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Presidential Update Fall 2003

To Hope College Friends and Alumni:


We were blessed with a superb beginning to the 2003-04 academic year. Present on campus are a record 3,068 students, including 811 first-time students. We are very grateful for this enthusiastic interest in the Hope College experience.

Hope College does many things very well. One of these most certainly is freshman orientation. Under the leadership of Dr. Richard Frost (vice president for student development and dean of students), Diana Breclaw (assistant dean of students for residential life and student activities), and senior students Heather Haan and Jacqueline Timmer, this year’s orientation was no exception.

Provost Emeritus David G. Marker gave the Convocation address, titled Anchors of Hope in a Turbulent World, and challenged our students to take full advantage of a liberal arts education. Senior chaplain and this year’s leader of our ministry team, the Reverend Paul Boersma, gave an inspiring message challenging students to leave evidence of their own legacy at Hope. Our Pre-College Conference, A Celebration of Teaching, was marked by several senior professors who gave examples of effective teaching styles and best practices. All in all, it was an exceptional beginning.

I titled my annual State of the College address and theme for the year Expecting the Exceptional. That is what I have come to expect from so many talented colleagues and students who grow intellectually, spiritually, socially, and physically at Hope most every day.


In September, Hope was evaluated by an external team from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. At stake was an anticipated ten-year reaccreditation for the institution. Chairing the institutional self-study steering committee and principal author of the report was Dr. R. Richard Ray, professor of kinesiology and department chair. Rich did a superb job, as we knew he would. Typically, evaluation results are received sometime during the academic year in which an accreditation visit occurs.

Last year, Hope was reaccredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. This fall, academic programs are being evaluated by the accrediting team of the National League for Nursing, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs relative to our athletic training major, and by the National Association of Schools of Theatre. Hope holds national accreditations in eleven different academic disciplines. These accreditations are costly and time consuming but help Hope achieve at the very highest levels. In addition, they give confidence to our students and constituency that Hope is indeed serious about quality. I like national accreditations, and I like visitors who come to our campus for the purpose of helping us become better tomorrow than we are today. Okay—in all honesty—I like it best of all when they leave campus after giving a very favorable assessment of our programs!

I Just Love Hope!

On average, Martie and/or I eat lunch or dinner with students about four to five times each week. We enjoy interacting with them and learning about their joys, sorrows, and aspirations. When they are asked about Hope, the refrain they offer most often is, “I just love Hope.” I believe these words are genuine rather than uttered merely to please the president!

Sometimes even I think that college life is a breeze. There are so many wonderful amenities and so few responsibilities apart from one’s self. But, when I interact with students one-on-one, they will often share activities and circumstances which clearly indicate that life on a college campus is not all sunshine. There is also rain. Both are required to help young women and men grow into the kinds of people that will make a difference in the world. Most always I am impressed by their abilities and commitments. Many have double, even triple majors. Some work one, two or even three jobs either on or off campus. Most are involved in co-curricular activities like sport, music, theatre, dance, Greek life or spiritual life, or engage in community service. Some have home situations that merit special attention. Others are concerned with their own health challenges. All have several professors to satisfy with their academic performance. Some struggle with roommate, girlfriend, or boyfriend conflicts. Increasingly, there are financial concerns. Many worry about their first job or acceptance to the graduate school of their choice.

Make no mistake about it—life on a college campus like Hope is a joy and a privilege. But, I am also very proud of our students for the marvelous ways so many of them overcome substantial obstacles to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that are theirs.

So Many Learning Opportunities

Campus life at Hope is full of learning opportunities. Appropriately, we think first of the formal classroom setting, but there are many others. Perhaps one thinks next of the co-curricular program, where life’s lessons are taught in different ways. We should also think of the many opportunities Hope students have to learn from guest speakers and artists who grace the college campus most every day of the academic calendar. The 22nd annual Critical Issues Symposium, which this year was titled Putting Science In Its Place: Discovery and Responsibility, was one such opportunity. Among the presenters this year were Dr. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences and Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago. CIS is but one among many examples. There are symposia on a regular basis in the arts and sciences. Most of our students avail themselves of these rich learning opportunities.

Top 100!

In the latest ranking of American colleges and universities in the U.S. News & World Report, Hope achieved a first-tier ranking, placing among the 100 best national liberal arts colleges. This is a significant placement for us. We can enhance our future overall ranking by making intended progress in the areas of faculty salaries and percentage of alumni giving. In the unranked category of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, Hope again was listed with our country’s most prestigious colleges and universities. We value this placement so much because collaborative research and creative activity among students and faculty are areas that Hope is very intentional about fostering. Considerable resources enable Hope students and faculty to do collaborative research, write journal articles, publish books, and receive research grants. During this past year alone, Hope faculty members had over 200 publications—30 books and 182 poems, articles, chapters, encyclopedia entries, videos, CDs, and patents. In addition, over 100 faculty members made presentations at reputable conferences. Currently in effect at Hope are 19 major (in excess of $100,000) external academic grants, totaling nearly $9 million! This is really quite extraordinary for an undergraduate liberal arts institution.

Hope consistently has more NSF undergraduate research grants than any other liberal arts college in the country. That Hope is able to contribute to the body of knowledge in so many different disciplines while not neglecting our primary classroom teaching responsibilities is a tribute to the ability and work ethic of our faculty. I have oftentimes said that being a college professor is pretty easy if your goal is to be mediocre. To be exceptional, the challenge can be consuming.

New Facilities

The new science facility addition is fully operational and being enjoyed by our students, faculty, and staff. It is without question a superb addition to the physical plant of the college. We fully anticipate that it will enhance both student and faculty performance as well as Hope’s already lofty reputation in undergraduate science education. I hope that many of you will have the opportunity to tour this facility in the coming months.

Contractors moved immediately from completing the addition in early August to renovating the existing Peale Science Center. This will be a welcomed renovation, with anticipated completion by August of 2004. A dedication of this total complex is tentatively scheduled for Homecoming of 2004. We are still in need of approximately $1.25 million before March 1, 2004, to meet the $850,000 Kresge Foundation challenge grant for the new addition.

I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that neither the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication nor the DeVos Fieldhouse construction will begin this fall. This is a bit of a disappointment, but several factors have contributed to the delays. The Martha Miller Center, which will house the departments of communication, modern and classical languages, international education, and multicultural education, has benefited from additional planning as we have continued to consider program needs. In addition, we remain approximately $5 million short of the necessary funding for this $10 million project. The DeVos Fieldhouse has had some delays because of property acquisitions and exchanges as well as incomplete funding. We remain approximately $4 million short of completing funding for this project. We now anticipate breaking ground for both of these important projects in early March of 2004.

Overall, the funding for Legacies: A Vision of Hope has gone extremely well. We are grateful for so many who have contributed so generously to get us within $1.5 million of our $105 million goal. Because some components are oversubscribed, we will likely need $115 million in campaign commitments in order to fully fund all of the projects. We believe this is achievable within the next year.

The Power of Prayer

I know that many of you regularly uplift the college in your prayers. We feel this and want to thank you for it. Sometimes you ask me specifically for things to pray for at Hope. I would like to suggest that you include the following three items:

First, we continue in our search for the next dean of the chapel. This is a very important position, and the search committee is making good progress. We are currently screening and evaluating several excellent candidates and will, within the next month, be identifying the person(s) we will interview on campus. We are very confident that God will lead us to the person of His choosing. Please pray that we will discern this choice.

Second, so many Hope groups, including especially but not exclusively intercollegiate athletic teams, travel thousands of miles each year. Oftentimes, these trips occur late at night or in the early morning. Because of the sheer number of trips and the many miles involved, these groups are vulnerable to accident. Please pray that God will keep each one nestled securely in the hollow of His hand.

Finally, please pray that we will remain faithful to our mission. So many institutions like Hope have, over the years, departed significantly from their noble heritages and traditions. Please pray that we will be open to changes that are necessary to learn and grow, but that we will also be faithful to our mission of providing an exceptional educational experience in a caring, Christian environment. This is a constant challenge for all of us given the world in which we live. With your help and by God’s grace we can remain true to our convictions of being at the same time vibrantly Christian and exceptional academically. I agree with the relatively few in higher education who believe that these two domains are not mutually exclusive but, rather, enhancing of one another.

The Guys

On July 2, Martie and I had a real date! No guests, no speeches, just the two of us at a play—at Hope, of course! The Guys by Anne Nelson was a powerful, sobering two-person play written about September 11, 2001. Like all Hope Summer Repertory Theatre plays, it was superbly done.

This night, though, I observed the audience as well. I noticed how many people from the community were present. Many were from the greatest generation. Theirs was a generation of individuals who, not unlike those in the play, sacrificed for others. Theirs was the generation that lived by faith, by principle, by commitment—without complaint in the face of pain, discouragement, misfortune, even death.

As Martie and I left the play, we strolled to the newly created memorial garden provided through the generosity of Larry Kieft in memory of his wife, Linda. Glenn and Glenda Van Huis were sitting on one of the benches—debriefing after seeing the play. Glenn, I learned, is a Holland fire fighter. For him and others who serve so faithfully—even sacrificially—on behalf of all of us, this must have been a very poignant experience. Please accept our grateful thanks extended to all who serve so faithfully and well, often without fanfare or even commendation.

No One Pays the Full Cost

The cost of a college education is, once again, in the headlines. It is a national, institutional, and personal concern. College educations are expensive; they are also a very wise investment. At state institutions, taxpayer subsidies reduce the net cost for students. At private colleges, gifts from alumni and friends and other non-tuition revenue sources reduce the cost. At Hope, tuition covers only about one-half of actual educational expenses.

The difference between the cost of a Hope education and what students ultimately pay is directly related to the generosity of alumni and friends. As alumni of Hope, we must acknowledge that a previous generation subsidized our education. Now it is our turn to keep a Hope education affordable for the current generation of students. How grateful we should all be for this intergenerational gifting which continues to make a Hope education possible for talented and deserving students.

Currently, 29 percent of Hope alumni give annually to the college. Those institutions which are ranked higher than Hope in U.S. News & World Report typically have alumni giving in the 50 percent range. It is a long-term goal of mine that each Hope alum will give back to the college in annual, campaign, and/or estate gifts in ways commensurate with the blessings they have received from Hope. Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please be generous and responsive when our student callers or development office personnel seek your financial assistance.

A Fast Track

There is little doubt that Hope is on a fast track. Competing and performing at the highest levels in all aspects of the college program require resources and major time commitments. Developing the campus facilities through Legacies: A Vision of Hope is both exhilarating and consuming. Bearing the responsibility for 700 employees and 3,000 students is rewarding but also demanding. Responsibility and accountability are not taken lightly.

As I reflected on this, my thoughts turned back to an evening at our family dinner table nearly a quarter century ago. I had come home for dinner, briefcase in hand, after a day of teaching, administering, and coaching. I joined Martie, Matt, and Heather at the dinner table. Our elementary school daughter, Heather, looked rather seriously at me and asked, “Dad, why do you always have to bring your briefcase home?” I responded by saying, “I just can’t seem to get all my work done at the office.” To which Heather replied, “Can’t they put you in a slower group?”

I don’t really want to be in a slower group! I like the track we’re on at Hope. Through the years, God has blessed the college in ways beyond our fondest expectations. It really is a wonderful place—a place where faith, learning, and living combine in so many outstanding ways to glorify God and serve humankind. Martie and I consider it a rare privilege to be a part of Hope at this particular time in the college’s history. We pray often that God will grant all of us entrusted with both the care of our students and the college the wisdom, energy, and vision to make what already is so very good even better. Thank you for your friendship, your support, and your prayers which sustain us daily.

James E. Bultman, President