Dear Faculty and Staff,
This summer, I begin my fourth year as president. I want to thank you all for the advice and support you have given me to date, and, especially, for all the time and effort so many of you have invested in efforts to plan for Clark’s future. These efforts have included a multi-pronged assessment of where we are as an institution, the embrace of a new, more aspirational mindset, and the formulation of a strategic framework — Clark Inspired — that includes clear goals along with dozens of recommended initiatives, some with transformative potential. The aim of all of this work is — as I stated in my inaugural address last spring — to help our institution reach greater altitude while remaining grounded in a set of core institutional values and elements of identity that have served us well.
That we have done and continue to do this work together is a source of particular pride for me. At the same time, I have been asked by several of you to say more about my own view of where Clark should be going; to share more of my vision for the University.
Certainly, my vision is reflected in the strategic framework and the process we’ve gone through to develop it, and embraces all our collective thinking over the past 18–24 months. It also is what has fueled progress to date, especially in moving more assertively into a culture of possibility and in pursuing initiatives such as the adoption of the Becker School of Design & Technology, the renewal of our physical plant, and deepened engagement with our alumni community.
This letter, then, sets out my vision for Clark University. It seeks to answer the question: To what ends (or heights) is Clark Inspired leading us? I hope you will receive this as an invitation to further engage in our path forward.
What I hope for, what I plan for, and what I ask you to help me achieve is that Clark becomes (or becomes more of):
AN INSTITUTION OF ENDURING, DISTINGUISHED CHARACTER
Clark is widely recognized for its strong sense of community and institutional values, where the individual thrives and community engagement is at the core of the student experience.
- We are a leading research university with a strong liberal arts core. Our small size provides advantages that create a highly personalized experience for our students that prepares them to lead impactful and rewarding lives beyond Clark.
- We do not just teach and learn about the world, but we do so in the world. Our students experience a distinct and rigorous educational environment that is deeply rooted in community engagement, hands-on learning, and a commitment to social responsibility on campus and beyond.
- Each member of our campus community — by virtue of being themselves — contributes to the highly-personalized educational environment we provide across our undergraduate, graduate, professional, and continuing education programs. We celebrate and make an asset of individual identity and expression.
- We center diversity — in its broadest terms — within an inclusive, equitable, supportive community.
AN INSTITUTION OF CONSEQUENTIAL REACH AND IMPACT
Clark is a relevant and potent force, with increasing influence and deeper, broader contributions to society.
- We create new knowledge and deepen understanding of existing knowledge, and we discover actionable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems by engaging and partnering with communities, from our neighborhood in Main South to points around the globe.
- We define emerging fields of study, scholarship, and pedagogy; advance teaching and interdisciplinary work unconstrained by normative approaches and traditional departmental boundaries; and respond to evolving and emergent societal needs.
- We are recognized and lauded for the quality of education we provide to undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree students, as well as the continuing success and lifelong educational interests of our graduates.
AN INSTITUTION THAT RISES TO CHALLENGES
Clark leads the way by anticipating evolving needs, surmounting challenges, and harnessing emerging opportunities.
- We challenge our own institutional conventions to propel the University forward. We lead more often than we follow other institutions, not only in fulfilling our mission but in the ways we approach, organize, and manage our work, practices, and policies.
- We champion and reward collaboration and cooperation in our work while relying on data and metrics to evaluate and inform our decision-making and progress.
- We act with purpose and determination, move quickly whenever possible, stay grounded through critical thinking, and take joy in what we do.
What I hope you see in this outline of my vision is an articulation of what Clark University can offer — something that is more distinctive, relevant, and compelling not only for our students, but also for our faculty, staff, and alumni.
Now, how do we work toward achieving this vision?
Let me turn next to several priorities I see as critical for the near term. What follows is not a comprehensive list of everything we will undertake. To be sure, there are other ideas and proposals to pursue, but we cannot turn our attention to all good ideas all at once. We have to prioritize. The initiatives I outline here are cross-cutting, ready to move forward, and have the greatest potential to both help advance us toward our goals and enable the next set of initiatives that will take us even further.
Already, we are making significant progress in renewing our physical plant and beginning to address a heavy burden of deferred maintenance that will only become more challenging and costly if deferred indefinitely. Investments in facilities, I believe, are investments in you — our faculty and staff, and, most certainly, our students. We simply will not be competitive in recruitment and retention if we don’t offer better places and spaces to do our best work individually and collectively. We have positioned ourselves well, both in terms of the capital borrowing that is allowing us to build the Center for Media Arts, Computing, and Design, and to renovate the exterior of Goddard Library, and we have purchased land on Park Avenue that affords us potential expansion opportunities we did not have before.
We need to continue to develop our academic strengths and fortify our educational and research programs. With the physical relocation of the Becker School to our Main Street campus this fall, we need to further integrate the school and its courses and capabilities into our curriculum and research activities. It is vitally important that we continue to invest in computer science, data science, and behavioral health (through the Mosakowski Institute and more broadly), as well as venture more fully into research and teaching related to machine learning, the human-computer interface, artificial intelligence, and extended reality and data visualization. As we continue to champion science education and research, we must also embolden humanistic perspectives and approaches as part of our rigorous liberal arts grounding.
In addition, I believe we should create a new school to more boldly stake a claim to our historic strengths in climate research, GIS, environmental studies, and related societal challenges and implications. Explorations of this initiative are already well underway and have engaged faculty and staff from across the University.
As we have learned from recent research, Clark could more successfully enroll and retain interested undergraduates if we offered an honors track as well as even more opportunities for experiential and engaged learning. I think we must prioritize all three as part of a broader effort to refresh our undergraduate curriculum and approach to liberal arts education, and create a truly distinct offering for Clark students. It has now been nearly 15 years since the LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) program was first introduced and is, therefore, a good time to revisit which aspects of that approach to undergraduate education work well and where we might wish to make changes. Similarly, our current approach to graduate education should also be carefully considered to ensure we are meeting the evolving needs of this vital component of our educational community.
We must make community-engaged teaching and research even more a signature of Clark University and an even more central component of our approach to education. This includes building on our historic strengths in teacher training and collaboration with the Worcester Public Schools, for which our Department of Education and the Adam Institute and Hiatt Institute are well known.
All of these areas of teaching and research are of great interest and relevance to our students, given the world for which we are helping to prepare them.
This year’s launch of the Division of Student Success has been an essential component of necessary work to enhance the student experience at Clark. The needs of students today are different than in the past, and we must continue to organize ourselves to better meet those needs related to academic advising, career explorations, behavioral health, residential and community life, and diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We need to create better housing options, which I propose to start to do through a redevelopment of Clark’s buildings on Main Street (between Hawthorne and Woodland streets). We need to improve our dining facilities and, ideally, bring Student Health Services, the Office of Counseling and Personal Growth, and wellness programs under one roof.
Finally, we need to expand our resources and increase our capacity to invest in all we are trying to accomplish to strengthen our University. We will continue to prioritize our work on strategic enrollment and efforts to realize increased net tuition revenue. We will do all that we can to support the pursuit of grants and sponsored research. We will return to a balanced budget in FY2025. We will launch the first phase of a new comprehensive campaign.
Clark, I believe, can and should become best known for fostering the most highly-engaged learning community of its kind — in which everyone teaches and learns from each other, in which students are expected and enabled to play an especially active role in their own educations. The experience we provide for our students, the quality of our academic programs, the nature of our community, the impact of our research and scholarship, the way we stay connected with Clarkies after graduation, and the way we continue to partner with our neighborhood, our city, and the world are all essential to our future. Together, they can become a signature of who we are, what we do, and how we do it.
This is a critical moment for Clark in which concerted effort around a vision and shared goals is essential. We can — with energy, focus, resolve, creativity, and collaboration — build upon and accelerate the progress we’ve already been making. We can realize so much more for Clark and secure our well-earned, distinctive place among American higher education institutions of modest size yet global reach and import. We can, together, actualize the culture of possibility and not just reach higher but achieve greater altitude.
David Fithian ’87