Leadership Conversation Series

December 9, 2021 Update


In October 2021, President Mantella announced a series of Leadership Conversations to provide opportunities through Winter 2022 to engage with her and members of the senior leadership team. The conversations have been and will continue to be focused on listening, exploring, and building mutual understanding of the direction, opportunities, and priorities for our future.

Thank you to all who have participated in the first several conversations. There have been limited opportunities for this kind of engagement throughout COVID, and the authentic dialogue about our future has been refreshing and energizing. The conversations have also made it clear how deeply united we all are in our passion for students and deep care for the future of our university.

Highlights of our dialogue

  • Building on our essence and moving to the future together. Participants have been curious to learn more about President Mantella’s vision, which includes continuing to build upon Grand Valley’s unique strengths and to position us to successfully navigate the changing landscape of higher education and the pressures of our regional context. Grand Valley’s strong reputation for excellent teaching and care for the whole student continues to center us, and offering a high-quality and affordable education will always be a priority. We will continue our focus on serving FTIAC students, while also expanding our impact and mitigating declining enrollment by broadening our focus to include and to even better serve historically underrepresented students and adult learners.
  • Expanding on our commitment to liberal education. Liberal education is a core element of Grand Valley’s success, and President Mantella and senior leadership team members see compelling opportunities to build upon this foundation by continuing to integrate liberal education within professional education and across a lifetime of learning for our students. The Reach Higher strategies seek to build on our existing institutional strength to enhance and expand our impact. 
  • Continuing to build a network of engagement and open dialogue. One of the goals of this conversation series is to provide opportunities for faculty and staff to get to know members of the senior leadership team, particularly our new members who arrived in the midst of the pandemic. Like our faculty and staff, each one of them cares deeply about the future of our institution, and senior leadership team members are committed to continuing to engage with community stakeholders.
  • Supporting faculty and staff. As workload pressures have mounted across the university due to a myriad of factors, the incredible hard work of our faculty and staff is visible and noteworthy. Faculty and staff across the state and the nation are experiencing burnout; this is true at Grand Valley as well. A compounding factor is that Grand Valley is a lean institution. Almost across the board, in every area of the university, we have been doing more with less than our peer institutions. Added to this reality has been the impact of the pandemic, requiring rapid and continuous shifting and adapting, and the corresponding loss of faculty, staff, and administrators all at once due to the voluntary retirement incentive program. It has been challenging; however, we are confident in our people and the value of our experience, and with an expanded audience strategy, we will return to a position of growth and full vibrancy post-pandemic. We have protected our diverse and inter-generational enterprise with our commitment to strategic financial stewardship. President Mantella has made clear both she and the entire senior leadership team see this incredible commitment and deeply appreciate it.
  • How the Reach Higher strategies build on our successes and position us for the future. The three Reach Higher commitments developed by the Steering Committee build upon our core capabilities, align with our shared values, and will prepare us to successfully navigate the realities of the pressures currently impacting higher education and a regional context in which we will face a continued decline of Michigan high school graduates. The number of high school graduates in Michigan is projected to decrease by a further 10% over the next 15 years. There are also other forms of increased competition, including an increasing number of students choosing alternatives to a traditional undergraduate degree. While these contextual factors are out of our control, our commitments will set us apart from others while expanding our positive impact.
    1. A lifetime of learning: Lifelong learning is an inherent component of a liberal education and is in clear alignment with our mission and values. We prepare students with self and societal understanding and a passion to continue to learn. We will now serve them more readily along this life journey. 
    2. A culture of equity: We are living in a moment of time when we must act with urgency to develop a more equitable, inclusive society. The opportunity here is a moral imperative; it is also a recognition that not only is the number of graduating high school students in Michigan declining, but also that we could better serve these students, especially our current and future students of color.  
    3. An empowered educational experience: Our students have told us that this strategy is important to them. They want an active role in their learning. They want to connect their broad learning, interests, and passions with their educational path. They would like career connection, digital literacy, and enhanced experiential learning to be part of their Grand Valley experience.

      The three commitments are also purposefully broad and flexible so that individual colleges and units can use their unique expertise, understanding of their disciplines, and distinct perspectives to develop tactics and strategic initiatives that will operationalize our plan. Ultimately, each member of our community will play a role in positioning us to continue to thrive as we navigate the changing landscape before us. 
  • Internal communication challenges. This historic moment of living in a pandemic has challenged the ways we communicate. Communication efforts, although expansive, have not been adequate for listening and engaging. As we move forward, we will expand opportunities to talk, listen, and engage. We will build deeper relations to work even more closely together, with shared governance, as is our tradition and strength. 

Thanks again to all those who have been open contributors to these important conversations. They have allowed us to continue to hear from our university stakeholders and to provide points of clarity and nuance. These insights continually shape our pathway forward, and the first conversations have done just that. Please continue to engage in the leadership conversation series. 

October 15, 2021

Dear Faculty and Staff colleagues,

Since I arrived in 2019, I have had hundreds of valued conversations with faculty, staff, students and community members exploring the essence, vibrance and strengths of our university. Areas of opportunity and improvement were also offered and explored openly. I am grateful to so many of you who are excited to engage around our future. I appreciate our University Academic Senate, the Student Senate, the Graduate Student Association leadership, Network of Advisors for Racial Justice, Alumni Board, our AP Committee, and others for your thoughtful discussions throughout the Reach Higher 2025 planning process. I am proud of our work together through the most tumultuous time in our history, and I remain fiercely optimistic about our future.

A time for deeper engagement

This year the RH2025 steering committee led a community engagement process to refine our mission, vision, values and strategic priorities for the next four years. The approach to this plan is a simple but profound framework allowing plenty of room for faculty, staff, colleges, and units to determine how they best embody its direction.

I want to thank the steering committee for their tireless work and all who contributed to sharpening the plan, which has become stronger with each iteration. I recognize it has been challenging to fit this into our busy COVID-disrupted lives but am heartened we chose to proceed given the reality of a completed plan and a disrupted higher education landscape. Thousands of community members have engaged in the planning process to date. That said, some still have questions on the plan and the intentions of the administration. Thus, it is incumbent on us to clarify the questions, seek shared meaning, and invite full participation in our future. To that end we will extend the time for further discussion another three months, delaying RH2025 presentation to our Board of Trustees from November to February.   

I will establish conversation opportunities throughout the remaining academic year with me and members of the senior leadership team. You are invited to sign up for a Leadership Conversation particularly, if you have questions and concerns. There will be no presentations just listening and exploring. If the times offered fill quickly, I will be pleased to add more dates. In addition to these conversations, the steering committee is contemplating how best to use our extension of time to complete the work of RH2025. Please watch for those opportunities as well.

To guide our path forward

I would like to offer my own views regarding our future and as always, I will continue to shape them with deep listening and continued conversations. From its founding, Grand Valley State University has differentiated itself as an institution that is rooted in its tradition but agile and evolving with the times. This chapter of GVSU is no different, albeit the challenges of today are among the greatest of our time. We have experienced massive disruptions in our lives, the economy and our education systems. In addition, we are facing a tsunami of shifts in demographics, technology, political and social context. We hear and understand a public call for relevance, affordability, and access for those excluded or underserved by the U.S. system of education. There is also a call for education to serve with a level of flexibility commensurate to the complexity of our lives.

Colleagues, through RH2025 we reinforce our belief that liberal education is fundamental to navigating the world around us. We embrace an opportunity to invite students to have a stronger place in our education, going beyond the student-centered language used at so many other universities. We acknowledge and celebrate the breadth of our professional education and the power of integrating liberal education and experiential learning within it to ready students for life and career. We celebrate our work as a catalyst for economic development of our region and enterprises around us. 

RH2025 remains grounded in liberal education, our residential experience and our student-centered ethos, while also acknowledging professional education and lifelong learning are integral to who we are and for the needs of our times. I have heard on numerous occasions people represent my interest as evolving GVSU to a fully online university. Frankly, I have never expressed this, and it is not my expressed or implied intention. I embrace with great excitement new approaches to high-impact learning, new modalities, and new audiences but to supplement not supplant the GVSU we know and love.   

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we must end the practice of higher education as an exclusionary pursuit. As a public institution, GVSU through its RH 2025 commitments must welcome those with aptitude, interest, readiness, and willingness to receive postsecondary education. It calls us to ensure we have the supports in place that bridge the profoundly disturbing equity gaps in college success. 

Again, my views are continuously informed and shaped by you. Join a Leadership Conversation to continue the dialogue or engage with the RH2025 team. I value the collaborative working relationship between faculty, staff, students, and administration, which is key to our shared governance. I’m grateful for your passion and care as we steward the university through the challenges of today and the promises of tomorrow. Thank you for all you do for Grand Valley. I look forward to many more rich conversations with you as we shape, launch, and empower RH2025.  


Philomena V. Mantella, President

Page last modified December 9, 2021