For decades, Fort Lewis College has touted itself as Colorado’s only public four-year liberal arts college, but as it reviewed its mission statement this year to determine the school’s identity in the 21st century, the “liberal arts” description was up for debate.
Why was “liberal arts” a question mark?
“We still believe in the importance of liberal arts and the critical thinking it teaches, but what good is an English or history degree without a skill to go with it?” FLC President Dene Thomas said. “Students need to be employable when they graduate.”
The strategic planning steering committee came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the phrase liberal arts that was the problem, it was that something else was lacking.
“It needed to be integrated with the practical,” Thomas said. “We needed to determine how to add the practical, the professional, which were left out for a long time. We are about both, and we are stronger when both can be put together.”
On Friday, the Board of Trustees approved the result: “Fort Lewis College provides an integrated and formative liberal arts and professional education to a diverse student population, preparing global citizens to work in and contribute to a complex world.”
In comparison, the previous mission statement was: “Fort Lewis College offers accessible, high quality, baccalaureate liberal arts education to a diverse student population, preparing citizens for the common good in an increasingly complex world.”
Getting to the approved mission included some bumps, bruises and vigorous conversation in a process that has lasted eight months, Thomas told the board.
“I don’t know how the process could have been any more inclusive,” she said. “We included students, faculty, staff, the Professional Associates, alumni, the Board of Trustees and the community, reaching out to the Chamber of Commerce and other groups. We had versions we put up on the wall, where we excised words, put new words in, disagreed, fought, made it as interactive as possible.”
Three different variations were presented for stakeholders’ consideration, and at least one of them did not include liberal arts. Defending the inclusion of liberal arts in the mission energized both students and faculty, who held meetings of their own. Faculty members even assigned themselves some homework, reading Why Choose the Liberal Arts? for a discussion held Thursday morning with the Board of Trustees before the board’s committee meetings.
“Saying the faculty was relatively pleased is an understatement,” said assistant professor of management Michael Valdez, who is the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees.
The campus came together when Thomas held a meeting for students, staff and faculty with the proposed mission statement the Thursday before Thanksgiving break, when a lot of questions were asked, many focusing on word choices.
“The new statement was really well received,” said Connor Cafferty, president of the Associated Students of Fort Lewis College. “Students felt their voice was heard.”
Flowing out of the mission statement were core value statements in the areas of education, diversity, community, high expectations, stewardship and relevance, which the board also approved Friday. While there were some wording and order concerns among faculty, the core values were well-received, Valdez said.
“Extreme consideration was given to faculty, and it was appreciated,” he said. “The relationship between faculty and administration is the warmest since I’ve been here (since fall 2013).”
Next up is the completion of the strategic plan for 2017-2021, to include action plans, goals and strategies. Some items will continue from the 2012-2016 strategic plan and others will reflect the challenges the college faces with decreasing state funding, higher admission standards affecting enrollment and the consideration of majors which may be added or dropped.
“But all of that will be relatively easy compared to the mission statement and core values,” Thomas said, “because strategies will flow from those.”