A Rollins Perspective

Part III: Setting the Course

By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70

“Rollins College shines as its own bright star within the constellation of preeminent schools with special devotion to the arts, sciences, and practice of liberal learning.”

President Lewis Duncan, Installation Address, 2005

Lewis Duncan

Lewis Duncan (l) and first-year students look to the stars.

As luck would have it, the candidate selected by Rollins’ trustees was a space physicist with an appreciation for applied liberal education who also happened to be a frugal Scot. Dr. Lewis Duncan recognized his good fortune but, rather than permanently encumbering the discretionary Cornell bequest funds available to him, he proposed that they be used to support short-term initiatives. For projects that evolved into longer-term programs, other resources would be identified and they would move into the College’s operating budget. Early Cornell initiatives included the Cornell Scholars, a competitive, full-scholarship program that raised the quality of incoming classes and academic life on campus; strategic marketing, which unified Rollins’ “brand” with a new logo, website, and messages; and the Presidential Internationalization Initiative.

It was perhaps the events of September 11, 2001 that precipitated the College’s recognition that although its roots were in Winter Park, its branches needed to spread worldwide. With study-abroad programs in Australia, England, Germany, and Spain, Rollins students enjoyed opportunities to learn in a variety of cultures, but faculty weren’t as adventurous. Spanish for the Professors, which returned faculty to the classroom as students and then sent them to Spain to practice what they’d learned, had been a first step. The Presidential Internationalization Initiative was designed to encourage faculty to pursue international experiences, permitting every faculty member and some teaching staff to travel abroad at least once every three years. The president’s one caveat: participants must step outside their comfort zones. Destinations have included Bali, China, the Galápagos, Morocco, Tanzania, and—way beyond almost anyone’s comfort zone—Antarctica. The result has been a change in teaching approaches, as well as a thaw among faculty traditionally frozen in their disciplines.

While international study has become firmly embedded in the College’s educational culture (landing Rollins in the Institute of International Education’s top schools for study-abroad participation), not all international experiences occur away from home. In 2006, 49 flags, representing the countries of Rollins students, faculty, and staff, were raised in Skillman Hall. Every year, more have been added to the permanent celebration of international diversity.

Almost a decade after Bornstein’s Rollins Colloquy, President Duncan asked a faculty advisory panel to help craft another conversation in the spirit of the 1931 Dewey curriculum conference. The resulting colloquy on “Liberal Arts and Social Responsibility in a Global Community” brought 10 stellar thought leaders to Rollins to consider that topic and to inspire and challenge one another, with the Rollins community listening in and posing its own questions. The headliners: retired BellSouth CEO Duane Ackerman; poet Maya Angelou; Smith College president Carol Christ; international political economist Francis Fukuyama; virtual reality creator Jaron Lanier; psychologist Steven Pinker; astronaut and physicist Sally Ride; Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie; MacArthur Grant-winning actor Anna Deavere Smith; Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E. O. Wilson.

The 2007 colloquy’s success generating intellectual sparks also generated the idea of a Rollins entity that could host similar distinguished scholars for longer-term residencies, offering opportunities for research and engagement with the Rollins and Winter Park communities. In 2008, the Winter Park Institute opened its door at nearby Osceola Lodge (which once housed one of Winter Park’s founders, Charles Hosmer Morse, and later, Rollins’ 10th president, Hugh McKean) and welcomed its inaugural fellow: two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. One of the Institute’s first programs: a conversation about creativity between Collins and songwriter Paul Simon.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the curriculum continued to evolve (along with Rollins students). Majors in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology and Marine Biology were added, and more novel offerings such as Critical Media and Cultural Studies and the Holt School’s Master of Planning and Civic Urbanism, launching in fall 2010, promised relevant responses to students’ needs and interests. An even larger experiment began earlier in 2010, with the introduction of two pilot sections of the Rollins Plan, a curricular model that fulfills general education requirements through a series of thematically related courses. The first revolutionary offerings: “Global Challenges: Florida and Beyond” and “Revolution.”

The Crummer School also excelled at being responsive to students’ needs, offering a variety of learning formats, including a Saturday MBA track. In 2010, it inaugurated a specially designed MBA for key executives, incorporating an online component to facilitate off-campus participation. The School’s Centers of Excellence—in Leadership, Advanced Entrepreneurship, Career Development, Management and Executive Education, and Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership—provide specialized programs for students and the community.

Rollins remained at the forefront of community engagement and service learning, earning repeated national, state, and local recognitions for its programs and faculty. Florida Campus Compact presented Rollins its first statewide Engaged Campus Award and Community Engagement Educator Award in the independent category, plus four consecutive Service-Learning Faculty Awards. The College has been named repeatedly to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction and earned Community Engagement Classification by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2008, a distinction achieved by less than 5 percent of higher-education institutions. Service is so ingrained in the Rollins culture that incoming students participate in the SPARC (Service Philanthropy Activism Rollins College) day of service during Orientation and even parents are invited to pitch in during Family Weekend.

Many recent developments on campus didn’t come with photo “opps”—implementation of the Academic Honor Code, accomplished in 2006 after years of study and debate, or continuing work on a companion Social Honor Code, for example—but some were visibly spectacular. Extensive renovations of residence halls revitalized housing across campus, adding a faculty apartment to Ward Hall and facilitating multiple living-learning communities (LLCs), where students enrolled in the same courses also live in the same building.

In 2007, Rollins was selected by AAC&U to be one of 18 national colleges and universities in its Core Commitments Leadership Consortium, which focuses on educating students for personal and social responsibility. Partnered with AAC&U’s LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative, which defines learning outcomes, the Core Commitments provided a comprehensive means of assessing curriculum, programming, and student services. Products have included creation of an integrative learning agenda and the proposed Rollins Plan general-education curriculum.

The same forward thinking that has engaged Rollins in creative consideration of the curriculum, campus master planning, and even moving toward three-year budget cycles has informed strategic priorities for the College. Having identified the need for a conference center that would bring higher education groups and meetings to campus and showcase Rollins, the trustees were fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase the site of the late, lamented Langford Hotel, whose much-awaited replacement had failed to come to fruition. A College-owned inn is anticipated to open in 2013, well in time for celebration of Rollins’ 130th anniversary.

Even as the Rollins community pauses to reflect on the College’s 125-year legacy, all eyes are focused on the future. The incoming class once again has the highest academic qualifications in College history and Phi Beta Kappa faculty have applied for a chapter. Rollins’ star continues to rise.

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