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Words from Waller

November 2, 2022

Dear Willamette community,

In my previous messages this semester, I’ve discussed strategy—being clear about the core values that Willamette University holds dear and the choices we make that distinguish us from other colleges and universities.

By definition, strategy is about competition. We compete to attract capable, interesting, diverse students to all of our programs, and we compete to attract and retain outstanding faculty and staff. Though we may be in a competitive environment, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are a mission-driven enterprise, nor should we confuse strategy with vision.

I thought it would be useful to remind us of where our strategy is taking Willamette in the years ahead as we grow into the Northwest’s leading university for education in the liberal arts and the professions, focused on preparing its graduates for active engagement with the region and the world.

Our immediate planning horizon is three years (2022-2025), which is approximately how long it will take to fully emerge from the impacts of the pandemic on our undergraduate enrollments, and for the university to grow to about 3,000 (we’re currently at 2,400 students). In this period, we expect the Committee of Studies for Data and Computer Science to evolve into Willamette’s fifth school, offering a broader range of graduate and undergraduate programs in both Salem and Portland. After the financial challenges of the pandemic, the university will return to positive operating budgets and complete a major comprehensive fundraising campaign, and the pace of work on urgent and critical deferred maintenance needs will continue to accelerate, with a goal of finishing half the accumulated project backlog in this time period.

Our intermediate planning horizon is a decade (2022-2032). Although specific details become less certain in later years, it is expected that growth will continue to roughly 4,000 students (4,000 is our operational “sweet spot” for efficiency and financial stability), with about one-quarter of those students in Portland, where a campus anchored by the Pacific Northwest College of Art will be augmented by a variety of part-time, hybrid, and low-residency graduate programs. Program growth will occur across all parts of the university. A particular area of emphasis will be to further strengthen Willamette’s existing programs in public management, law, and government, and to further invest in public policy and policy analysis in support of democratic institutions, one of the three areas of focus noted in our strategic plan. Other interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary areas of institution-wide investment will be identified and developed, including climate change.

Our long-term planning horizon extends to the university’s bicentennial in 2042. By then, Willamette’s enrollment will be stabilized at between 4,000-5,000 students, divided between fully-developed campuses in downtown Salem and Portland: Oregon’s centers of government and commerce. Fund-raising campaigns focused on student and faculty support will raise the total university endowment to $1 billion on this timescale, ensuring Willamette’s educational resources reach the region’s top students regardless of financial need.

I subscribe to six daily newspapers and will be the first to say that the drumbeat of bad news about our region, nation, and world can feel overwhelming. But working in higher education is a salve that encourages hope for the future. It is a privilege to work to build and strengthen an institution whose mission is to prepare people to turn knowledge into positive action that can change society and the world.

At Willamette, as at most other universities, the difficulties of the pandemic hangover remain acute, including the ongoing financial and staffing challenges and the need to support those who have seen their educations and lives disrupted, but I’m very proud of what we’ve all accomplished in the last three years, and confident that we are up to these challenges.

As we emerge from a difficult period, it is exciting to know that Willamette’s enduring mission has now been matched with a sound strategy and an exciting vision for its future. There is a lot of hard but rewarding work ahead for all of us as we refine our vision and build a stronger and more ambitious university.

non nobis solum,

Willamette University

Office of the President

Salem Campus

Waller Hall, 5th Floor
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.