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Presidential Update Fall 2005

To Hope College Alumni, Parents, and Friends:

It is winter time in Holland! The green leaves of summer that turned to the glorious reds, oranges, browns, and yellows of fall have fallen to the ground, and the first snowfall of winter has covered the campus in a blanket of white. The Hope campus is a wonderful place to be, not only for its physical beauty, but for the daily excitement of life lived fully. I feel blessed to be a part of it.


Without doubt, the question asked most often of a college president is, “How is the enrollment this year?” If it is good, we like to talk about it. If not, we try to shift the conversation. The fact that I am even writing about it here is an indication that the enrollment picture at Hope continues to be very strong!

Admissions and retention data indicate that interest and satisfaction among prospective and current students are at all-time highs. At the beginning of the fall semester, we welcomed 778 first-time, full-time freshmen, 41 percent of whom had a high school GPA of 3.9 or higher. Hope is a “hot” college right now. We have a very talented faculty and staff who are appreciated, admired, even loved by our students. Increasingly, there is an integration among a challenging academic program, a vibrant spiritual life initiative, and a developmental effort in student life. We are able to raise a considerable amount of money from appreciative donors in support of these efforts, and a wise stewardship of these resources has enabled the college to operate both effectively and efficiently within our means. We have a beautiful and beautifully maintained college campus environment for work, study, and play, with ever more exceptional facilities and equipment. We continue to provide compensation that is competitive and consistent with our resources. There is much for which to be grateful, but The Best is Yet to Come!

Hope is once again listed in the top tier of the 100 best liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News & World Report. With humility, we ought to be able to accept what acclaimed education author of Colleges That Change Lives Loren Pope says about us:

Hope is first rate across the board, attracting students because of the reputation of its programs. Hope raises higher education’s moral and intellectual level.

New Buildings

The very successful Legacies: A Vision of Hope capital campaign enabled the construction of three new buildings. Thanks to your very generous support of this campaign, we were able to build the science center, the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication, and the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse. These three buildings accounted for about $75 million of the $141 million capital campaign—one of the most successful liberal arts college fundraising efforts in the country.

The science center is fully operational, continues to attract students and faculty with its functionality and aesthetic appeal, and is enabling Hope to do the kind of teaching and collaborative research that attracts funding from the National Science Foundation and other research granting organizations. Most recently, the college received a $380,000 grant from NSF for the installation of a super computer that will be used in the field of computational science and modeling. According to Dr. William Polik, who is the Edward and Elizabeth Hofma Professor of Chemistry at Hope and principal administrator of the grant, the cluster of computers will be housed at Hope but shared with Carleton, Gustavus Adolphus, and Macalester Colleges, likewise prestigious liberal arts colleges, all from Minnesota.

The stunningly attractive Martha Miller Center for Global Communication was dedicated during Homecoming Weekend in October. This facility is receiving rave reviews for the sheer beauty of its architecture and the synergy made possible by the clustering of the four departments that occupy the building. Multicultural Life, International Education, Modern & Classical Languages, and Communication all call this facility home. The spacious student study and lounge space in the rotunda of this building makes it especially attractive for students.

The DeVos Fieldhouse is nearing completion and will be ready for the beginning of the winter sports season. This much anticipated facility will be home for many of our intercollegiate sports teams and the Kinesiology Department. It will also serve as a superb spectator venue for many community events. Nestled on a 17 acre parcel of land, this facility serves as a bridge between Hope’s core campus and the Buys Athletic Fields on the eastern edge of campus. The building will be officially dedicated on January 27, 2006.

Hope Traditions

There are many traditions at Hope which add to the quality of campus life. Two of these most certainly are the Pull and the Nykerk Cup.

The Pull, which engages the freshman and sophomore men in a tug-of-war competition across the Macatawa River, has been held each fall for the last 108 years. Strenuous training and spirited competition highlight this 3-hour event. I would expect classmates to be present and some parents, but I am always amazed at the number of grandparents, alumni, and community members who line the banks of the river to witness firsthand this traditional competition.

Likewise, the Nykerk Cup competition between the freshman and sophomore women has been a fixture at Hope for the last 70 years. Initiated by Professor John Nykerk, this event features song, plays, and oratory in an evening of delightful competition. The Civic Center was once again packed for this traditional event. This year, Martie and I had a bit part in the sophomore play, The Phantom of the Nykerk. All we had to do was stand at the direction of the Phantom and look confused. I thought this would be easy for me!!

Parents’ Weekend

The on-campus events surrounding Parents’ Weekend were many and enjoyable. In my 21 years as a college president, I have never heard such glowing reports from parents about the experiences of their sons and daughters. Invariably, they mentioned the academic and faith dimensions. This is very satisfying because our passion at Hope is to be at the same time exceptional educationally and vibrantly Christian. Not many institutions aspire to address both of these dimensions; fewer still are able to deliver at the very highest levels in both. This is achievable at Hope, and with God’s grace and favor we have the resolve to accomplish it with distinction.

Minority Plan

Since 1998, Hope has been operating under the Comprehensive Plan to Improve Minority Participation at Hope. It is a good plan and is currently under review to ascertain our progress. Under the leadership of Co-Chairs George Zuidema (Trustee) and John Yelding (Professor), the review committee will report to the Trustees in January.

Hope is not immune to some of the insensitivities which mark our society. This fall we have experienced two student incidents involving racial slurs—one with off-campus personnel and the other likely instigated by another student(s)—that have upset the campus community. All of us deplore these dehumanizing occurrences. Known perpetrators will be dealt with swiftly, surely, and severely. While these occurrences may seem like no big deal to some, they are very hurtful to others. We take them seriously.

Chaplain Paul Boersma addressed this matter with great sensitivity and conviction in a recent Chapel. He was forthright in his denunciation of these incidents and indicated that we are family. When any member of the family hurts, we all hurt. Those responsible should know that when they commit an act against one of us, they will have to deal with all of us. I very much liked his message and the timeliness of it.

Fiscal Year

Hope finished the fiscal year with a modest surplus of revenues over expenditures. Generous gift income, wise stewardship of resources, budget discipline, and no major unanticipated expenses allowed this favorable financial condition. In his 37 years of administering the budget at Hope, Vice President of Finance Barry Werkman indicated that this was the best year of all.

In the midst of this very good report, the Trustees also indicated their concern about the reality of the economic situation we face in our country, in Michigan especially, and in western Michigan specifically. Higher education and Hope College are not immune to the circumstances around them. While the Trustees recognize with gratitude that the overall state of the college has perhaps never been better, they indicate as well that this is exactly the time when we are most vulnerable to rapidly changing financial conditions in the marketplace. The Trustees take very seriously their fiduciary responsibility of holding Hope College in their trust. This includes, certainly, an awareness of what they see projecting into the future. Recent books like Declining by Degrees by Richard H. Hersh, The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman, and Millennials Rising by William Strauss and Neil Howe all point to a challenging future for higher education in this country. Budget difficulties at the federal and state levels, bankruptcies of key automobile suppliers in Michigan, delays in the authorization of the Higher Education Act in Congress, and the formation of the National Commission on Higher Education by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings all substantiate the challenges before us. We look forward to the future believing that The Best is Yet to Come, but we do so with humility, caution, and an awareness that good things don’t just happen by chance.

At their fall meeting, the Trustees approved the budget for the current fiscal year of 2005-06 in the amount of $75,297,111. This is a very large figure and one which will require our very best efforts to balance revenues with expenditures.

Campus Events

Hope College is fortunate to have a wide array of campus events that entice attendance not only by the campus community but also the greater Holland community. Generally, these events are free of charge. It is impossible for me to mention all of the three or four events that take place most every night on campus, but permit me to identify just a few special ones this fall.

Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life person who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda was on campus in September as part of our extended Critical Issues Symposium, titled Genocide in the Global Village. Also here for the Critical Issues Symposium was Francis Bok who spoke about his experiences in the Sudan, where he was kidnapped at age seven and from which he managed to escape nine years ago on his third try at age 17. Earlier this month, Hope’s Visiting Writers Series featured Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, who wrote Gilead. All of these events are designed to enhance understanding and complement the classroom experiences of Hope students.

Jon Mark Schoon

His hands were so big! That was my impression when I first met him. Next, I was aware of his speed—quickly followed by his ability to catch a football and his competitive spirit. He was my teammate, my classmate, my fraternity brother, my friend. His heart was bigger than his hands. All of us who knew and loved him and his family mourned his death in a tragic automobile accident in June of 2004. It was so appropriate that the H-Club honored Jon Mark Schoon posthumously during Homecoming with the Hope for Humanity Award.

Jon Mark lived life fully and enthusiastically. We all knew he was making a difference. His service as Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America was complemented in the last years of his life by his work as program director at Camp Geneva. There his love for sport and Spirit came to full fruition. When row after row of camp counselors and campers who were touched by his wise counsel and ministry filed into the sanctuary at his funeral, all of us realized in a moment that he had made an even bigger difference than we thought. His was a life well lived. Jon Mark made a difference!

When his wife, Mary Kay, accepted the award on Jon Mark’s behalf, she gave a touching account of his philosophy of life. With permission, I share it in part:

The message Jon Mark shared was his true philosophy of life, and that message was to love God with all your heart and remember that every day, in all that you do, that Jesus is Lord. He loved life, loved to laugh, and he exuded confidence. He challenged us to maintain high moral standards, to love others, and to give our best effort. He wanted everyone to live their life and celebrate each precious moment . . . This is who Jon Mark really was behind the fierce competitor that was so visible. He was a man of faith, committed to the Church and to all of us who knew and loved him. Today we find ourselves remembering not how many games were won or lost, but remembering the person who loved to play. He used athletics as a springboard to living life fully and loving God completely. So in the end, Jon Mark’s life was not about winning but very much about “how he played the game.”

Richard Smalley

On October 28 of this year, one of Hope’s most distinguished alumni succumbed to leukemia. Dr. Richard Smalley, professor of chemistry at Rice University, was presented the Hope College Distinguished Alumni Award at the Alumni Banquet in May 2005. Although too ill to attend, this “father of nanotechnology” and Nobel Laureate sent a letter which was read at the Alumni Banquet. With permission, I quote parts of his acceptance speech:

Hello from Texas:

This is a magnificent time to be alive, to see these things happening in medicine and in so many other fields, and in my case to have the privilege of being a scientist in this Golden Era of Science. My own work with buckytubes is in a magnificently flowering mode right now. We just announced a new $15 million
four-year contract with NASA to develop what I like to call the “Armchair Quantum Wire,” a continuous cable of buckytubes that we expect will conduct electricity 10 times better than copper yet have only one sixth the weight, a zero coefficient of thermal expansion, and a tensile strength greater than steel. If we succeed, we’ll be able to rewire the world, replacing aluminum and copper in virtually every application, and permitting a vast increase in the capacity of the nation’s electrical grid. That and the development of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles will enable us to wean ourselves away from gasoline for the bulk of our urban transportation needs, free us from dependency on Middle East oil, and greatly improve the air quality in the cities throughout the world.

I like to point out that this Armchair Quantum Wire endeavor is a “Faith-Based Research Project.” It is based on the faith that when God made the universe he wired into the laws of physics and chemistry a path to make this Armchair Quantum Wire, and to do it with great cleanliness and efficiency. If so, then all I have to do is go find that path that God put there in the beginning. With the vast knowledge we have assembled over the years of physics and chemistry, and the sensational new instruments that are now available, we ought to be able to find that path pretty quickly.

My short two years at Hope starting as a freshman in 1961 were immensely important to me. I went to chapel, studied religion, and attended church more than I had ever done before, and was with people who took to these issues seriously. I valued that greatly back then. Recently I have gone back to church regularly with a new focus to understand as best I can what it is that makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though almost 2000 years have passed since the death and resurrection of Christ.

Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it’s true. God did create the universe about 13.7 billion years ago, and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since. The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe was exquisitely fine-tuned to enable human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to sense that purpose as best we can, love one another, and help Him get that job done.

I wish I could be with you tonight. Thank you for the honor of the Distinguished Alumni Award. For all of us who have had the privilege of attending this great college, we know what it means to say “Hope is my Anchor.”

Atwell & Chassee

This past week I had the privilege of meeting individually with two of our recent alumni, Ryan Atwell and Brad Chassee.

Ryan Atwell ’00 was a biology major at Hope with a special interest in ecology and conservation. He developed a close relationship with Steven Bouma-Prediger of the religion faculty, who shared his interests. Ryan served in a conservation position and attended seminary. These experiences allowed him to integrate theology and ecology. In a letter that preceded our meeting, Ryan said:

I’ve been thinking a lot about just how much I value my Hope education. It has also left me with some very strong opinions. The tensions I experienced at Hope between the strong evangelical faith commitment and the life of the mind are a healthy and important part of what makes Hope College an extremely unique and special institution. Living in the midst of this tension during the years has been important in my own spiritual, religious, academic, and human development.

Brad Chassee ’01 made appointments to see me when he was a student at Hope. He wanted to chat about a variety of things and pick my brain about leadership. These meetings were frequent and always enjoyable. I grew to respect Brad immensely as a person and very capable student. He was, after all, a Baker Scholar, one of our exceptional students majoring in business, economics, or accounting. Brad is now working in the western Michigan business community. He has received several promotions in his brief career since graduating from Hope. I asked him during our most recent conversation why he thought he was so successful at such a young age. Without hesitation, he indicated that his liberal arts education at Hope had enabled him to think clearly and creatively, judge wisely, and communicate effectively. In short, his interpersonal and problem-solving skills were valuable to his employer.

I now find myself asking more questions than I answer in these meetings. The role of teacher and student has reversed itself. In the cycle of life, this is good. Brad and Ryan are rising stars. Their liberal arts education at Hope College has served them well.


We are off to a very good start to this academic year. Morale is good, and there is much to celebrate. With 700 employees, 3,000 students, 6,000 parents, 27,000 alumni, numerous friends, and 70,000 people in greater Holland, all of whom watch us rather closely, there are always challenges to address. We look forward to the future with confidence, courage, and eager anticipation for how God might yet use Hope as His instrument to accomplish His purposes in this place. For His providence, we humbly give thanks.

James E. Bultman, President