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Fall Conference Remarks

Fall Conference Remarks
By Jill Tiefenthaler, President

Colorado College, August 29, 2011

Thank you Bob [Manning] for that warm introduction.  I first got to know Bob when he was a member of my search committee and I am grateful for his advice since I have arrived on campus.  In fact, I want to publicly acknowledge the good wishes and support that I have received from the entire board over the last few months.  They clearly love this place and have much respect and gratitude for the work that you do here.  It is so important that I, that we, have the support of our Board of Trustees.  Thanks Bob to you and your colleagues for all that you do for CC! I also want to thank all of you for all that you do for Colorado College.  This is such a wonderful place!

Over the last few years, CC has faced some difficult economic times and you have been asked to do more. Many of our staff have taken on additional duties and have bigger jobs that no longer fit the original job description.  Our faculty members have managed larger classes and willingly taken on heavy service roles without course release.  However, due to your hard work and dedication to CC and the leadership of Dick [Celeste] and the senior staff, our trustees and all those deans and presidents who came before, I have the great privilege of taking the helm of a very strong institution. In fact, that strength is one of the things that attracted me to CC, but it wasn’t only the strength.  My sense of Colorado College when I was looking at this institution from a far was that it was a place of both strength and opportunity. 

Over the last month, I have been reassured that my initial impressions are accurate. Our core – an extremely talented faculty committed to teaching, a dedicated staff inspired by our mission, truly remarkable students, an innovative curriculum, a stunning campus and location, and a vibrant local community – is very strong. 

Another of our strengths is our financial status. Despite the recent rollercoaster performance of the markets, I am encouraged by the present state of the college’s economic condition. After attending the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents in July, I realized just how strong CC is relative to most colleges and universities.  Our nation’s public institutions are in crisis and many private institutions that don’t enjoy our reputation are struggling to fill their beds.

We are strong. Yet we are not satisfied to rest on our laurels.  We are also a place of ambition. This ambition to be even better, clearly voiced in our mission – to provide the finest liberal arts education in the country - is what has me most excited. 

I plan to spend the coming year listening. Listening to all of you, listening to our students, alumni, parents and trustees. I look forward to hearing all of your ideas about how we can move toward our goal, how we can fulfill our mission. I have drafted five questions that I will ask all of our constituencies this fall.

  1. What do we need to think about, to do differently, to provide the best liberal arts education for this generation of students?
  2.  In what way is CC distinctive from other colleges? What are our strengths?
  3. What does CC need to improve?  Where are we behind?
  4. How would you like to be more involved with the college? (While this one might seem to be focused on alumni and parents, I ask you all to think about it as well.  Are we using your talents?  Hearing your ideas?
  5. What are your ambitions for Colorado College? What is your wish or vision for CC, five or ten years in the future?

 

It is important to me that I listen and hear from our community because it must be our strategy not mine.  My plan is to follow this year of listening with a list of more specific questions on which to engage the community.  These questions will be developed from what I hear in the coming year.  Our discussions in Fall 2012 of those more targeted questions will define our key priorities for the coming years.

There is one area where I won’t be patient and where I have already been moving forward because of what I have seen in the last few months and what I have heard resounding from faculty, staff, students and alumni. That is, we must give more attention to building and sustaining our CC community. Unless we can become a strong and united community, we will not attain our goal, we cannot realize our mission.

What does it mean to be that kind of community – a strong and united community?  One where we are all working together toward our share goal of providing the best liberal arts education in the country? It requires that we build a community of trust.  Without trust we won’t be willing to take risks, to fail and pick ourselves up, to support each other when things go badly.  We can’t have trust without transparency.  We must talk to each other and figure out how to communicate more effectively on campus. We must also have clear policies on critical issues so that everyone is treated fairly.

Being a strong and united community – and fulfilling our mission - also requires breaking down the silos between our departments and divisions.  I understand that during a time of cuts, there was some instinct to hunker down and protect those closest to us.  However, the silo or divisional or department-focused mentality will not get us where we want to go. When we hunker down and circle the wagons, we tend to develop our “shtick” within our division that only we know what we are doing; we work harder than everyone else; other units are getting what we deserve.  We might start to care more about who gets the credit instead of what is best for our students. This type of silo mentality will not get us where we want to go.

In my recent remarks to our new students and their parents, I told our first years that they were joining a new community and that being a member of any community presents many opportunities but also come with significant responsibility.  I challenged them to take advantage of the opportunities but also to give back – to make CC a better place because of them.

I want to put the same challenge to all of us today.  Let’s embrace this community and make it better. We are all part of CC – some of us for many, many years; however, let’s agree to dedicate this coming year to building a stronger and more unified community.  Let’s recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats.  Let’s support each other when things don’t go our way and jointly celebrate our successes.  Let’s mutually recognize everyone’s contributions. If we do the hard work and succeed, we will reap many rewards. CC will be an even better place to be for our students and all of us. Don’t get me wrong – I know that CC is already an amazing place, a place of strength: great people - faculty, staff, and students, good facilities, a healthy financial position, and this beautiful place. I am honored and humbled to serve your college. I can’t believe that I get to come to work here every day.

I am incredibly optimistic about our future.  I dream about a future where CC is routinely recognized as being one of the best places to work and learn and we attain our goal of providing the best liberal arts education in the country.  And I promise that I am going to do my part to get us there but I can’t do it alone.  It will take all of us, working side by side.

Finally, on behalf of my entire family - my husband Kevin, my two children Olivia and Owen - I want to thank this community for the incredibly warm welcome that we have felt over the last few months.  We are so happy to be in this beautiful state living in Colorado Springs at this special place, Colorado College.