“A Call to Boldness,” the title of Dr. Douglas N. Searcy’s inaugural address, captured the spirit of an historic April week in the life of Barton College and the essence of this new president’s vision for leadership. Just four words.
Yet, it was those four words during the installation ceremony on a cool, breezy Friday afternoon on the Aileen and Bill Parish Plaza at Howard Chapel that left “an indelible mark” on the audience and provided a visionary road map for Barton’s future.
During that 2016 ceremony where Dr. Searcy was formally recognized as Barton’s 12th president, the new strategic plan BartonBold was “unveiled,” and this college community began to move confidently into the future where bold thinking on campus will help form bold leadership in our students, our faculty and staff, and our broader communities.
“To me the concept of a ‘calling’ and the idea of ‘boldness’ are intimately linked together,” Dr. Searcy explained at the beginning of his inaugural address. “There is something interesting about a calling; it is seldom easy. You respond to a calling with passion and energy, and you pour yourself into it. That sounds bold to me.”
This bold thought and practice is evidenced by a number of strategic plan initiatives that are already underway. Barton is fully committed to building an academic culture of excellence—a culture that upholds common expectations that challenge students to perform at their highest potential inside and outside the classroom and also supports faculty development through a Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Dr. Searcy noted in his address that the faculty is the College’s number one asset at Barton. “They are experts, [they are] engaged, and, most importantly, they understand our students and what it takes to help them learn.”
Barton students will have a minimum of one hands-on learning experience each year to enhance their academic experience. And, the College is adopting a consistent philosophy of student development, better known as the Barton Experience, which is shaping a comprehensive model for student success and student life. Dr. Searcy explained that this approach will focus on an emotionally intelligent design, adding, “Research suggests that 80% of success comes from focusing on skills that come through emotional intelligence, which includes problem solving, personal responsibility, critical thinking, and understanding and responding to the connectedness of work and relationships.”
The administration is focused on affordability for all students and is investigating new strategies to address cost, including cohort pricing, four-year cost guarantees, and other revisions to the standard tuition-increase model. And, to further reduce the cost to students, the College is working to ensure that all academic majors can be completed in four years. “With 98% of our students receiving some form of aid, and more than 60% of students Pell eligible, we aim to keep college affordable,” Dr. Searcy emphasized.
The physical plant of the campus will continue to be a priority with renovations continuing in the residence halls. Upgrades in furniture, lighting, and equipment are being planned for classrooms, as well as furniture upgrades in residence halls and public spaces on campus. The technology infrastructure will be further developed and enhanced to meet anticipated needs. From replacing the in-ground fiber optic network and foundational network equipment to increasing the quality and quantity of the bandwidth, Dr. Searcy has reiterated, “Our core will always be face-to-face education, but we are in Wilson, N.C., the gigabit city, so we will leverage the InnovateNC economic development initiative and enhance technology, remaining high-touch while also being high-tech.”
Dr. Searcy acknowledged the daunting work in higher education where tremendous challenges loom large for post-secondary education today: affordability, retention, outcomes assessment, competitive admissions, deferred maintenance, mental health support, academic readiness, violence on campus, job placement pressures, and the list goes on and on. Then, he posed the question: why would someone willingly wade into these uncertain waters?
“I guess all of us in higher education ask that question at some point, but I know for me, and for my colleagues here in the Barton community, we do what we do because we love what happens when a college student is transformed,” he continued. “When the student experiences the elation and joy that comes from learning and self-discovery, it’s powerful because it changes and defines students’ lives.
“And, it’s through this response that Barton provides a clear answer to the problems in higher education,” he emphasized. “To this community, our calling means that we aim to be part of the solution. It means staring down the challenges, anxiety, and risks, and boldly proclaiming our purpose to serve students…we respond with a strong, resolute vision and will, but also with compassion, love, persistence, partnership, and the engagement of a community fully committed to student learning.”
Dr. Searcy’s concluding remarks reiterated that BartonBold represents the next phase of the College’s development and success. “…critical themes in the BartonBold Strategic Plan have evolved from [our] strengths to counter the challenges we face, and guide our steps in the days ahead…There is much work to do, but as I look out at those assembled here today, I am more confident than ever that being bold for Barton is our shared calling, one in which we all can participate. Boldness causes us to focus on the future, driven by the conviction of the possible.”