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Magazine Essays

Road Map for an Ongoing Journey
Summer 2003
PDF Version

This Berry magazine essay is on a topic that friends tell me will be difficult to bring to life in an alumni magazine. My topic is “Renewing Our Mission: Berry College Strategic Plan: 2002-2012.” The plan is important because it explains everything we are doing at Berry. If anyone wants to know what we are up to, then the navigation graphic plan is the place to find out. Indeed, our strategic plan is a type of map we will be following for the next decade. There may be no more important topic for me to discuss with readers of Berry. The trick of understanding the plan is to focus on the road map, however, rather than some distant destination. Let me explain what I mean.

During childhood, I was always puzzled when people would say “it’s not the destination so much as the journey that counts.” To a child, destinations mean everything, such as finally completing a long school year and beginning summer vacation. Little did I know that the experience of the school year was the purpose of the exercise and not the weeks and weeks of carefree vacation. In similar fashion, graduation from college is not the single culminating moment. We call the graduation ceremony “commencement” because of the lifelong journey that lies ahead. The college journey is really a mapmaking exercise for an active life that should include continuing learning, thought and reflection.

Running a college is also a mapmaking or planning exercise. At Berry, we live by a mission that defines specific destinations for our students: intellectual, moral and spiritual growth; a capacity to follow a career path effectively; and a lifelong commitment to serving others. In other words, our goal at Berry is an education of the head, the heart and the hands. Yet, the mission of the college is a continuing process and is not something one can complete and say, “Well, now I can check that one off the list.”

Although Berry is guided by our mission, we nevertheless need assistance in focusing on the most important things and devoting less attention elsewhere. That is where the strategic plan comes in.

A strategic plan is “strategic” in that it is supposed to give an organization an advantage over the competition. First used by the military and then by corporate America, strategic planning has been a feature of academic life for the past quarter-century. In the world of colleges and universities, such planning is usually less about competitive advantage than it is about focusing on one’s mission. Of course, at Berry, we believe the better we focus on our mission the better we will do in recruiting and retaining students.

The great advantage of strategic planning is that the process engages all constituents of an organization. At Berry, students, faculty and staff members, alumni representatives, trustees and the administrative leadership team took active roles in creating and then honing our plan. The trustees devoted a 24-hour retreat to early stages of planning. Campus and alumni participants spent many hours in discussion about the best ways to renew and sustain the historic mission of the college. The college Planning Council, with wide representation from all campus groups, spent hours on the process. The trustees and faculty ratified the planning document late in 2001, and it became effective the first day of 2002. The college Planning Council continues its work by monitoring the plan during regular meetings

Alumni and friends of the college can read the plan by going to Berry’s home page on the Web – www.berry.edu – and finding “Strategic Plan” listed under “Quick Links.” We have an up-to-date report card posted on the strategic plan site so that everyone can see how well we are meeting our goals.

The plan is at once bold and conservative. It is bold in that we are seeking to ensure that all three elements of our mission are reflected in all educational programs, all academic advising and all students’ learning. We do not wish merely to pay lip service to the education of the head, heart and hands but to produce proof that this education is actually touching the lives of every Berry student. As is true of most important exercises, meeting this goal is easier said than done.

The plan is also bold in our determination to “foster a culture that is open, friendly and inviting to all members of the campus community and that welcomes and values diversity, encourages interaction and negotiates the differences among us.” We have goals for greater ethnic and geographical diversity within the student body, faculty and staff even as we honor our commitment to our traditional constituency. Goals one through six address the education of the head, heart and hands, and goals seven, eight and nine address several dimensions of diversity. All 12 goals of the plan are listed in a sidebar that accompanies this essay.

The map we have drawn is conservative in the vision, mission, purpose and values statements that preface the strategic plan. We affirm our Christian values as we celebrate a balanced and integrated education of mind and spirit, a culture of work and service to others. We also affirm our liberal arts mission and our dedication to appointing and retaining a faculty of teacher-scholars who remain active in their intellectual disciplines. Some longtime members of the Berry community tell me we are now more conscious about pursuing our historic educational mission than we may have been at times in the past. In that sense, our plan for 2002-2012 takes us “back to the future.”

The plan is no shelf-document. I keep a copy handy when I am struggling with difficult issues. It is always enlightening to re-read the vision and mission statements and look again at the goals when making decisions about complex matters. The trustees use the plan as their tool for conducting my annual performance review. Similarly, I use the plan in evaluating the work of those who report to me, as do several of the vice presidents in their own staff reviews. The prospect of an annual performance review quickens the mind and stirs the blood! The plan is also a key to budgeting. We construct our budget around critical goals and devote fewer funds to less critical goals. “Renewing Our Mission” will remain a vital document because we put it to use nearly every day of the year.

Trustee Thomas Fanning, vice president and chief financial officer of the Southern Co., chairs the board’s Strategic Planning Committee. Tom attended almost all college Planning Council meetings last year and an extended planning session this winter. His personal participation demonstrates the close involvement of the trustees in the planning process. Our public report card and our use of the plan in administrative evaluations and budgeting also show how important we consider this document.

The strategic plan is alive and well and will continue to guide us throughout the first decade of this new century. We know where we are going and have an excellent map to guide us. With this essay, I ask all friends of Berry to join us on our remarkable journey.

Berry College Strategic Plan Goals

Dr. Scott Colley
Berry College President

 

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