Linfield president sets goals for his final year

President Hellie at the 2017 State of the CollegeReprinted with permission of the News-Register.

By Starla Pointer    September 14, 2017

In his annual State of the College address on Monday, Linfield College President Tom Hellie established five “really big, really important goals” for his final year in office:

1. Spur more donations, specifically for science programs and facilities, faculty additions and scholarships.

2. Boost enrollment, partly by strengthening the school’s marketing and communications. Hellie said Linfield is already making significant use of social media channels such as Facebook and YouTube, and he hopes to double that this year in order to reach a broader range of potential enrollees.

3. Complete an institutional self-study in preparation for 2018-19’s re-accreditation process. The college is scheduled to submit the report to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities next fall, in preparation for a site visit early in 2019.

Hellie predicted the self-study would prove as valuable internally as externally, and would be well-received by the commission. “I’m certain we’ll receive commendation,” he said.

4. Prepare for selection of a new president, who will take over on July 1, 2018.

A search committee already is sifting through applications. Hellie said he expects the top two or three candidates to visit campus later this year, allowing the college to tap his successor early next year.

Though he made a point of noting he’s not on the committee himself, he said, “I’m told Linfield is attracting outstanding candidates.”

“Linfield’s reputation has grown,” he said, and it is attracting candidates interested in putting their own stamp on the school.

5. Create opportunities for civic debate. In an era when radical groups are targeting colleges that “call for careful consideration of facts,” Hellie said, schools need to foster discussion based on “facts and rational thinking” rather than overheated rhetoric.

Toward that end, he said, Linfield has scheduled a number of discussions this school year. The first, on Sept. 21, will allow students to make five-minute persuasive speeches inspired by the Preamble to the Constitution and the rights it grants.

Additional programs are set for Oct. 12, featuring Cheryl Harris of the UCLA School of Law and Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution, discussing equality and speech; and Nov. 2, featuring Linfield trustees Phil Bond and Michelle Giguere, both 1978 graduates; although they differ in their politics, they are able to keep exchanges civil and constructive, the president said.

“It’s vitally important we demonstrate reasoned, fact-based debate and mutual respect…,” he said.

“I love this college,” Hellie told members of the faculty and staff, who partly filled Ice Auditorium for his final state of the college address, given his plan to retire in June.

Since assuming the helm in April 2006, Hellie has seen Linfield through numerous milestones.

He has helped greatly increase donations, which totaled $870,000 in 2016-17, the most in 20 years. He has overseen a near doubling of the college’s endowment, taking it from $61 million in 2005-06 to $113 million today.

He led the celebration of Linfield’s sesquicentennial and mourned the loss of the symbolic Old Oak; facilitated many campus improvements, including renovation of the former Northup Library to create T.J. Day Hall; increased the number of endowed faculty positions from two to the current seven; and spearheaded unique program additions, including wine studies and the Oregon Wine Archives.

Through all that, he said, Linfield has been able to balance the budget every year for 43 straight years now. He said he doesn’t know of any other Oregon college that can make that claim.

Hellie also has overseen the diversification of the student body. Today, one-fourth of students are first-generation enrollees, one-third are students of color and 96 percent are eligible for financial aid packages averaging $29,000.

U.S. News & World Report just named Linfield a co-No. 1 in ethnic diversity among liberal arts colleges in Oregon and Washington, and 34th among all such colleges in the country. Washington Monthly ranked Linfield No. 1 on it’s “Best Bang for the Buck” list for Oregon and Washington, as well.

Back in 2010, Hellie said, Linfield launched a strategic plan based, in part, on the College 2020 report. While some predictions in the report proved off-base, he said, many were prescient.

For instance: That students would want more options, including online classes and other ways of taking advantage of technology; that some would continue to prefer full-time residential studies, while others would prefer flexible hours and options for off-campus learning; that community colleges would thrive and the number of for-profit schools would grow; that four-year schools would need to establish a broader menu of programs; that some high school graduates would not be ready for college, so colleges might need to add remedial programs; and that costs would have be closely scrutinized.

It’s true, Hellie said, that Linfield has to compete with other schools on price, convenience and perceived worth. In response, he said, “We’ve reinforced our commitment to the liberal arts and residential programs,” while also expanding online options and the Portland-based school of nursing.

The commitment to increasing diversity also is important, he said.

Linfield’s efforts have paid off not just in high rankings on Best College lists, but also in a larger freshman class this year, compared to last. However, Hellie acknowledged that enrollment had “not rebounded as much as I would like.”

One of the reasons, he said, is that government programs make things challenging for non-profit colleges. For instance, Oregon awards free community college tuition to hundreds of students who might otherwise enroll at four-year private schools such as Linfield.

To counteract these challenges, Hellie said, Linfield “must be flexible, adapt, be creative and smart.” It is compelled to present a positive image to the public, he said, and to continue moving forward with program and facility improvements.

At the moment, Hellie said, the college is in the “quiet phase” of a fundraising campaign aimed at financing an upgrade in its science facilities. The college is planning to move toward innovative science programs that promote collaborative, cross-discipline research, according to Scott Nelson, director of communications and marketing.

In addition, the president said, venerable Pioneer Hall, the first campus building, needs “major reconstruction.” He also cited investment required in the nursing school, and in  technological upgrades in both Portland and McMinnville.

Hellie concluded, “I pledge to do my utmost to do my best for Linfield, especially in the fundraising campaign, as we contemplate a brighter future for the college.”

A few hours later, he met privately with the faculty to share details about the state of the college and his goals for the year in greater depth. He said he planned to follow up with a similar meeting with the employee association, which represents non-faculty positions at the school.