Message from Interim President sal johnston: “Our Collective Focus This Summer”

From: President <>
Sent: Tuesday, June 6, 2023 3:36 PM
To: Faculty Full Time ; Faculty Non-full Time; Staff
Subject: Our Collective Focus This Summer

Dear Friends,

Uncertainty. I imagine many of you may feel a bit uncertain about what the changes of the past few weeks mean for the College and for you. I hope it won’t alarm you to hear that I did not expect to find myself the Interim President of the College. That said, the past few weeks have been interesting and invigorating, and any feeling of uncertainty quickly passed because I know that if we work together and focus our energy on strategic priorities, we’ll be successful. 

I’ve made it a priority during the past two weeks to meet with staff departments on campus (I’ve not gotten to everyone yet!) and listen to concerns and share my sense of priorities as we prepare for students to return in the fall. What I’ve heard is a desire for clear priorities and clear communication.

Let’s start with clarity of purpose: the most fundamental priority for all of us is to tend to our students—every single one of them. We can think of this as retention, but I think it is more productive and more us to frame this work in terms of mission. We care about student success and our mission has long been to meet all of our students where they are and nurture their individual interests.  

I know that everyone is concerned about declines in enrollment, and we should be. But I would ask that we find ways to treat temporary low enrollment as an opportunity: we believe that every student matters, and we want to personalize the student experience. Further, we should be able to offer a very personalized experience in the next couple of years. Let’s make sure our students have a deep sense of belonging in all their interactions on campus. I’m optimistic that we can do this work and that it will make a difference. 

Updates on key summer work:

  • Control summer melt: Clear and consistent communication with new students
    • Gil and the staff in CAAS are calling all deposited students, answering questions, directing them to relevant offices or academic departments and preparing them for summer registration. Gil has faculty in place to assist as needed.  
    • Timeliness in our responses and workflows will be critical.
  • Complete enrollment work for Fall 2023 class
    • We continue to recruit and admit transfer students (which is normal practice).
    • We are carefully monitoring the visa status of prospective international students.
  • Orientation and the First-Year Experience
    • The plans for orientation are in place.
    • Enriching the First-Year Experience. I’ve committed resources to facilitate student-centered events and excursions. (We’ll open them up to returning students as well). The plan developed for FY experience is smart, strategic, and appropriately centered on building community and belonging.  
  • Open positions
    • We are working on addressing open positions. In some instances, we will turn to interim appointments and in others we will initiate searches for permanent positions. There will be additional information regarding some replacement positions soon.

We start every fall by welcoming our new students with the light of learning ceremony. Lean into the meaning of that tradition. Meet our students, greet them with respect and gratitude and enjoy them and our work together.

Thank you for all that you do in support of our students, our colleagues, and the College!

sal johnston, Ph.D.
Interim President
Whittier College

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