Challenges, successes filled year for Fort Lewis

As the 2011-12 academic year draws to a close, I wish to first and foremost congratulate the newest Fort Lewis College graduates for earning their degrees. Earning a college degree, especially an FLC degree, is no small thing, and I am very proud of those who have accomplished this feat.

It was another eventful year at FLC, and I want to touch on some of the major happenings.

First, I appreciated the discussion that arose concerning the changes made to the Modern Languages Department. I do understand and sympathize with the concerns expressed by those faculty and students that came to both the forum with Provost Morris and the Board of Trustees meeting.

The decision not to offer German and Japanese courses for the 2012-13 academic year was made because of low and declining student enrollments. The low enrollments made it difficult to justify spending the resources to teach those classes when those resources are badly needed elsewhere. Spanish and French courses will remain unchanged next year, though we will be losing one of our French faculty after next year, again because of low student demand.

I wish to emphasize that the allocation of resources for courses is evaluated each year, so these decisions are not permanent and can be changed if student demand for these courses justifies it in the future, and I would be pleased to see student demand grow.

In the college’s recently drafted Strategic Plan, we reaffirm FLC’s mission as a public liberal arts college. We continue to offer our students a wide variety of options to study in the arts, humanities, sciences and business. Guided by the Strategic Plan, I believe that FLC will continue to gain in strength and in reputation as one of this country’s best liberal arts colleges even as we see professional enrollments growing. Students in professional areas will benefit from the liberal arts values promulgated at FLC.

Turning to our remarkable faculty and staff, I would like to congratulate Doug Lyon on his recent appointment as dean of the FLC School of Business Administration. Our business school is internationally known as one of the best schools in the world, and I have high hopes for even greater things to come with Lyon at the helm.

As Durango’s incoming mayor, Lyon also helps with the close college-city ties that will become even closer with the opening soon of the Downtown Welcome Center. FLC has been working hard on becoming more visible, to encourage tourists to come up on campus for the best views in town and to encourage students to take advantage of our private college education at public college cost.

Turning to the sciences, I hope that many had the opportunity to attend this year’s FLC School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Every year I am amazed at the research projects that our students participate in and the quality of their presentations. Again and again, this chance to do real research with a faculty member by the student’s side as a mentor is cited as one aspect of a FLC education that sets our graduates apart from the rest.

As is the case each year, the work coming out of our art, music and theater faculty and students is remarkable.

I know that many from the Durango community and beyond have been enriched by the art and performance that our students offer, and I look forward to what will be coming next year.

I would like to thank Linda Schott for her years of service as dean of the FLC School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. I wish her the best in her new position as president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

In the realm of athletics, it seems almost routine in these end-of-the-year letters to congratulate the FLC cycling team on another national championship, but I know that winning nearly 20 national championships is anything but routine. In fact, all of our Skyhawk athletic teams did well this last year, with a third national championship for our men’s soccer team and a second consecutive RMAC conference championship for our women’s basketball team, to name just a few of the many accolades.

I am optimistic for a bright future for FLC, though I know that we will face challenges along the way. Yet if there are defining characteristics of FLC, two of them would be resilience and the ability to evolve and become better. I believe that great things are in this college’s future if we will work together to achieve them. I look forward to doing just that.

Dene Thomas is the president of Fort Lewis College. Reach her at flcpresident@fortlewis.edu.