Dear Friend of Berry College:
Serious artists and musicians always seek out audiences and submit themselves to public scrutiny. Members of the Berry community do this on a regular basis — both at home and abroad. For example, in addition to on-campus concerts and recitals, Berry musicians have performed recently in England, and our painters have shown their work in Ireland and the Middle East.
When I praised one senior colleague for exhibiting his paintings so frequently to new audiences, he replied: “That’s what all of us do. We create and then submit our results for others to judge. That keeps us honest.”
Public — and peer — scrutiny do indeed keep us honest. And on our toes. That principle is as true for colleges as it is for singers, painters, biologists or English professors. Performing artists have an advantage in that there is a public that frequents theaters, concert halls and art galleries. Biologists and English professors almost always write for peer rather than general audiences. By “peer” I mean other professionals in the field who can judge the merit of the professor’s accomplishments.
Measurement of quality begins at home
The highest standards are those we set for ourselves. One of the best ways to set such standards is through strategic planning. Well before the period of Berry’s 1997-2002 plan came to a close, many members of the Berry constituency worked together on a plan that will take us to the year 2012. Many of our goals are to be accomplished within 1,000 days. Yet we also wanted today’s decisions to make sense in the long run and thus crafted an approach that will guide us for a full decade.
Students, faculty, staff members, alumni, trustees and members of the board of visitors took active roles in this sustained planning effort. Together we identified Berry’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (referred to as a “SWOT analysis”) and then devoted a weekend retreat of the board of trustees to discussions of where the college should be in the future. The result is a list of 12 goals and 57 objectives that will guide us in both the short and long run.
As fine as the plan is, its best feature is a built-in report card. Each goal has benchmarks against which we will match our progress. Quite soon, we will have reports on our college Web site that show how well we are meeting our goals. Excellent plans fail in the absence of such report cards and accountability. By meeting our strategic goals, we can say to the world that Berry is doing well!
Beyond planning, we survey Berry students about their perceptions of the quality of education at Berry and compare their responses to national data. This past year, our students were among 135,000 students at 613 colleges and universities who took part in the “National Survey of Student Engagement.” Results demonstrate that Berry students think more highly of the quality of their education than do students nationally. Indeed, in many categories we stand head and shoulders above the national averages. Such surveys are not trustworthy in themselves, but they do make sense in the context of other evidence about quality.
Colleges are clearly judged by how well their students perform in off-campus competitions, post-graduate study and in their careers. Our college bowl and forensics teams always do very well in both regional and national competitions, and our student newspaper is perennially ranked among Georgia’s best. Berry students excel in graduate studies. For instance, six recent Berry graduates are now studying — and thriving — at the Princeton Theological Seminary, perhaps the premier seminary in America. Eighty to 90 percent of our pre-med and pre-vet applicants are admitted to the program of their choice. As our young graduates thrive at places like Emory, Stanford and the University of Chicago, we receive confirmation of the quality of an undergraduate education at Berry.
Performing is a way of life for Berry music students (below). This fall, Berry’s Concert Choir presented Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Rome Symphony Orchestra, and last year they teamed with the Chattanooga Symphony to present Bloch’s Sacred Service. The choir is led by Director of Choral Activities Harry Musselwhite, who is a renowned bass soloist. Earlier this year, Mr. Musselwhite was the soloist with the Virtuosi of London’s presentation of Puccini’s Gloria at Britain’s historic Wells Cathedral. He will return to England twice in 2003 to perform in Verdi’s Requiem.