Stronger Together

By President Steven Poskanzer

_98T6794_Hirez.jpgThe chief aim of our recently adopted strategic plan is to improve the academic experience at Carleton. While we are always working to make our college stronger, it is important to understand the limited number of levers we can pull to effect lasting improvements in quality. We can be more successful at hiring, promoting, and retaining the very best faculty. We can expand the depth and richness of the curriculum. We can recruit even better students. We can be more efficient in how we operate. And we can raise money for pressing needs and spend it strategically. As you would expect, we are in constant pursuit of each of these goals.

But we have one more lever that we can pull to enhance quality—one that most colleges and universities do not have and one that we have not pulled before. It is among our top priorities in the strategic plan to collaborate with other academic institutions to improve our offerings and lower our costs. Carleton’s proximity to St. Olaf College presents us with an especially intriguing partner for collaboration. St. Olaf is just one mile away from Carleton, yet the history and culture of the two colleges are very distinctive. This may explain the playful—and occasionally fierce—rivalry we’ve shared over the years. Certainly, there is no other school I would rather see the Knights vanquish! But the fact remains that both schools fundamentally have much in common. Both Carleton and St. Olaf are among the best liberal arts colleges in the nation. And both are committed to providing a great education on a residential campus for bright, talented students.

The two colleges are already interconnected in many ways, formally and informally. We share a library catalog, and we allow students enrolled at one college to take courses at the other, although few students have taken advantage of this opportunity. Over the years, we have experimented with shared faculty positions and, currently, several staff members split their work between the campuses. But overall, the collaborative potential remains largely untapped. Identifying other ways to collaborate with St. Olaf will enhance the quality of what we do separately and what we can do together.

We were elated to learn this winter that Carleton and St. Olaf received a $1.4 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that will advance collaboration in library services, information technology, management operations, and academic programs. Our colleges worked hard to demonstrate how our nascent partnership could be a model for other schools, and I’m profoundly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its forward-looking commitment to help liberal arts colleges flourish.

This grant will enable our libraries (which have been working together since 2003, when we created cross-library borrowing) to install and share a new sophisticated library management system. We intend to develop a common, web-based research portal that will support library patrons on both campuses. We will launch a program of competitively awarded grants that will permit faculty members to explore and pilot academic collaborations, both in curricula development and experiential learning. We will begin to align key elements of the colleges’ information technology systems, including how we address security threats. We shall experiment with ways to share computer and technology support services. And we will identify efficiencies in “back room” business operations in an effort to contain costs and improve service to faculty members and students at both colleges.

To ensure that our collaboration continues to grow and foster new ideas, we will institute a series of joint faculty workshops focused on particular pedagogical, curricular, and intellectual issues; opportunities for faculty and staff members to share ideas and explore new applications for technology; miniretreats for academic administrative assistants to discuss ways they can collaborate across our campuses; and staff workshops to consolidate training and professional development activities.

The acuteness of the need to collaborate and the wisdom of working together with the right partners are greater now than ever before. Each school is justifiably proud of its own history, heritage, and character. But we must also meet our pressing responsibility to be vigorous and forward-looking stewards of our resources. By deploying those resources wisely and increasing their impact, we can enhance the quality of teaching and scholarship at both institutions. In this way, we help ensure Carleton’s powerful, positive trajectory for decades to come.

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