Seven Steps to Success

New President Outlines His Vision for the Future
By Susanne Hopkins

Chris Kimball, the seventh president in CLU’s 49 years, takes on his new role at what is arguably one of the most pivotal points in the University’s history. He has only to look out the windows of his office to see a campus on the move.

Students, faculty and staff are constantly in motion and even the landscape appears to change daily as work progresses on a new community pool next to the Gilbert Sports and Fitness Center. The Swenson Center for Academic Excellence, an $8.5 million social and behavioral sciences building, is targeted to open in 2009-10. Trinity Residence Hall is scheduled to open in fall 2009. And the University’s master plan also calls for a performing arts center and a new science building in the not-too-distant future.
It’s a good place for a man with a reverence for the past and a vision for the future to be.

Indeed, says Kimball, “I couldn’t imagine a better place to be at a more exciting time.”

“I couldn’t imagine a better place to be at a more exciting time.”

Going for the Goal

It is, perhaps, fortuitous that the Board of Regents has chosen as the new president the very man who is an architect of the University’s newly adopted strategic plan.

In his previous role as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Kimball, whose academic specialty is history with an emphasis on social history and the history of sport, was tapped to come up with the blueprint for CLU’s future. Now, as president, he is charged with carrying it out.

“My overriding goal is to see the strategic plan [implemented] as outlined and, in so doing, achieve its desired outcomes,” he says. Those outcomes, he adds, are “all about achieving greater academic excellence.”

The strategic goals, which delineate such aims as recruiting and retaining “a distinguished and diverse faculty and staff,” recruiting and graduating “a well-prepared and diverse student body that is academically accomplished,” investing in facilities and generating resources to achieve the goals, are building blocks on an already very strong foundation, according to Kimball.

There is much that is already distinctive about CLU, he says, noting in particular, “the sense of family that’s here, the love of people and place that’s profound here, the commitment to service and justice.”

There are also, he points out, “the strong personal connections in teaching and mentoring,” a dedicated and distinguished faculty, a wonderfully supportive staff and academically strong students who can stand up against any other ELCA college, not to mention secular universities.

So the strategic plan is not about creating something distinctive about CLU. “It’s more a matter of amplifying it,” he says.

He sees the strategic goals as undergirding the work of faculty, staff and students alike. That’s also the way he sees his new position, which is, he says frankly, mainly about fund raising.

“The job of the president is to garner resources so the faculty and staff can do their jobs as well as they can to serve students,” he says. “It’s to be the chief cheerleader, chief storyteller for the institution. But it’s not a one-person job. It’s a team effort.”

“Here, you've got the best of both worlds. We're called to pursue truths in all disciplines without limits.”

CLU has a great story to tell, Kimball believes. He remains awed at the University’s accomplishments in the relatively short period of just under 50 years.

“I don’t know many academic institutions that have seen such a trajectory in such a short period of time,” he says.

These achievements have often been made despite substandard facilities, he says, noting specifically the University’s music program. Music students have practiced not in sophisticated music rooms but in temporary facilities; they have performed not in a concert hall, but in the gymnasium and the chapel.

Kimball wants something better for them. He believes the University’s faculty and students deserve facilities worthy of their work, and he also believes that enhanced facilities will send a visual message.

“As our facilities improve, that sends a message as to the seriousness with which we take our work,” he says.

Being Lutheran

Chris Kimball came to CLU in 2006 as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Prior to accepting the position at CLU, Kimball was Provost and Dean of the College at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn., where he had served on the faculty and held a variety of administrative positions since 1991.

An alumnus of McGill University, Kimball received his Ph.D. from The University of Chicago. He is well known in academic circles and in the ELCA college and university network.

CLU’s story is also underscored by its Lutheran tradition, he believes. Kimball sees the University’s religious roots and identity as an asset.

“Our charge is to make the important claim that we are inclusive and diverse because we are Lutheran, not in spite of it,” he says.

In fact, being a religious institution opens up dialogue, the new president points out. In many public universities, the religious cannot be debated or discussed.

“Here, you’ve got the best of both worlds,” Kimball states. “We’re called to pursue truths in all disciplines without limits.”

Because of that pursuit, he says, “Things are a little muddier here. You wrestle with paradoxes where religious faith intersects with the world.”

He grins and adds an aside: “The Lutheran tradition of faith and learning was born in a university so it is comfortable with freedom of inquiry.

“However, the biggest issue in higher education today,” he continues, “is its accessibility and affordability, especially for a private institution.”

Indeed, Kimball expects that to be one of his greatest challenges as president—finding ways to make CLU accessible to any qualified student who wants to come here. An uncertain economy could affect donors and the numbers of students applying for entrance, he says.

But the president will seek ways to enhance accessibility. “I believe in access [to higher education],” he says.

Turning 50

CLU's Seven Strategic Goals

Recruit and retain... a distinguished and diverse faculty and staff who will support the mission and be dedicated to the highest professional standards and service

Recruit and graduate... a well-prepared and diverse student body that is academically accomplished and reflective of CLU’s mission:

Enhance learning... through the ongoing assessment and improvement of curricular and co-curricular programs

Invest in facilities... and infrastructure that support and enhance the academic program

Generate the resources... necessary to support quality improvement initiatives

Articulate the identity... and enhance the reputation of the University

Develop leadership capacity... as well as governance structures that foster institutional and program excellence

Next year, CLU turns 50. It is likely to be a grand celebration, with new buildings and achievements to herald. But ever the historian, Kimball wants there to be emphasis not only on where CLU is going, but where it’s been.

“I want the 50th anniversary…to celebrate the wondrous things that have happened here and point forward to the next 50 years, looking backward and forward at the same time,” he explains.

He especially wants to celebrate CLU’s greatest asset.

What is that?

“The people,” Kimball responds swiftly. “The faculty, staff, students, alumni. There’s talent and good will here.”

Because of the caliber of the people at CLU, he adds, “Great things have happened—and will continue to happen.”

Susanne Hopkins is a professional journalist and Director of Lay Ministry and Pastoral Care at Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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