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Crossroads:
from the president

President Loren SwartzendruberProspective university presidents, like candidates for many leadership roles, are always asked to declare a vision for the future. Having served at Hesston College for 10 years, I was not surprised that such requests would be articulated when I was interviewed at EMU. Questions of "vision" have always caused some discomfort for me, but it hasn’t been easy to name the cause of my uneasiness.

I have usually answered the question about vision by suggesting that it would be rather presumptuous, if not arrogant, for a new leader to forge a vision for faculty and staff who have already invested years of service and contributed much to the life of the institution on behalf of the stakeholders. What if the new vision is not supported by those so heavily invested in the cause?

Dr. William P. Robinson, president of Whitworth College, has addressed the "vision" problem in his book, Leading from the Middle: The Universal Mission of Heart and Mind. President Robinson, whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting through the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, argues that an authentic vision must grow from within the heart of the organization. It is not the task of the leader alone to define a vision so much as it is the leader’s role to mine and communicate the vision that already exists.

Like any CEO, I have thoughts and dreams about where EMU should go in the future. We are most likely to achieve those possibilities if my ideas are honed by vigorous dialog that results in substantial ownership by students, faculty, staff, alumni and external constituents.

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I believe it is also the responsibility of leaders to define reality, difficult as that reality may be, even while maintaining a sense of optimism about the future. University presidents are inherently optimistic. Defining reality, or naming challenges, is sometimes a more difficult task. Provost Beryl Brubaker, in her lead article "Quality with Soul," reviews the prioritization process that is underway at EMU.

As Dr. Brubaker notes, I have said that EMU is not in a crisis. I do believe the reality is that if we do not make some adjustments in programs and resources during the next two to three years, it will be increasingly difficult for us to respond positively to the creative ideas that continue to come from faculty and staff. The prioritization process is as much about reallocating existing resources as it is about “cutting programs.”

I believe that at the conclusion of the process EMU will emerge a stronger, more nimble organization that will better serve our students for the years ahead.

—Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University