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"Lehigh is poised for tremendous opportunity"

In the latest in a series of town hall meetings, Lehigh President Alice P. Gast joined with Provost Patrick V. Farrell on Monday (Feb. 8) in calling on the Lehigh community to become engaged in implementing the university’s strategic plan.

At the mid-day meeting in Packard Auditorium, which was attended by roughly 250, Peggy Plympton, vice president of finance and administration, also provided a cautiously optimistic report on the economic state of the university, and Joe Kender, vice president of advancement, reported on the successful completion of the Shine Forever campaign.

“This is a wonderful time for Lehigh,” said Gast. “I’m very excited about where we are going and how Lehigh is poised for tremendous opportunity.”

At a forthcoming event to celebrate the success of the $500-million Shine Forever campaign – made all the more remarkable given the economic climate of the past year – Gast said she plans to speak about this critical juncture for the university.

“Where others see uncertainty and complex challenges, we at Lehigh see promise and purpose,” she said. “Lehigh thrives at this intersection between uncertainty and promise. Throughout our history, we have produced graduates who create, invent and solve. We produce people who lead. It’s a purpose that permeates this place, and what makes us excited about coming to work every day.”

Lehigh, she said, “is about people. It is the great people who make Lehigh great. Supporting and helping people to lead change is what we are all about.”

When the university gathered to outline a bold, transformative vision for the next decade, Gast said the campus community “set our sights high for the next era of Lehigh. We said that we want Lehigh to be viewed as a leader in learning, a leader in innovation and a leader in creativity.”

Execution of that plan will rely on a set of near-term initiatives that were identified by the Strategic Plan Implementation Group (SPIG) to help push the strategic plan forward, which Farrell expanded upon.

The list of “front runners” discussed by Farrell includes Cluster Faculty Hiring, the First Year and Beyond Comprehensive Undergraduate Learning Experience, Engagement with South Bethlehem, and Enhancing Graduate Education.

Each of these areas would be further defined by standing committees of staff, faculty and students who have expressed an interest in the initiatives. Farrell urged members of the Lehigh community to read more about the Front Runner Initiatives and to volunteer to be a part of the working groups that will address these issues in the next several weeks.

Plympton noted that the university’s endowment values, after dropping significantly during the previous fiscal year, are recovering and now stand at roughly $980 million, down from over $1 billion in mid-2008.

“It’s a much slower trip back up the hill,” she said. “Still, it’s better to have it be going back up.”

Although the current fiscal-year budget is stable, Plympton cautioned that the economic impact on higher education institutions tends to lag and that Lehigh should brace for several more disappointing quarters before recovery is complete.

In reporting on the Shine Forever campaign that concluded Dec. 31, 2009, Kender said that “we crossed the finish line, and, at $508 million, [have exceeded] our $500 million goal.” Given the state of the economy, he said, the accomplishment is a remarkable tribute to the generosity and dedication of Lehigh’s donors, alumni and friends.

Over the last eight years, Kender said that the Shine Forever campaign has enabled Lehigh to more than double the number of endowed chairs and coaching positions, from 20 to 47, while nearly doubling the number of endowed scholarships, from 554 to 1,091.

The campaign’s success also supported classroom and laboratory renovations, athletic fields, South Mountain College and the Cable Center for Athletic Leadership, as well as extensive renovations to Grace Hall, Linderman Library, Coppee Hall, Cundy Varsity House, the STEPS building and pedestrian walkways.

A total of $121 million was raised through the Lehigh Fund, said Kender, and this sum was primarily accumulated through small gifts of $50 or $100. Almost $10 million of the $508 million raised during the campaign was contributed by faculty and staff, he added, and nearly 80 percent of that total was cash.

“That’s highly unusual,” Kender said. “That’s real money. It’s here, and it’s being spent wisely.”

Gast joined Kender is commending the hard work and accomplishment of the advancement staff in bringing the campaign to a successful close. She extended gratitude to members of the campus community who have been instrumental in raising funds for Haiti, and encouraged others to support those efforts.

Gast also provided updates on new and existing initiatives at Lehigh, which include a new community policing partnership with the City of Bethlehem to expand patrols to the neighborhoods surrounding the university, and creation of the new position of diversity officer.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, Gast and the panel of speakers fielded questions from the audience that touched upon federal research funding, the sometimes tense coupling of teaching and research, the rising cost of higher education, the competition for the best students, and the inclusion of staff and faculty in the scholarship enterprise.


 

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Tuesday, February 09, 2010

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