Forward Thinking: Envisioning Henderson beyond the horizon

By Jackie Inouye

Seven core values. One vision. With the adoption of its new strategic plan, Henderson State University is on its way to realizing its full potential as a public liberal arts university.

Beyond the Horizon, as the plan is called, is the product of a yearlong series of planning forums with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and other constituents. The goal of these meetings was to establish a framework for progress and to discover the core values that get at the heart of what it means to be the School With a Heart. These fundamental beliefs are what drove the articulation of the university’s strategic position: “Henderson will be recognized as a national model for bridging the liberal arts and professional aspirations, producing well-rounded graduates who are leaders in their career and communities.”

The key to understanding the process for how the university’s core values were established lies in one of them, Value Two - Collaboration and Community: “We value collaboration recognizing that each person is an important part of a larger picture. Working together for a sustainable future, every individual contributes to the whole, whether in our university, our local community, or our world.”

Celya Taylor, associate dean and associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Teachers College, Henderson, led a committee that helped to formulate the core values.

At the start of the process, Henderson President Glen Jones invited students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other constituents to attend forums facilitated by Sal Rinella of Penson Associates. During the meetings, Rinella asked attendees to answer questions about what Henderson would ideally look like 10 years from now and what traditions and commitments are uniformly held most dear by the Henderson community.

Comments were shared and recorded. Guiding committees were formed to distill the comments into the core values and mission and vision statements, and to analyze and interpret data related to Henderson. Attendees further edited the statements during subsequent town hall meetings. From these core values and statements, six strategic priorities with measurable outcomes were developed.

Angela Boswell, professor of history and associate dean of Ellis College, was a member of the Guiding Statements Committee during the formation of the strategic position, or vision statement. She stresses that although the positive connection between career success and the liberal arts is not a new concept, what is unique is the emphasis that Henderson is placing on communicating that effectively.

“Henderson alumni already know about the professional benefits of a liberal arts education,” Boswell said. “We want to make those links between the liberal arts and career and personal life clearer to prospective students and parents.”

Now that the strategic position and the plan have been articulated, Henderson is already beginning to put the strategies into play that will turn ambitious goals into reality. A main focus this year is the establishment of a system of shared governance, a new initiative which grew out of the campus’ expressed desire for greater input into campus governance and decision-making.

The pattern of inclusion established during the formation of the strategic plan was a blueprint for creating a shared governance model. In a recent issue of Henderson Now, the university’s internal e-newsletter, Henderson Provost Stephen Adkison defined shared governance as “a partnership in which administration, faculty, and staff work together to provide effective leadership, support, and advocacy for our university as we work together to ensure quality and innovation in all aspects of learning for our students.” In essence, shared governance is about “intentional and reflective planning and accountability.”

In spring 2014, President Jones established a taskforce to investigate approaches to shared governance. A shared governance model was presented to campus in the fall, followed by the establishment of an oversight committee. This group of 11, which includes representatives from the student body, faculty and staff, will review proposals from the campus community and provide a system whereby all such requests are reviewed and considered.

The shared governance initiative is just one of the many ways Henderson is already moving forward with new direction. Other examples include the construction of new student housing, the opening of the Hot Springs location and the development of several new degree programs. Other goals such as the growth of the student body to 5,000, will be part of a multi-year effort.

Much like shared governance creates a sense of accountability to on-campus constituents, Boswell says that inviting input from all of the Henderson community throughout the strategic planning process is a form of accountability not only to students, faculty and staff of the university, but also to Henderson’s alumni and donors.

“The inclusive nature of the process guarantees that Henderson will change positively with the times without losing our cherished history and traditions,” Boswell said. “Henderson doesn’t want to become a gigantic school, but we do want to grow the student population to the point where economies of scale will benefit our students even more.” All decisions made regarding the university’s future, including spending, will be aligned with the priorities articulated in the plan.

Although implementation of the plan necessitates change, Henderson will continue to be what it has always been about, providing students with a well-rounded education that will help them develop their full potential professionally and personally.