We have begun the strategic planning process. I use the word “process” loosely. Strategic planning is creative. It is iterative or reiterative. We start, we develop and new insights inspire revision of what we thought we had firmly established. We need the insights and experience of many, of everyone. Each of us brings a slightly different perspective. It has been my experience, having been in a number of roles over the years, that the university looks different depending on where you are standing or sitting. It looks one way from the standpoint of a student, another from an alum, a parent or a church leader. It looks one way from the vantage point of a professor, and another from the advancement staff. It might look cohesive if we work at one campus or center. However, if we are out in the public and or the higher education realm, it might look almost chaotic. It looks one way from a dean’s office, and another from the president’s. We need the insights and understanding of those who see from very singular and particular positions, and those who see things as comprehensively as possible.
We need all of these insights, and we also need to understand with as much depth as possible what we can build on. We do not start from scratch. Those who founded FPU left us a legacy. Those who have given their lives and resources, their encouragement and prayers, have all built an institution that has now become the foundation for our future. Our past and present offer resources. It is true we now face an uncertain future. We shouldn’t be dismayed—the future is by definition uncertain! And so we must be aware of not just our foundations and what has been built, but also of our opportunities for possible directions. We can draw and build upon many resources as we move forward. Let me list a few:
• Mission: we have a particular mission to develop “students for leadership through excellence in Christian higher education.” This distinguishes us from most other universities. We have developed statements of values, and the unique character of FPU in our Idea.
• Reputation: we have a well-established reputation. Sometimes our reputation for excellence in education and ministry overshadow the accomplishments of our faculty and graduates in business, or social work or the sciences (to name just a few examples), but we continue to tell our story, and reinforce our reputation broadly and in particular ways (everyone can help with this—for information go to our FPU at a Glance page and our Quick Facts). We have a unique reputation for peacemaking and reconciliation and for community development. We have a good and growing reputation in cities where we have regional centers.
• Academic Programs: we focus on programs that meet the needs of our students and grow out of our mission.
• Alumni and Supporters: every university has dedicated alumni and supporters/donors. We have the most loyal and energetic. They make possible and carry FPU influence throughout the Valley and around the world. Many are very accomplished in their professional fields. Their knowledge, experience and influence is a cherished resource.
• Staff, Faculty and Board of Trustees: we are blessed with a committed faculty, staff and board who dedicate their time, and in many cases their lives, to our mission, our students and the churches and other institutions we serve. We are committed to working together as one community.
• Church: the Mennonite Brethren Churches help to anchor us in a particular tradition that is both Evangelical and Anabaptist. I have never experienced a body more active in ministry than the MB churches. When the history of the work of Christians in our Valley is told, Mennonite Brethren ministries will have one of the most prominent places. They are a gift to the university, and FPU is their gift to the Valley.
• Students: when we ask them, our current students tell us how well we are meeting their needs and desires for education. They are appreciative and also are candid about what we could be doing better. We need their experience to know where there is need, and what we might do to meet it.
• Physical Resources: we too often forget our current resources as we think about the resources we need. We have a main campus that is well developed and at the same time developing—a garden oasis in the city. We have four regional centers whose use is flexible, and which are positioned well in each of the cities they serve. We have developed and are developing athletic facilities. Soon we will have a fine/performing arts facility of professional quality to match the quality of AIMS Hall, our math-science building. We have an integrated technology system and online education platform. We have an up-to-date research resource in our library, meeting the needs of distributed faculty and students. Our future will build upon these physical resources.
• Experience in Higher Education: our institution is now 70 years old. Many of our professors, administrators and staff bring the experience of long and dedicated careers in higher education to our efforts. They have weathered storms, and seen wild success. We enjoy their specialized knowledge, and their long perspective. They approach their work professionally and faithfully. They are familiar with Christian higher education, international education, educational and market trends, branding, enrollment, pedagogy and andragogy, student development, curriculum development, support systems, data analysis, governmental regulations, accreditation, required processes in general and in specialized areas, finance, fundraising, online education…I could go on. We don’t often talk about the specialized higher education resources that are characteristic of the FPU community, but they are extensive.
• Friends in Higher Education: higher education is a wonderfully collaborative effort. Our colleagues around the state and country share their experiences with us openly, both Christian and other institutions. We seek out their experience and we offer ours.
These are just some of the resources we will build upon. Beyond all of this it seems to me we have no end of creativity! And we need it—strategic planning is a creative act.