By Meg Schmitt
President Raynard Kington delivered a “State of the College” address Wednesday, identifying significant obstacles before the College but calling them another opportunity for Grinnell to step into a historic role.
“Our community is not accidental—we are a community of purpose,” Kington said in his opening.
Kington unveiled a new Innovation Fund to invest in high-quality education, a priority for the College. The fund will accept proposals from both students and faculty for pilot projects to improve the College’s teaching and learning efforts. A committee will award $5,000 to one-year projects and $150,000 to three-year projects. Details are still being developed, but the first round of proposals is expected in the spring.
The themes of community and collaboration were present throughout the speech, as the audience’s mix of local residents, professors and students listened. Challenges, courage and creativity dictate Kington’s game plan for Grinnell this year and beyond.
“We must embrace the challenge of learning…because moral courage and leadership are in our DNA,” Kington said.
Kington discussed the global economic crisis, changes in government and society and shifts in demographics as some of the most significant hurdles. Some of the focus of Kington’s address reflected the recently predominant theme of the country’s polarized society and politics and the resulting lack of communication that thwarts productive thinking.
However, in his description of the seemingly endless list of problems awaiting solutions, Kington offered the crux of his speech: this is the time to engage Grinnellian activism and apply it to find answers to these problems.
“This is Grinnell, so I know there have been rumors of protest. Protest if you are so moved, and I will guarantee we will provide beverages and snacks,” Kington said. “I urge you to think about protesting and what exactly you want to accomplish with that, and instead I suggest you help us find a solution. Help us explore answers.”
He said the alternative is to, essentially, do what has been done up to this point about the economy: complain and play the blame game.
“We have to become part of the solution because if not, then we would become part of the problem,” he said. “We do not really have a choice in the matter.”
Part of this call to action, however, warrants a disclaimer: the likelihood of disagreement forms a background to Kington’s plan, more than warranting his encouragement to draw upon the hard work and courage in Grinnell’s character.
Kington’s address balanced a revival of traditional Grinnellian ideals with striking a new path for success. He stayed true to recent fiscal themes by organizing his argument around how the College spends its money, what its priorities can be and how his plan corresponds to the budget.
He invoked the Grinnell philosophy of maintaining universal access to an excellent and diverse education and staying true to who the College is as an institution and a community.
“What we do now, will matter for years to come,” he said.