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Presidential Update Winter 2008

To Hope College Alumni, Parents, and Friends:

It hardly seems possible that we are completing the first semester of the academic year. Time flies when you’re having fun, and this has been an enjoyable semester at Hope.

One could not imagine a smoother beginning to an academic year than we experienced at Hope this year. From the Pre-College Conference facilitated by Dean William Reynolds, to the orientation activities implemented by students Katie Ester and Amy VanDerMeulen under the leadership of Dean Richard Frost’s office, to the challenging academic address by Provost James Boelkins, to the meaningful worship service led by Dean of the Chapel Trygve Johnson, to the motivational Convocation address given by Professor Sheldon Wettack, the start of the 2007-08 academic year was inspiring. A joyful spirit pervades the campus, for which we are very grateful.

There was one notable exception, and that a very large one, namely, the tragic deaths of students Sam Meengs and Karen Linder that occurred just when many students were returning to the campus for early activities. That their loss followed so quickly on the heels of the deaths last summer of students Paul Baeverstad and Darcy Quick in off-campus falls made it even more sobering. Both Sam and Karen were high school valedictorians, deeply committed to their Christian faith, and campus leaders in swimming and dance respectively. Their love of Hope College was palpable. Karen’s father shared with me that the previous year had been the best of Karen’s life, and Jeanne Oxendine (Karen’s roommate) indicated that her growth as a young woman during the year was “phenomenal.” Sam’s grandmother shared with me that Sam just loved Hope College and exclaimed to her one day, “Grandma, I was just made to be a college man!” Yes, they loved Hope, and the Hope community loved them. We miss them!

We are also grieved by the recent tragic accident involving Kaija von Websky, who is the daughter of theatre professor Daina Robins-von Websky and Peter von Websky. Kaija’s friend was killed, and Kaija remains hospitalized with severe multiple injuries.

Life is fragile even on a college campus where the energy of life is so prevalent. On campus and among our constituents, death and illness are not strangers to our doors. We pray that the Holy Spirit will bring peace and comfort to families who experience such pain and sorrow.

Strategic Plan

You are aware from past communications that we are working diligently on a comprehensive and “living” strategic plan. Last year we were particularly attentive to four major themes: mission; diversity; integration of our three programmatic areas of academic, spiritual, and student life; and a philanthropic market study which likely would lead to an endowment-focused capital campaign. Significant progress continues to be made in all of these areas.

This year the themes of marketing the Hope experience, benchmarking with like institutions, and cost containment are receiving special attention.


Hope received three commendable recognitions just prior to the beginning of the academic year. Once again, but in an enlarged field, Hope finished in the top 100 national liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News & World Report: America’s Best Colleges guide, which, although criticized by many, still carries considerable national weight. My impression remains that with few exceptions the rankings parallel institutional endowments. Resource input is valued. Second, in a rating of the state’s teacher education programs, Hope was ranked in a tie for first place with Oakland University. This ranking is a tribute to the efforts of our Department of Education to comply with the myriad of education regulations and to the success of our faculty and students in achieving state department objectives. Finally, in a ranking of state graduation rates, Hope finished a solid second to the University of Michigan. Since there is little subjectivity to this ranking (a freshman cohort group is followed through and identified as graduated or not after four and six years), there is little opportunity for fudging. My overall impression is that the institutions that are the most selective typically yield the highest graduation rates.

More recently, Dr. Nancy Miller, dean for the social sciences, was recognized as the Lakeshore Athena Award recipient for 2007. The honor is very significant and richly deserved, and it is the first time that someone from Holland has been so recognized. Nancy was commended for her significant contributions over a lifetime career at Hope College, her leadership role at Christ Memorial Reformed Church, and her many involvements on a voluntary basis in the Holland and greater West Michigan communities. The college is proud of Nancy and her accomplishments. Vanessa Greene, director of multicultural education, was also a nominee for this award, and we extend our congratulations to her as well.

Professor Herb Dershem, who is carrying out a dual assignment as a professor in computer science and the director of institutional research, recently received an NSF grant in the amount of $564,000 to provide financial assistance for students transferring to Hope from various community colleges and intending to major in the underrepresented area of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines.

This grant also has the potential to assist the college in achieving its strategic goal of increasing racial diversity on campus. You should be pleased to know that thirteen percent of this year’s freshman class is comprised of students of color—up considerably from just five years ago when that figure hovered at around five to six percent. In addition, it is always encouraging when those who know you best are aligned with you. In 2004, Hope enrolled five students of color from Holland and West Ottawa. This fall, that number was 23! The increase is due primarily to the diligent efforts of many people, but specifically noteworthy are the extra efforts of Barb Miller and Carol Fritz from our admissions office.

Mark DeWitt, director of corporate and foundation relations, with the assistance of others, has shepherded a $125,000 grant from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for the restoration of the Skinner organ in Dimnent Chapel and a commissioned piece by Benjamin Boyle for the rededication concert series. It is affirming to have received support from a major foundation that looks very carefully at national reputation. The Skinner organ restoration was an expensive ($1 million) but necessary initiative. The clarity of this magnificent instrument (worth $4 million) is vastly improved. The E. M. Skinner Organ Rededication Series played to overflow crowds and featured in various concerts Hope alumnus Al Fedak ’75; college organist Huw Lewis; and Titular Organist at Notre Dame in Paris, Oliver Latry. Interestingly, Dr. Lewis is featured prominently on the inside cover of the October issue of The American Organist.


We are very pleased with our enrollment, which shows an increase of 23 students over last year. Housing has been very tight, and I believe we have maximized the current campus facilities with respect to classrooms, dining space, offices, and housing. We anticipated several years ago that an enrollment of approximately 3,000 full-time equivalent, on-campus students at the beginning of the fall semester would fully utilize our campus facilities. That forecast has proven to be accurate.

I do want to publicly commend our admissions team for its excellent work and also all the members of the campus community for their pivotal roles in the recruitment of quality students. It is a responsibility that we all bear and, given the impending demographics, will become increasingly necessary for us. Thanks as well to many of you who have recommended talented students to us.

We also experienced another very strong year in retention. The fourth- and sixth-year cohort group retention figures are at all-time highs, and the trend for retention is significantly better in all years relative to a decade ago. For this we are grateful.

State and National Issues

Financial aid for students is always a concern. This year institutional financial aid for Hope students is budgeted at $24.2 million, representing 34.5 percent of our $70 million tuition budget. These monies are supplemented by various state and national resources. Because of my role as chairman of the Board for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Michigan (AICUM – 47 institutions and 110,000 students) and chairman of the Student Aid Committee of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU – 980 institutions and 2.75 million students), I have a heightened interest and involvement in preserving these important resources for students in very difficult financial times facing legislators in both Lansing and Washington, D.C. Significant budget battles have ensued. I’m very pleased to report that in early November the Michigan Tuition Grant and related Michigan Competitive Grant were preserved for 400 Hope students in the aggregate amount of approximately $2 million. Bipartisan support from state legislators, together with the proactive efforts of Dr. Ed Blews, president of AICUM and the parent of two recent Hope graduates, prevailed over the Governor’s recommendation to abolish this half-century-old resource. At the federal level, there is every reason to believe that bipartisan support will enable the largest increase in the history of the Pell Grant program. This is a very significant resource (approximately $5,000 per year) for the neediest students in our country.

Mission Statement

Very significantly and very importantly at various fall meetings, Hope students, staff, faculty, and trustees all approved without a single dissent this mission statement:

    The mission of Hope College is to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society through academic and co-curricular programs of recognized excellence in the liberal arts and in the context of the historic Christian faith.

The Mission Committee of our Strategic Thinking team, chaired by the Reverend Dr. Tim Brown, trustee, and including Professors Curtis Gruenler, Jim Herrick, and Karla Wolters; staff member Dianne De Young; Dean of the Chapel Trygve Johnson; and myself, clarified and modestly revised the mission statement used at Hope since the Van Wylen era. We retained the phrase, “in the context of the historic faith,” that has most frequently necessitated clarification over the years. The Reverend David Bast, trustee, explained it succinctly and best when he said, “That simply means being able to recite the Apostles’ Creed without crossing your fingers behind your back!”

These groups also endorsed without dissent several pieces of “mission-related literature,” including a vision statement, core values, virtues of public discourse, distinctives of Hope, and what we expect of our graduates:

    Hope graduates are educated to think about life’s most important issues with clarity, wisdom, and a deep understanding of the foundational commitments of the historic Christian faith. They are prepared to communicate effectively, bridging boundaries that divide human communities. They are agents of hope who live faithfully into their vocations. Hope graduates make a difference in the world.

These pieces, together with the mission statement, are being combined in a single brochure that will be helpful for all who are or might wish to be a part of the Hope constituency.

Endowed Professorships

At a recent investiture ceremony, three Hope professors were recognized for their outstanding teaching, scholarship, service, and commitment to the mission of Hope by appointment to endowed professorships (oftentimes called endowed chairs), the most highly prized recognition in the academy. So named were Dr. Thomas Ludwig to the John Dirk Werkman Endowed Chair in Psychology; Dr. Carol Simon to the John H. and Jeanne M. Jacobson Endowed Chair; and Dr. Mark Husbands to the Leonard and Marjorie Maas Endowed Chair in Reformed Theology. The Werkman chair was endowed by the Mary K. Werkman estate in memory of her husband; the Maas chair was funded through the generosity of Leonard and Marjorie Maas; and the Jacobson Chair was established by the trustees and funded by the college to honor Hope’s tenth president, Dr. John Jacobson, and his wife, Dr. Jeanne Jacobson.

Hope currently has 15 endowed professorships. Our goal is to double that number in the next five years.


I am so proud of Hope students! They are talented, engaged, and connected to so many causes that are good, right, and just. To be sure, not all are “fully refined,” but only on rare occasions do they disappoint. I regularly receive unsolicited feedback about their behavior in groups representing Hope, about their service in our community and beyond, and about their impact on those less fortunate. The outstanding quality of our students is a tribute to the families from which they come. Family priorities and nurturing provide firm foundations on which we are able to build. What a responsibility, what a joy, what a privilege this is for all of us on campus.

On behalf of the campus community, Martie and I wish you a blessed Christmas as together we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. May your holiday be filled with peace and joy!

James E. Bultman, President