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Prior Proper Planning

Cooking up a plan for the Next Five Years on Mount St. James.

By Laura Porter

In accordance with its mission statement, Holy Cross exemplifies a tradition dedicated to academic excellence, the development of the whole individual and the search for meaning and value at the heart of the intellectual life.

But tradition is often best preserved through judicious change.
No institution, academic or otherwise, can survive without paying careful attention to its own shifting needs in the face of evolving social and intellectual realities in the world at large. Periods of consolidation must alternate with deliberate and measured strides forward. Indeed, part of Holy Cross’ long term success has been its leaders’ ability to address new priorities while continuing to uphold and strengthen its larger mission.

Last spring, as students packed up to head home and professors prepared for a summer of scholarship, the Board of Trustees approved a new Five-Year Strategic Plan. The culmination of two years of institution-wide discussion, the plan reflects a thorough assessment of the College’s immediate and future needs and its goals for meeting the most urgent of them.

“I credit Holy Cross with teaching me that complacency is never acceptable,” says Erin Robert ’06, who served as one of three students formally involved in the strategic planning process. That process “took a look at Holy Cross in much the same manner, questioning why we operate [the way] we do and if there were a better way,” she explains.

In brief, the key elements of the Strategic Plan call for the renovation and expansion of Haberlin Hall, site of the chemistry and physics departments, as well as for an increase in faculty salaries and curricular reforms that include the implementation of a universal First-Year Experience. Goals have also been set to revamp admissions and marketing efforts and to increase financial aid. A presidential discretionary fund has been set aside to meet unexpected needs.

“It was time to set new directions,” says Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., president of Holy Cross. “We knew we needed a new science facility and to address faculty salaries and financial aid. We wanted to have a more comprehensive picture.”

Prompted by several Trustee retreats held in 2002, the Planning Steering Committee (PSC) was formed in 2003, an offshoot of the Finance Planning Council of the College. Spearheaded by Senior Vice President Frank Vellaccio, the PSC included faculty members, administrators and students. The Trustees and the president were closely involved throughout the process.

The first step in strategic planning, notes Vellaccio, is to “make sure an institution isn’t in an identity crisis. In our case, it was pretty much an affirmation. Holy Cross has never had an identity crisis. We’re a small, liberal arts, Catholic Jesuit college.”

Fr. McFarland concurs. “We know who we are, and we like who we are,” he says. “The process of putting this plan together revealed a real consensus about our mission. We wanted to be a little more popular but not by sacrificing academic rigor. We wanted to be welcoming and inclusive, but people didn’t want to give up the strong faith tradition. We came back to what we were.”

The committee first completed a “SWOT” exercise, or internal audit, to identify the College’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The environmental audit that followed, says Vellaccio, meant looking at general trends in higher education as well as “seeing who your peers are, who you’re competing with for students and faculty.”

Building upon that initial assessment, the members of the committee labored long and hard to create the concise but eloquent vision statement that guided the strategic planning process from start to finish:

“As a Jesuit and Catholic liberal arts college, Holy Cross distinguishes itself by its rigorous pursuit of excellence in teaching, learning and research, and by its unparalleled commitment to the religious and moral development of its students. To this end, Holy Cross generates in students a fascination with ideas, a passion for justice, both local and global, and an aptitude for wonder.”

Committee members agreed that any initiatives adopted would have to facilitate two fundamental objectives: “producing graduates [that meet] the highest standards of undergraduate education” as well as helping Holy Cross to “become the college of choice for the most talented students seeking a challenging and creative undergraduate education.”

But, says Vellaccio, “all of that is kind of rhetorical until you get down to saying, ‘You have a certain amount of money—What are you going to use it for?’”

From the very outset, it was clear that every effort would be made to give everyone on campus an opportunity to answer that question. Twice, the PSC sent letters to the entire College community asking for feedback. Open meetings were held. There were student and faculty focus committees on planning. In a series of meetings with Vellaccio called “Frank with Frank,” students offered opinions on everything from “transportation around Worcester to availability of classes in specific academic departments,” says Robert.

In addition, the committee asked representatives from a host of different areas to examine and report on their own needs. Information came in from admissions; athletics; the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture; curriculum; diversity; faculty compensation; financial aid; financial resources; food services; marketing; the religious development of students; space and facilities, including the Haberlin project; student behavior; technology; and tuition pricing.

“It was as inclusive of the whole community as possible,” says Vellaccio.

For Alice Laffey, associate professor of religious studies and a member of the PSC for much of its tenure, the process “was very important because it wasn’t done hierarchically. The attitude was, ‘Let’s take hold of the future, and let’s do it together, and let’s do it with a vision that transcends the divisions, that focuses on Holy Cross as a college community.’”

In her 25 years at the College, says Laffey, “This was the first time we were planning ahead for a vision that was larger than my own academic box.”

“People were very honest,” she continues. “They responded with passion and great seriousness.” As a result, “the finished product, as best we could, reflects a good combination of the ideal and the real.


Proper Planning continued >>>

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