Our New Diversity Plan

At long last Concordia University St. Paul has a diversity plan to accompany its strategic plan. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan was posted last week on the University portal.

Effective strategic planning has been at the heart of CSP’s phenomenal growth and success over the last decade. A number of our academic, academic-support, and co-curricular units have produced their own strategic plans, which are doing wonders to align these departments with the goals and objectives of the university’s comprehensive strategic plan.

Diversity overlays every part of the university and is one of the five core values in the Concordia Promise. A strong commitment to a multicultural environment has been a strategic advantage to the university. The release of this formal plan crystalizes the university’s intention to operate in and as a multicultural milieu.  The plan also identifies gaps between our reality and our aspirations and helps map out a path to bridge those gaps.

I am excited to have this document in all of our hands as a living plan which, just like the strategic plan, will not “sit on the shelf” but will help us actualize our dreams of meeting the needs of the diverse populations that continue to flock to our university community. I encourage you to give it a careful reading, discuss it with colleagues, and refer to it often.

While many contributors helped shape the plan, special thanks go to the C.A.R.E. Committee (Coalition for Acceptance, Respect, and Equity) for all the research, thought, time, energy and passion they invested in its development and presentation. The committee began this endeavor nearly two years ago. They consulted students and various campus units to gather insight and input into the realities and needs of our campus populations. Assumptions, data and experiences were intensely discussed and debated, thus resulting in the goals and strategies that comprise this important document.

The members of the C.A.R.E. Committee include: Dr. Cheryl Chatman (Chair), Dr. Kris Bransford, Dr. Basma Ibrahim DeVries, Mr. Charles Hines, Ms. Kate Larson, Ms. Tiffani Loeb-Schneider, Ms. Carolina Mendez, Mr. Adrian Perryman, Prof. Matt Ryan, Prof. Cate Vermeland, Dr. Laura Wangsness-Willemsen and Ms. Louisa Vang (Meeting Planner & Recorder).  I want to publicly thank them and all who contributed to this effort.

Grace and peace to you.

President Ries

Grace and Peace to Each of You

August 3, 2018

Dear Friends in the CSP Community,

Today I write to inform you of my decision to step down as your president on June 30, 2019. I have communicated my plans to the Board of Regents, which will commence a search for a new president with its first meeting of the new academic year. The timing of my notice provides the board with a generous window within which to conduct a thorough search.

I count my years of service as president of Concordia University St. Paul as some of the most fulfilling of my professional life. I am very pleased with what we have accomplished together during the last seven years. From the perspectives of strategic direction, academic program offerings, number and professional strength of the faculty, development of key leaders, size and diversity of enrollment, condition of property and facilities, financial position and, most importantly, student achievements, the university has never been in a better position. My admiration for and appreciation of our students knows no bounds and being associated with them has been the best part of my job.

The recent Higher Learning Commission process to affirm our institution’s accreditation confirmed that the university is on a sound footing by virtually every possible measure. Moreover, the visitation team also took admiring notice of such less easily measured qualities as spirit of community, unified commitment to common goals, and capacity to partner with other institutions. I was not surprised to hear these comments, since I have experienced them in abundance during my various tenures with the university.

After my departure from Concordia, I will be attending to certain business matters, which are making increasing demands on my time and spending more time with family, especially the five beautiful grandchildren with which God has blessed my wife and me.

I look forward to our celebration of 125 years as a university under the theme Leading in Legacy. Certainly, the Lord has been our dwelling place throughout all the generations of this institution and has established the work of our hands (cf. Ps. 90:1, 17). I have every confidence in him as we move ahead. Grace and peace to each of you.

Very truly yours,

Tom Ries

 

All Smiles after HLC Accreditation Team Visit

The team of peer-reviewers representing the Higher Learning Commission left our campus yesterday after completing a very positive visit with us on Monday and Tuesday.  The team was extremely grateful for the hospitality and spirit of welcome they received from all quarters – staff, faculty, students, regents, and community members.

I wish to express my deep appreciation to the hundreds of you who put thousands of hours into preparing for this visit and meeting with the HLC peer-reviewers while they were here on campus.  Most notably, we are deeply grateful to Dr. Miriam Luebke and Dr. Marilyn Reineck, who spearheaded this institution-wide effort, and Kathy Haeg, who provided invaluable administrative support.   Our criterion team leaders, writers and editors also deserve special mention for their long hours in coordinating the documentation process and preparing our assurance argument.

Most of you are aware that the peer-review team is not at liberty at this time to share their findings or the recommendations they will be making in their report.  They will spend the next two weeks writing their report, and then send it to us for a “fact check,” just to be sure they have not misstated any data, misspelled names, or made any other factually inaccurate statements.  After that step, the team will finalize its report and submit it again to us for response.  Our accreditation leadership team will review the report and formulate our university response, which may simply be that we concur with the report or may react to parts of it.  Once we have made our response, the peer-review team will pass the report on to the Higher Learning Commission, who will act to formally approve the report and reaffirm our institutional accreditation.  That final action will occur, likely, sometime this fall.

Though the peer-reviewers did not share findings or recommendations, they did offer some very positive observations.  First, the team noted that the sense of community at our university is extremely evident, to a degree not often found at other institutions of higher education.  Individuals at CSP feel they are part of something important, believe their work matters, and take ownership in shaping the institution’s destiny.  Moreover, the reviewers had a general sense that student success is the overriding motivation for faculty, staff and regents, and specifically complimented the faculty’s academic program review process and attention to student learning outcomes.

The reviewers were amazed at the clarity and efficacy of our strategic plan, and at the broad understanding of the direction of the university by faculty, staff, and regents.  Likewise, they found broad understanding of the university’s mission and promise statements.  This unified sense of mission and vision is also not often found in other organizations.

I am not surprised that the peer-review team had such a positive experience on our campus.  Conversely, we have benefitted from being able to look at our university through their eyes, and eagerly await their report.

Grace and peace!

Tom Ries

 

 

 

 

Accreditation Visit Next Month

Earlier this week, we submitted our final Assurance Argument to the Higher Learning Commission as one of the last steps of preparing for the review of our accreditation status by our regional accreditor.  The document was two years in the making, with the research and writing process quarterbacked by Dr. Miriam Luebke and Dr. Marilyn Reineck.  Dozens of individuals contributed hundreds and hundreds of hours to the preparation of the Assurance Argument.  I encourage you to take a look at it, and you may access the final product by copying and pasting the link below into your internet browser.

https://concordia.csp.edu/assessment/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/CSP-2018-HLC-Assurance-Argument.pdf

There is great benefit in producing such a document.  The final product provides a comprehensive picture of CSP, where we are today as an institution and what we aspire to be in the future.  I learned much from reading it myself.  I am impressed by how broadly understood it is that we are a mission-driven institution, and how many if not most departments in the university regularly think through their roles as contributing toward pursuing the mission.  I am equally impressed by how deeply strategic planning has been embraced by many if not most individuals on our campus, who again see themselves as integral parts of the important effort to attract students, help them persist to graduation, and help them transition to the next phase of their lives.

Preparing the Assurance Argument also provided the opportunity to do “gap analysis,” that is, to evaluate where we are not meeting our goals and achieving our aspirations.  That is a healthy exercise for, while we have accomplished a great deal in the decade since our last comprehensive HLC review, there is still much to be done.  Fortunately, by almost every measure, we are a stronger institution than we were ten years ago and are better equipped than ever before to achieve the mission “to prepare students for thoughtful and informed living, dedicated service to God and humanity, and the enlightened care of God’s creation.”

Our HLC visitation team will be on campus April 16th and 17th.  We look forward to meeting them and gaining from their perspective as they look through their own particular lens and the institution we claim to be and hope to be in the future.

Thanks for all you are doing for the benefit of our students.  Grace and peace.

President Tom Ries

A Gathering of Nations

The flags of thirty nations are now on display outside the Office of International Student Services, representing the students from countries around the world who are enrolled at Concordia University St. Paul.  The office is on “the tunnel” in Luther Hall, and I encourage you to take a look next time you are in that area on campus.  The flags were mounted on the walls a few weeks ago.

Just a few years ago, only a handful of international students were enrolled at Concordia.  Today that number has swelled to nearly 150.  It is indeed a high privilege for us to welcome these students to our campus.  They enrich us by their presence and we hope to help them achieve their academic goals and begin to realize their aspirations for their lives and careers.  Just today I spoke with one of our international students, who is studying finance.  “I love Concordia,” he told me.  “This is a great place to go to school.”  Naturally I was happy to hear this.  In point of fact, from our surveys of international students we learn that the vast majority say they would choose Concordia again, and their rates of persistence to graduation are high.

Tiffanie Loeb Schneider, Colleen Cahill, Drew Boatman, and Kati Jabri staff the Office of International Student Services.   I am proud of the work they do and grateful for the positive spirit they display in working with these students who, of course, bring with them widely diverse backgrounds in culture, ethnicity, language, and customs.  Many other faculty, staff and volunteers are contributing to the constructive experience our international students are having.  I hope all of us take advantage of learning from them, through conversation and attendance at some of the wonderful events they sponsor on our campus each year.

To the people of Israel, God said:  “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.  Love them as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:34a).  Thank you, God, for giving us the same opportunity you gave to your people of old.

Tom Ries, President

Here’s to Leaders!

LEADERS WANTED

The second cohort of our Developing CSP Leaders program is well underway.  Since being rolled out in 2016, the program has been well received.  It is structured around three tiers.  The first is a basic orientation to Concordia University St. Paul, which all faculty and staff are asked to complete.  The second, is an exposure to the basic leadership topics of Leadership and Strategy, the Higher Education Industry, Human Resource Management, Financial Management, and Cultural Competence.  These topical modules are facilitated here on campus by our own senior administrators.  The third is an off-campus “capstone” experience selected by the participant and her/his supervisor.

 One of those capstone experiences often selected by participants is Thrivent Fellows, a year-long program which includes three residencies, a self-selected, focused study of a single leadership issue, and personal coaching and mentoring throughout the program.  The program is administered through the Lutheran Educational Conference of North America (LECNA) made up of forty-two Lutheran colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.  Since its beginnings in 2001, seventeen Thrivent Fellows have become presidents, twenty-six senior -level vice-presidents, another fifty or so deans or directors.  The leadership skills and competencies attained through this program are phenomenal and we are pleased to invest in it.

Concordia St. Paul’s Fellows over the years have made a huge impact on our university through their leadership.  Here’s the impressive list:

  • 2003  Dr. Cheryl Chatman          Executive Vice-President and Dean of Diversity
  • 2005  Dr. Alan Winegarten         former Dean Arts and Sciences
  • 2006  Dr. Amy Gort                      former Dean and now Provost at Metropolitan State University
  • 2008  Dr. David Lumpp               former Dean Arts and Letters
  • 2010  Dr. Marilyn Reineck          Vice-President Academic Affairs
  • 2011  Dr. Michael Walcheski       Dean Graduate School
  • 2012  Dr. Jean Rock                      Chair Leadership and Management
  • 2015  Dr. Rob Krueger                  Chair Mathematics and Computer Science
  • 2016  Dr. Kevin Hall                      Dean Business and Technology
  • 2017  Dr. Katie Fischer                  Dean Health and Science
  • 2017  Dr. Paul Hillmer                   Dean Humanities and Social Sciences

Capable leaders are essential to the success of any organization and we are committed to developing leaders who can take our university into the future.  If you are interested in pursuing growth in your own leadership capacity, please speak to your supervisor or contact Human Resources.  Here’s to leaders!

Grace and peace.

Tom Ries

 

 

 

Outcomes . . . Wow!

Our efforts as a liberal arts university are all directed toward student success.  We aim to enroll students, empower them on their way to graduation, and help ensure a positive transition to the next chapters of their lives.  As we approach the end of another semester, I want to celebrate with you some of the outstanding outcomes we and our students are realizing at Concordia University St. Paul.

Persistence to Graduation
• Students who enroll as freshman are approaching five-year graduation rates of 60%.
• Including students who transfer to Concordia, five-year completion rates are nearing 70%.
• Student athletes, as cited by the NCAA, graduate at a 92% rate.
• Students who transfer from Concordia to other institutions show strong rates of completion, bringing our 5-year overall completion rate over 70%
• Students in our non-traditional undergraduate programs and in our graduate school programs complete at rates in a range from 85% to 90%.

Jobs and Graduate School
• An impressive 94% of the class of 2016 reported that they were employed, had enlisted in the military, or were accepted into graduate school within six months of graduation.
• At $58,112 per year, Concordia graduates rank first in average annual salary among all bachelor degree graduates from all public and private colleges in Minnesota, as cited by the Minnesota Department of Economic Development

 

Student Indebtedness
• Average student debt has fallen from a high of $42,461 for the class of 2013, to $33,183 for the class of 2016

Year after year, many individual students achieve extraordinary results. This year, we are especially proud that Riley Hanson (’17) will be honored as one of the NCAA’s Top Ten. This extremely rarified distinction recognizes a very select group of ten athletes from all three NCAA divisions for their performance in the classroom, on the athletic field or court, and in the community. Amazingly, Riley is not the first CSP athlete to be recognized at this level, but she is the latest and will take time from her studies at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry to be honored in January at the NCAA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis.

I thank God for all of you – faculty, staff, students, regents, donors, parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, and others – who are contributing to these astonishing outcomes. Wow!

Grace and peace.

Tom Ries

Reformation Celebration

In all my thirty-five years of association with CSP, I have never been part of a worship experience on our campus like the one held yesterday, October 29.  Nearly 2,500 worshippers – including five-hundred choristers, instrumentalists, dancers, and actors – filled the Gangelhoff Center for a celebration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was awesome, overwhelming, simply magnificent.

This festival worship was the culmination of a series of events which have been part of our university’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses, traditionally dated October 31, 1517.  For the past four years, a Reformation Heritage Lecture series facilitated by Dr. Rhoda Schuler of the Department of Theology and Ministry has primed us for this celebratory year.  Two years ago, Concordia’s Office of Alumni Affairs organized a Concordia-sponsored trip to Reformation sites in Germany and Prague.  From October 30, 2016, through January 15, 2017, Concordia University was a Community Partner sponsor of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts display Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation.

This semester we have observed the anniversary with convocations, concerts, the dedication of Reformation Tower, an exhibit of original Reformation-themed artwork in the Concordia Gallery, a production of John Osborne’s Luther in the Pearson Theater, a poster display and display of rare books in the Library Technology Center, and yesterday’s service under the theme Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word.

The worship service was the product of hundreds of volunteers offering thousands of hours of prayer, planning, and production over a two-year period.  Among the volunteers were nearly two-hundred CSP students, faculty and staff.  The Minnesota North and Minnesota South Districts of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and Concordia University St. Paul, jointly sponsored and funded the event.  The Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, was the homilist.

Though we view last week’s activities as the culmination of our Reformation anniversary observance, we are not done yet.  Morning chapels on the first day of the work week will continue to be “What Does This Mean” Mondays  through the remaining months of the semester, as CSP faculty and staff zero in on various aspects of the Reformation.  Our last in the five-year Reformation Heritage Lecture series will feature the Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb, CSP alumnus and former faculty member, speaking on the topic Living as a Christian – Wittenberg Style on Thursday, February 8, 2018, at 7:00 p.m. im the Graebner Memorial Chapel.  Ms. Jacquelyn Magnuson (CSP staff) and Ms. Sara Sorenson (CSP alumna) will present an organ recital featuring Hymns of the Reformation, on February 18, 2018, in the Buetow Music Auditorium.

I want to personally thank all who offered their time, talent, and energy to the celebratory events of this commemorative year.  We rejoice in the good gifts of our gracious God, especially the gift of himself in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.  Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good!

Tom Ries

 

 

Ancient Prayer for a Modern Day

 

There is an ancient prayer of the Church, attributed to St. Augustine:

Reform Your Church, Lord. Begin with me.

The best legacy of the Reformation is a living, continuous change in each one of us who claim the name of Christ.  This year on our campus we will observe the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses, a seminal event in the reformation of the church and in fact the world. I enjoy reading and studying Reformation history. But if the Reformation remains to us an historical event rather than a vibrant, ongoing reality, it loses its relevance to church and society.

Appropriately, I think, our Book of the Year is A Good Time for the Truth. The book is a collection of essays, more properly oral histories, providing perspective on race in Minnesota. In the Introduction, Editor Sun Yung Shin positions the book as “A call for us to listen and learn about one another’s real lives in Minnesota.” We are at our best at our university when we continually practice listening and learning. We think of ourselves as a community which values racial and ethnic diversity, and the mutual understandings which occur when we exercise our listening and learning skills within our multicultural urban environment are magnificent.

But, as Sun Yung Shin points out, there are some hard truths “that we must understand and agree upon.” The experience of a person of color in the United States has always been and is still today a different experience from that of a person who is white. That is a hard truth which prompts the prayer Reform your Church, Lord. Begin with me.  Moreover, much of racism is historically liked to efforts to colonize the “New World” by Christians, who often viewed Indigenous peoples as less than and not worthy. That is another hard truth. Reform your Church, Lord. Begin with me. More than anything else in this world, I value the love of God in Jesus Christ who, while we were yet sinners, came to die for us and rise from the dead to give us the certain promise of forgiveness and everlasting life. We are, in the words of the theme of our academic year, Saved by Grace. To realize that this fundamental Christian message has too often been linked to racism and oppression is, for me, the hardest of truths. But if I am to genuinely live a life rooted in Christ, it is a truth that must be faced. Reform your Church, Lord. Begin with me.

During this academic year we have before us a fortuitous confluence rich themes: Reformation – Diversity – Grace. Let us capitalize on them as an academic community in the spirit of this humble prayer: Reform your church, Lord. Begin with me.

Tom Ries

Giving Space to Giving Voice

On Sunday, June 4, Concordia University was host to the Giving Voice Chorus-Saint Paul®.  The Giving Voice Initiative (GVI) inspires and equips organizations around the world to build choruses that bring joy, well-being, purpose, and community understanding to people with Alzheimer’s and their care partners. The only organization of its kind, GVI is triggering a movement to build choral music communities that celebrate the potential of people living with dementia.  https://givingvoicechorus.org/about/

Those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, both the individuals and their companions, often tend to become isolated and out of touch with any social network.  Singing is proving to be a remarkably effective way to build community among both the individuals affected by the condition and their care partners.  Those who participate in the chorus generally are still living in their homes, but may find it difficult to find places where others share their unique challenges and hopes, and share them in a constructive context.  Music fosters that constructive environment and brings people together.  Often songs are evocative in that they come from not only the mind but also the heart and the spirit.  Most of us associate certain songs with various times in our lives, and those with Alzheimer’s are no exception.

The chorus, under the direction of Ms. Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, presented a dozen familiar folk songs collected under the theme This Land is Your Land.  They chug, chug, chugged through This Train is Bound for Glory, whistled out Red River Valley, executed melodiously the memorable harmonies of California Dreamin’   by the Mamas and the Papas, and gently crooned the ballad Kisses Sweeter than Wine.  An individual with Alzheimer’s and a care partner introduced each number and recalled how it had touched their lives, for example through a meeting with the original artist, or a time when they were young and falling in love, or raising children, or participating in some great cause.  The large crowd of families and other loved ones applauded and cheered loudly at each offering and ended the afternoon with a standing ovation.

Long-time Concordia “family member” Emmy Treichel helped bring the chorus to our campus, reflecting on the time when she was a care partner with her beloved Herb who lived out his last days with Alzheimer’s.  CSP librarian Geruth Buetow is personally involved with the group.  Dr. David Mennicke as well as CSP’s crack Conference and Events staff were of great help in making the event a success.  We were delighted to give space to Giving Voice.

Such an event is but one example of the hundreds of ways Concordia University students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders are involved in civic engagement each year.  Attending to the needs of the university’s various communities has long been part of CSP’s makeup, whether those communities are in the neighborhood, the greater Twin Cities, outstate Minnesota, or local congregations and the church at large.  Scores of organizations and thousands of individuals are touched through the university each year.  It’s another reason CSP is a satisfying place to live and work.

Grace and peace.

Tom Ries