-accreditation being led by Brad Chamberlain in partnership with many of you on campus is critical in reinforcing Luther’s academic standing and access to financial resources to attract students.
And Phase 1 initiatives of the strategic plan are critical to ensure we maintain momentum in realizing the future path for Luther. Important in this work, however, is ensuring we prioritize the work in Phase 1 to what is most critical to enable enrollment, retention and revenue…to support what is urgent and not simply important. Our most critical work is ensuring strong enrollment and financial strength at Luther. In recognition of this and to demonstrate our strong commitment to the Luther’s future, the board is excited to announce the "Regents' Promise" – a $1 million outright commitment from current regents and regent emeriti over and above our current financial commitments with a goal of funding a $10 million endowment. The focus of this fund is to close the affordability gap for up to 40 students who are strong candidates for Luther and whose ability to attend is only limited by the financial aid gap. As a board, we believe in both our strong legacy, but also in our future as an academic institution of distinction and look forward to working together.
One of the board's most important deliverables this year will be executing the search for the 11th president of Luther College. Being led by our Vice Chair Bob Paulson (who is here with me today), we’ve spent the summer engaging in robust and far reaching dialogue with a broad cross-section of Luther stakeholders on and off campus, other leaders in higher education on other campuses and with respected and experienced advisors in higher education for inputs on best practices for an effective, collaborative and efficient search process. All of this has been used to inform the selection of Storbeck Pimentel, a national higher education search firm to partner with us throughout the presidential search process, in development of the search committee and outline of the search process. We are committed to delivering regular communications and updates throughout the search process. We’ve been inspired and motivated by the passionate engagement from all groups in the emails, phone calls and outreach from the Luther community both on and off campus over this summer. You have our commitment to continue this level of transparency over the year and I hope for your continued engagement and input as well.
Underpinning all of these critical deliverables is our continued focus on effective governance. Over the past two years, former board chair Judy Vijums and I worked alongside our Institutional Planning and Board Affairs committee to enhance our board pipeline process, new regent onboarding, bylaws and committee charters. This spring we revamped our committee structures based on best practice structures among other peer colleges. Our overarching goal has been to ensure clear roles and responsibilities and clearly defined scope of work aligned to critical priorities for Luther. This resulted in the transition from the Student Life committee to the creation of two separate committees: Academic Affairs to be chaired by Mike Osterholm with cabinet liaisons Kevin Kraus and Brad Chamberlain; and Campus Life to be chaired by Jon Stellmacher with cabinet liaisons Lisa Scott and Corey Landstrom. These streamlined committee structures will ensure strong board engagement and support for key initiatives such as partnering to update the faculty handbook to ensure clarity, efficient decision-making and strong governance, implementation of the phase 1 strategic plan initiatives, and focus on cross-functional engagement in student retention and experience.
Commitment and Grit – everyone plays a role
As I've learned, results are an outcome of beliefs and experiences. And nothing changes by driving from the top but requires engagement at all levels. Leadership at all levels…clearly aligned in purpose and focus to deliver. We need to hold one another accountable to deliver on our promises, to play our unique role in enrollment, retention and revenue. At times this requires courageous conversations… which I know as a political science student from my time at Luther, is one of the most compelling strengths of a liberal arts education. Professor John Moeller didn’t just tell us or show us, but he ENGAGED with us in courageous conversations to explore and to challenge, but with respect. He created an experience on what it means to disagree without being disagreeable, to be passionate without making it personal. And that experience shaped my beliefs on what is possible. I've carried that into my personal life and work… and I encourage us to approach this transition year together with passion and commitment, by demonstrating the best of Luther. Open and honest two-way conversations, ensuring all voices are heard. Aligning on a decision even if different than what we may have personally wished for because we know progress is only achieved if we are working in concert with one another. This is what you can expect from the board of regents, and hopefully what you’ve experienced as we move into transition.
I want to thank Dr. Carlson again, on behalf of the board of regents, for her leadership and passion over the past four years. She’s demonstrated a continued willingness to put Luther first. She’s partnered with the board in courageous conversations as we face our reality and path to our future. We are fortunate to have her partnership over this coming year and I know in welcoming the next president of Luther, whom she will work in partnership for a smooth transition. I am grateful for her grace, passion and resiliency and want to thank you, Paula, and the cabinet, staff and faculty, again, for setting a strong foundation for Luther’s future.