Founded in 1842 as the first university in the West, Willamette has provided generations of leadership to the Northwest in government, business, education, medicine, and the arts. Willamette has surpassed our early regional ambitions to become a nationally and internationally recognized university known for the quality of our graduates, our academic programs, and for our deep and abiding commitment to the value of liberal learning and our noble motto.
Today, Willamette remains one of the West’s most distinctive independent universities, comprising an undergraduate college committed to liberal education and graduate professional schools in law, management, and education. Teaching and learning remain our principal activities, and in all four schools our aim is not simply to transmit a body of knowledge but to prepare students to transform knowledge into action. We seek to prepare students not for a specific vocation but for a successful and meaningful life in a changing world.
Of course, higher education has changed enormously since 1842. Pure and applied research and “knowledge creation” have joined or even supplanted teaching and learning as the fundamental mission of many universities, and indeed have replaced instruction as the dominant area of spending in some cases. Vocational and professional undergraduate programs in public and independent colleges and universities have grown rapidly, as has the for-profit higher education sector. Cost pressures have led to large class sizes, on-line teaching modules, and the use of pre-PhD instructors and contingent faculty. As a result, a diminishing share of undergraduate students selects “traditional” four-year, residential undergraduate colleges, often not fully understanding the trade-offs and differences in quality.
Through these changes, Willamette’s clarity of mission and steadfast commitment to excellence in the student experience is increasingly a source of strategic distinction. Today’s strategic goal would be recognizable to the founders: to be the Northwest’s leader in rigorous, personalized, student-focused, high-impact liberal arts and graduate professional education, attractive to students from across the nation and around the world. We do not measure our success in research grant volume and citation counts. We do not seek to be a high-volume, low-cost provider of specialized vocational programs, or to “franchise our brand” through massive on-line programs. In business terms, our “value proposition” has always been, and will continue to be high-quality, rigorous, intensive teaching and learning, on a human scale.
The strategic plan presented here is a framework intended to guide Willamette’s advancement over at least the next decade as we continue to build quality and increase regional, national, and international distinctiveness and recognition. It was developed over the last year in a consultative process that built on the earlier and broadly representative effort encapsulated in the Strategic Statement (May 2010) and the restated University Mission and Values (February 2012).
In addition to guiding our choices of which initiatives we will embrace, and which activities we will not pursue, it includes an agreed-upon set of high-level performance indicators that will measure progress towards our goals. This plan will inform the development of our annual budget, as well as a rolling five-year budget and operations plan that will guide the prioritization and implementation of our strategic objectives. It will also form the basis for a review, in the next year, of our campus facilities master plan and for the future comprehensive fundraising campaign that will be needed for us to reach fully our strategic goals.
Stephen E. Thorsett