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Presidential Update Winter 2009

To Hope College Alumni, Parents, and Friends:

This past fall semester was, well—interesting! It began with such a positive spirit, a full house of students, and enough talent and resources to predict another outstanding year in the life of the college. But after such a promising beginning to the 2008-09 academic year, we encountered some significant challenges. The first was the economic collapse in September that has affected virtually everyone and every organization worldwide, and the second was a Norovirus outbreak which forced us to close the campus for a five-day period over Parents’ Weekend in early November.

The economic downturn has since only deteriorated and will likely continue to be a factor for the foreseeable future. It has affected most everything that we are doing and are thinking of doing.

The Norovirus outbreak which affected about 500 students, faculty, and staff was not a life-threatening outbreak, but rather one of “sudden onset and quick recovery.” I was pleased with the assistance of the Ottawa Country Health Department and very proud of our campus personnel for implementing so quickly and effectively our prior emergency planning and communication systems. The college received high marks from the Ottawa County Health Department for its proactive response, quick dissemination of information, data collection, and swiftly executed disinfection plan. I suspect we now have one of the most sanitized campuses in the country!


Our retention from fall to spring was again superb. Maintaining our enrollment is so very important to us financially, and we are very pleased that despite the economic conditions our enrollment remains very strong.

Of course, we are well along in recruiting for the fall semester of 2009. To date, we are 46 applications above where we were one year ago at this time. Last year was a record year of applications for us, and if we stay on schedule, we can expect to receive about 3,000 applications for 800 spots in the freshman class. We feel very fortunate to have this level of interest in Hope and trust that the perceived worth of a Hope College education and the assistance of our financial aid packages will result in another outstanding freshman class.

As a matter of practice, I write a congratulatory letter to each accepted student and another to his or her parents, adding a personal note to those I know. Often the parents I know are former students or players of mine whom I taught or coached at Hope. Seeing their children (and soon some of their grandchildren!) here now brings back many fond memories.

I always note the states of these prospective students. We receive about two-thirds of our applications from Michigan residents—with increasingly more students living outside of Western Michigan—and about one-third from out-of-state and international students. As I was going through a recent stack of 97 letters of congratulations on their acceptance to Hope, I noted in exact order the following sequence of states: MN, CO, IN, OH, IL, MI, CA, OH, TX, IL, IL, TX, MI, and AZ. Also in this stack were three applications from NY, two from CT, another from TX, MN, and CO, several more from IL, three more from CA, two more from IN, two from KY, and one each from OR, WA, RI, and TN. Increasing geographic diversity is one of our strategic initiatives. This group of applications indicates that we are making progress!

Board Actions

Because of the economy, the Board of Trustees has accepted our 2009-10 administrative recommendation for a modest tuition, room, and board increase of 2.9 percent, the smallest percentage increase in modern history at Hope College. Once again this year, I anticipate that our percentage increase will be well below the national average for liberal arts colleges.

This year’s small tuition increase is possible for two primary reasons. The first is that Hope has been in an aggressive stewardship mode for the last three years. This was primarily in response to the message of Dr. David Cole, a former Hope Trustee and chief analyst for the automobile industry, who repeatedly shared with us what we did not like to hear, namely, that so many models in this country, including that of higher education, were simply not sustainable long term. Knowing how prophetic he was with the automobile industry, we are attentive to David’s advice and are continually looking for ways to be more efficient without sacrificing the quality of the Hope experience so admired by students, parents, and our peers in higher education. Because of our stewardship mode, we have been able to cut approximately $1 million in annual expenses from our operating budget.

The second reason that we are able to have such a small increase (which, incidentally, will be used entirely for additional financial aid and to cover some of our decreased revenue from investments and business-related income) is that the Board also accepted our administrative recommendation to freeze salaries for all faculty and staff. Our faculty and staff have graciously accepted this decision with a positive spirit in an effort to keep Hope College affordable for so many families who have been hit hard by the economic downturn.

Notable Achievements

Despite the economy, we continue to be buoyed by the outstanding achievements of our students, faculty, and staff. I am so proud of Hope students for their academic and co-curricular achievements and their exceptional service given so freely to so many organizations and individuals in the greater Holland area and indeed throughout the world. They are unselfish with their time and abilities to make ours a better world. I never, ever come home at night worried about how our students will embarrass themselves or the college; rather, I come home always wondering how they will next make us proud of their many achievements.

Most of the student achievements will be recognized later this year when so many significant awards are given. I will comment on those in a subsequent presidential update. We do know at this time, however, that Hope once again leads the MIAA All-Sports race over the “other college” for both men’s and women’s athletics. We had a strong winter season with league titles in women’s basketball and men’s swimming and finished runners-up in men’s basketball and women’s swimming. The Commissioner’s Cup this year will be determined by many spring sports which are just beginning their seasons.

With respect to faculty and staff, there are five awards which I would like to highlight:

    • Dr. Alyssa (Lyra) Pitstick, assistant professor of religion, received the very prestigious 2009 “John Templeton Award for Theological Promise.” Only twelve such awards were given worldwide.

    • Dr. Brian Porter, associate professor of management, was the recipient of the “Sharon G. Johnson Award” established by the Christian Business Faculty Association (CBFA) to “perpetuate the passion and commitment of integrating personal faith in business as modeled by Dr. Sharon G. Johnson.”

    • Dr. Todd Steen, professor of economics, was named the first recipient of the college’s new Granger Endowed Professorship in Economics, Management and Accounting. An endowed chair is the highest award a faculty member can receive, and Todd Steen is a most deserving recipient. We are grateful to Ron and Donna Granger for establishing this chair which recognizes an outstanding Hope professor.

    • Kelly Jacobsma, director of libraries at Hope, has been appointed the first recipient of the college’s new Genevra Thome Begg Director of Libraries endowed professorship. We are very pleased with Kelly’s leadership.

    • Wilma Hart, assistant to the Office of Student Life in the college’s Student Development Office, is the recipient of a Michigan Campus Compact (MCC) Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award for her role in coordinating volunteer services at Hope. Wilma is a very engaged and cherished role model for students and encourages their service participation.

Finally, the director of the Peace Corps informed us that Hope College has earned a top-ten ranking for small colleges and universities on the 2008 list of top Peace Corps volunteer producing colleges and universities.


For several decades, Hope presidents and development officers have traveled to Florida to visit with many of our most faithful and generous donors. Our purpose is to meet with them in a more relaxed setting, to thank them for their generosity, and to nurture significant friendships. We also ask new friends and alumni for their support. Martie accompanies me on these trips and participates in the various alumni luncheons as well as the individual appointments.

With permission, I share with you one of our favorite visits. Homer “Duke” Smith ’37 typically invites us to his home for breakfast and conversation, which always concludes with a generous check and affirmation for his Hope experience. Duke came to Hope from New York and returned there after graduation for a career in industrial sales. He is now 95 years old, a widower, lives independently in his own home, swims daily, and annually drives himself to visit his daughter in Massachusetts. Duke is sharp and looks terrific. I admire him! His generosity in gifting to our annual Hope Fund and establishing a student scholarship are recognized with gratitude.

Hope Fund

These are indeed challenging times for institutions of higher education. Concerns are primarily with finances and enrollment. There are very good reasons for concern. Because of this, every gift to Hope is important, even crucial this year as we strive to balance our budget for the 40th consecutive year. All gifts, large and small, are important! For those of you who have already contributed to the Hope Fund, we thank you so very much. For those who have not yet contributed, we ask for your special consideration prior to the conclusion of our fiscal year on June 30, hoping that you will give as you are able and as you do so, that you will be blessed by your generosity. It’s that “intergenerational link” of helping current students even as a previous generation helped us that is so important to the vitality of Hope.

Then and Now

As reported in The Holland Sentinel, Hope’s initial grant from the National Science Foundation came in 1960. The grant was for $38,900, and it was designed for the enrichment of high school science and mathematics teachers. Jay Folkert directed the summer institute along with advisory committee members Gerritt VanZyl, Clarence Kleis, William Vander Lught, John Hollenbach, and Harry Frissel. Hope has been engaged in research for a long, long time!

Reading a recent note from Dr. Folkert, my statistics professor at Hope, reminded me of not only how Hope has changed, but how it has also remained the same. One year from now, Martie and I will have been on the Hope College campus for at least part of the last seven consecutive decades. Now, as in 1959 when we were freshmen, Hope’s academic program is individualized, challenging—even rigorous. Hope professors, now as then, genuinely care about students and invest their lives in them. While the names of Hope professors over the years have changed, one thing remains the same, and that is their ability to teach well and engage in meaningful scholarship. Because professors generally teach fewer classes today, there is obviously more time and expectation for scholarship than there used to be.

Learning by doing through collaborative research is also more prevalent today than it was half a century ago. I had the personal privilege of serving as a lab assistant to both J. Harvey Kleinheksel and Gerritt VanZyl. Dr. Kleinheksel was a master teacher who was impeccable in his attention to detail. Dr. VanZyl was a master researcher who was always engaged in a project in his lab. I recall quite vividly when fellow classmates John Kieft, Tony Van Ommeran and I were selected to be lab assistants in our senior year for Dr. VanZyl’s organic chemistry class. We thought it would be wise to ask Dr. VanZyl before we left for summer vacation what he wanted us to do in the lab by way of instruction for the next year. Dr. VanZyl peered over his lab glasses and simply said, “That would be your problem now, wouldn’t it?!” It was a tangible reminder that Hope professors didn’t give easy answers. They guided, mentored, and expected you to discover.

When we were freshmen, the chapel was always full. It was required, of course, and we had our assigned seats with a monitor who reported our attendance or lack of it at the 8:00 a.m. services. Chapel is now held at 10:30 a.m., is voluntary, and is still full every time. It is a tribute to current Hope students that attending chapel on a regular basis is a priority.

In the early 1960s, dances at Hope were forbidden. We did dance, of course, but we did it off campus, and we called these activities “foot functions.” Today, Hope has a burgeoning dance department that draws students from throughout the country. I suspect one of the reasons is that Hope is the only liberal arts college in the country with nationally accredited programs in art, theatre, music, and dance.

Hope has always had a proud and successful intercollegiate athletics program. Clearly, the past several decades have been exceptional as Hope has won most of the All-Sports trophies during this time. From initial programs in tennis and archery only, Hope now fields a full array of nine intercollegiate women’s sports in addition to nine for men. Clearly, the advent of women’s sports under Title IX has created more opportunities for women in intercollegiate sport.

Another major change on campus, of course, has been with regard to women’s rights. My recollection is that women could wear shorts or slacks on campus only on Saturday mornings. I also recall that 10:00 p.m. was the weekday curfew for women, and they had to sign out if they were away from their residence hall. On weekends, the curfew was midnight, and special dispensation was needed to spend a weekend night off campus. Men had no curfews. Today there is no gender difference.

On the occasion of former resident hall director Isla Van Eenenaam’s 100th birthday, now five years ago, we sang Happy Birthday to her at a college function. After recognizing Isla in this way, I indicated that I only wished that she would not have been quite so strict in making sure that Martie was in the residence hall by 10:00 p.m. She promptly stood up in the gathering of about 400 people and said, “Well, Mr. President, if you had been a little smarter, you could’ve snuck her in the back door without getting caught!” It brought down the house with laughter!

Finally, there were fraternities and sororities many, many years ago. They are still in existence today and a very integral part of campus life. I applaud them for the enduring friendships they create and for all of the good they do by way of fundraisers and service opportunities. There are so many other opportunities now that weren’t previously available. The number of official campus organizations is 79.


    I’ll conclude this update with several excerpts from recent notes received from students, faculty, staff, and parents:

    • From a staff member, “Please don’t give me a raise this year. I am also open to receiving less in my paycheck to save the college money and in turn keep the college operable. Too many are losing their jobs, and now my husband’s workplace is cutting jobs. Please do what you need to do so we can keep this college alive and well.”

    • This from a Hope student to her parents, “Mom and Dad, please, seriously, don’t buy me any more Christmas presents. There is nothing I need, and you’ve already paid for Hope, and these have been the best years of my life. I just want to be with my family on Christmas, and I don’t need presents to do that. Love,”

    • Then from a parent, “We know that our son is at a very fine school with intelligent, faithful professors. We also know that Hope has a reputation for being an academically challenging school and, more importantly, a place where young adults are challenged to incorporate their faith walk in their vocation. This was the prime reason we chose the school. Hope stands as a beacon of light for parents of children who want a true liberal arts education coupled with the beauty and rock solid foundation of the historic Christian faith. Stay the course.”

    • “As parents of a freshman who has not even completed his first semester, we could not be happier with his experience at Hope.”

    • From a faculty member, “We believe in the talent, passion, and potential of our students who inspire us with their commitment, ability, intelligence, and industry. Working with our students gives us hope for the present and the future... at Hope the historic Christian faith shapes and informs our quest for learning, living, and serving.”

Hope is such an exciting place! Indeed, I firmly believe that with respect to student development along the four important dimensions of intellectual, spiritual, social, and physical, no one does it better than Hope. Martie and I feel so privileged to be a part of this college we love.

James E. Bultman, President