President Hellie addresses enrollment woes, diversity in annual speech

Hanna Trailer and Elizabeth Stoeger

In his final State of the College Address, Linfield president Thomas Hellie spoke about the challenges Linfield faces in the coming years, the successes worth celebrating, and the precarious situation colleges find themselves in today.

Hellie addressed a full crowd on Monday at noon in Ice Auditorium. His speech was also livestreamed to the Portland campus.

“I must admit that I’m more reflective than usual, thinking about my years at Linfield,” Hellie said.

One area that has seen remarkable improvement during his tenure is campus diversity. Hellie announced that U.S. News has ranked Linfield as the 34th “most ethnically diverse student population in the country” and is the most diverse in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

He observed that colleges have become a battleground for warring ideologies, referencing violence at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, but offered a strong statement regarding Linfield’s position in the midst of the turmoil.

He said: “We call for a careful consideration of facts . . . We believe–we know–that differences of opinion can and should be aired in the academic arena where facts and reason lead to judgment. We proudly criticize unformed or impassioned opinions that lack any rational currency.”

Hellie announced several events featuring guest speakers intended to foster open political discussion in an academic setting. These include a conversation about speech and equality and a discussion on political disagreement in civil society.

“These events provide a model for how we should discuss and resolve political differences in America,” he said. “It’s vitally important that we demonstrate for our students and our society that reason, fact-based debate, and mutual respect should be the hallmarks of our political discourse.”

Scheduling events promoting “civil debate on campus” was on Hellie’s list of goals.

One almost annual goal was to “to increase campaign gifts and commitments” by continuing fundraising campaigns at Linfield.

However, “Our budget relies primarily on student enrollment and we need more resources if we are to attain compensation goals, reinvest in technology, and provide the multiple forms of instruction that our students now need or expect,” Hellie said.

It seems as if “times they are a-changing” for liberal arts colleges. Hellie devoted much of his speech to the shift in the “traditional model of college” and how Linfield is equipped to respond.

Many students are demanding convenience and affordability, which has led to foundational shifts in the way colleges operate. These shifts mean offering classes at unconventional times and increasing both the quantity and quality of online courses.

Linfield has improved its Online and Continuing Education degree program, put more effort into recruiting transfer students from community colleges, placed an emphasis on faculty development, and has generally “enhanced our institutional identity.”

With the creation of the Oregon wine history archive and the pioneering wine education program, endowment has increased from less than $60 million last year to $117 million.

A unique achievement, the last school year “saw Linfield’s 43rd consecutive balanced budget,” Hellie said. “That hasn’t been easy to do, it hasn’t been without pain but it’s something that’s truly remarkable. I don’t know of another college in Oregon that can make that statement.”

While progress has been made, there is still a considerable distance to go. Another goal was to improve enrollment.

The freshman class has grown but has not “rebounded” as he had originally hoped.

He said, “We are a small, private, regional college. To remain strong, we must be flexible. We must adapt. We must reinforce our public image, both locally and nationally. We must be creative and smart.”

Hellie also said the administration must “begin and fulfill much of our institutional self-study for 2018-19 reaccreditation.”

Periodically, colleges must submit an application for reaccreditation as a college. This is a rigorous, exhaustive process that involves many hours of labor.

Susan Agre-Kippenhan, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, along with Susan Barnes-Whyte, library director, and Susan Hopp, vice president for student affairs and athletics and dean of students, are to lead the effort. Hellie joked, “If your name is Susan, watch out.”

His last goal was to prepare the college to receive a new president. Hellie is set to retire on July 1, 2018 after serving 12 years in the position.

There is already a committee made up of faculty, members of the Board of Trustees, staff, and a student in place to search for and appoint Hellie’s successor. In addition, there is a link on Linfield’s website labeled “Presidential Search” with a full list of committee members, a position description, and a way to nominate a candidate.

The meetings of the committee are confidential as of this report and Hellie is not involved in the search.

Hellie was optimistic about Linfield’s future and pointed out that this was the shortest list of institutional goals for the year in the time he has been president.

Though it was his final State of the College Address, he expressed a continued dedication to Linfield: “I pledge to do my utmost to work on behalf of Linfield, especially our fundraising campaign, over the next nine months as we contemplate an even brighter future for the college.”