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Dedicated Leadership: Wabash’s Strategic Advantage

Jim Amidon — Wabash College is blessed in so many ways. It is rich in tradition and history; has a sizeable endowment to keep it independent and free from external control; and boasts an exceptional faculty and staff — good people whose lives are dedicated to Wabash students.

I’m also continually surprised by the strength and loyalty of Wabash’s alumni leadership.

Starting last Wednesday night, alumni representing the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors of the national alumni association returned to campus for three days of long, intense, and focused conversations on the future of the College.

Some may recall a column I wrote a month or so ago in which I mentioned the excitement of going through a long-range strategic planning process.

We took another giant leap forward over the weekend when both boards gathered — together and separately — to discuss the ideas on-campus committees have developed over the last four months.

Both of our boards are volunteer boards, which means the alumni are not compensated for their work on behalf of the College or their expenses incurred getting here. These men also represent the College’s most generous donors.

Their loyalty is unquestionable and their generosity seems limitless. But the real strategic advantage they bring to Wabash is the vast expertise of their professional and personal lives.

Our governing boards are made up of some of this nation’s brightest and talented leaders in business, medicine, law, politics, and education. They not only run major companies, law firms, and medical practices, they devote enormous amounts of time to non-profit boards and charities.

That they give so freely of their time to their alma mater is northing short of remarkable.

What they brought to the strategic planning conversations was largely unbiased business acumen. They effortlessly separated their strong feelings and love for Wabash from discussions of what’s in the College’s best interest as it moves forward.

I’ve been apart of dozens of planning meetings over the last four months. Our committees imagined that we’d covered all bases and asked all pertinent questions.

The trustees, however, came at the discussions differently. They used phrases like “return on investment” and “developing strategic priorities” that in every way helped sharpen our focus.

Their expertise and advice is absolutely crucial to our planning efforts. They are the living examples of what really works in a Wabash education and they can carefully articulate for us what it was about their time at Wabash that led to their success today.

Virtually all of them credit their critical thinking skills to their liberal arts education at Wabash. In turn, as we talked about our future planning, they continually zeroed in on how better develop our students’ critical thinking skills in all aspects of the plan.

Rarely, if ever, in three solid days of planning discussions did the conversations steer away from Wabash students. When we talked about physical facilities, trustees focused on how new or renovated facilities would improve the lives and experiences of our students. When we talked about faculty and curricular issues, the context was how any changes would lead to more dramatic growth in our students.

The trustees are gone now, having returned to their homes in California, New York, Washington, and all points in between. For many of us involved in strategic planning, the real work now begins.

The boards gave generously of their time and talents to sharpen our focus. In doing so they illustrated brilliantly Wabash’s greatest strength — equipping students with critical thinking skills so that they might tackle the world’s hardest problems in an unpredictable future — and demonstrated once again that the College’s biggest strategic advantage is its alumni.

In the photo: Jake Lee talks with Trustee Roger Billings at the Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship, and Creative Work, which was attended by Trustees and members of the NAWM Board of Directors.