Academic strategic planning – the arts and professions

Academic strategic planning – the arts and professions

As we put the final touches on the strategic plan for review by the Fresno Pacific University Board of Trustees in June, we are developing the sub-plans to implement the larger goals. Three in particular are the academic plan, the enrollment plan and the financial plan. The academic plan drives the others, but cannot dictate the enrollment and financial plans. Whatever we do academically must meet the needs and demands of students and potential students, and it must be financially sustainable. In fact in some cases financial needs will drive enrollment, which will drive academic planning and development. In an institution dependent on enrollment for stability, all must work together. If we were a different kind of institution, or at a different stage in our development, we might be thinking and planning for endowment growth and specialized programs not funded through enrollment. But we are a relatively young institution, with a particular mission to this region, its people and churches. It is always, as I have written many times (because it bears repeating) mission and market, never one without the other.

This week I met with the faculties of the Schools of Business, Education, and Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences (HRSS). I had about 30 minutes with each, so there was only time to touch on the highlights of the academic plan that the deans and I finished in June of last year. The deans worked with their school leadership and caucuses to develop initiatives to take us to the next step, we think, in our development. Let me note a high point:

We say one of our key goals is to develop professional programs that meet student needs. Potential students from high school-age to working adults have been told over and over that the value of an education is the job or profession it allows them to enter into. This has been our emphasis for a very long time, but its desirability has become more prominent over the last 20-25 years. What used to be a characteristic of graduate and adult education has become universal, or nearly so. One reflection of this is found in new federal regulations that require freshmen to declare a major when they start college in order to be eligible for federal financial aid. We used to tell students not to choose too early, to explore, to try out what they think are their gifts. We can no longer do so.

So how do we retain our traditional emphasis in the liberal arts and sciences in this new environment? Support comes from what may seem an unlikely source. It continues to be widely reported (I first read these reports more than 30 years ago) that business people move up into leadership more quickly and successfully if they have studied in liberal arts institutions. Professional training, I say to students and parents, gets you your first job or your entry into a profession. The broader studies gained in the arts and sciences builds your career. When business people are surveyed they note that the most highly desired abilities in new employees are the ability to communicate (oral and written, and now presentation and video), creativity and problem solving, and integrity and ethics. These are the characteristics and skills or abilities the traditional arts and sciences teach and encourage. It is a conundrum: to attract students we need professional/technical programs; to prepare them for leadership we need the traditional, and seemingly less useful, arts and sciences. What are we to do about it? This question brings me back to my day with our faculty.

As we discussed this need, the business faculty entered into a discussion about what employers look for in new employees—communication, creativity, ethics—and how the arts teach these. This is not something we expect of a business faculty—three cheers for the School of Business! They spoke about how they used ancient philosophical writings in business ethics, and classical works of social theory in courses on organization. They might have added how novels and film can be used to help students see the human side of business, and how imaginative works spark creativity. History and biography can tell us something about organizational and personal dynamics. So can the field of communication itself. This central profession in our commercial republic needs the arts and sciences integrated with professional training in order to produce the leaders so desperately needed in our society. The same could be said for other professions, like psychology, the sciences or Christian ministries.

What the business faculty discussed briefly points to opportunities for others. Those of us trained in the humanities and social sciences teach the very subjects leaders need. We encourage our students to take a major and a minor. If one does a major in the humanities, a minor can be earned in a professional field and vice versa. The English student might work for a communications firm and produce copy of for print and electronic media. The student of art is needed in media of all kinds. Writing a phrase that grabs our attention and produces insight in 140 characters is something like poetry. (Perhaps I push the argument too far, but maybe not.) We learn creative communications from writing and literature classes. And these too are filled with discussions and portrayals of ethical ideals and problems.

This integration of the arts and sciences with professions is just one of the integrations we practice. The other is that of faith with our disciplines, whether in the arts and sciences or professions. That is a topic for another time. For now there is great opportunity to embrace the need for professional training, and for well-developed, creative and ethical communicators who have studied the arts and sciences. Ours is a form of education that brings what is powerful from traditional higher education and makes it relevant to the needs of our students who will be leaders in our communities in the coming decades.

Steve Varvis

Steve Varvis

3 responses to “Academic strategic planning – the arts and professions”

  1. Steve,
    I have enjoyed reading your narrative today. I hope that your visit with us in SOE Caucus yesterday felt warm and welcomed because some days you may feel like a man with a target on his back.

    Boy did the topic of integrity/character strike a bone in me reading that they are valued characteristics in the workplace (at least some places). I have begun asking questions around folks I teach with as well as our students in Degree Completion if they feel pressure to conform or to “go along” with the flow of some organization and the answer is OFTEN, “Yes”. So like sin is easy to come by I think trying to make a success of oneself in a career can be a slippery slope for all of us.

    You were already gone yesterday but I shared with everyone in Caucus that, again, Sijmontje and I had a most wonderful experience attending and presenting at the Annual Kremen School of Education Character and Civic Education Conference this March. We presented just days before leaving for the ACRES Conference held in New Orleans. In addition to my wanting everyone to hear how well organized and run the conference is locally we also have made friends with FSU Faculty and Staff. Nice!
    Our presentation this year, Steve, is one that we share just how our faith is taken each day into the workplace and how we prepare for teaching and being with our students. In our case we share Christ as our point of direction…as our Guide…and how our experience is that He opens us up to being available (vulnerable) with others in our engagement with them. Well….being this open is quite new to us…and our audience this year of some seventy attendees in the room held Muslims, Christians, and probably quite a variety of faith practices among the men and women present. Siemie shared with me after we concluded the presentation that she saw some weeping as we discussed select slides with photos or video portions of our work with the children in her classroom and how we see them as precious and loved. Without question we hit some deep spots in at least some who were present that day. I believe while some are touched deeply others may simply think, “Well, that’s nice!” Everyone is in a different place in their lives and only open to what they may be opened to.

    Keep your head up and keep doing what you are doing and know that I believe in you a well as in Rich working his side of the fence in the Dual Presidency. Remember that I presented a question to you some time ago. If you wish for faculty to have opportunity to share a Poster Session with the Board again this year prior to the Board Meeting be sure and give us lead time to prepare for it. Don’t jam us with a last minute reminder please!

    Best Wishes,


  2. You wrote, “Writing a phrase that grabs our attention and produces insight in 140 characters is something like poetry. (Perhaps I push the argument too far, but maybe not.)”
    If Horace is right in his Ars Poetica that poetry is the art of not saying everything, then maybe a tweet can be considered poetry. Just maybe.