September 28, 2023 | NEWS| By Will Sylvain

In 1969, in the basement of Loomis Hall, Colorado College held a vote to approve a new vision for the future. Nearly all the college’s faculty and staff were present. After a scholarly debate, they marked their ballots and, with only one dissenting vote, the group approved the “Colorado College Plan,” an innovative system that would later become known as the Block Plan.

55 years later, in Kathryn Mohrman theatre, CC yet again took a moment to look to the future.

A panel titled “150 Years: An Occasion to Build a New Future?” convened on Monday to ask critical questions about what CC’s future should look like, continuing a discussion that has been going on at the college for several years now.

The panel, composed of professors Susan Ashley, Mike Taber, and student Lily Byrne ’23, was part of the college’s First Mondays event series, which aims to facilitate conversation amongst faculty, staff, students and administrators.

This panel was the first event under the series’ new structure. First Mondays events will now be held in the afternoon of the first Monday of every other Block, a change from the previous schedule of morning slots on every first Monday.

Ashley opened the discussion by framing the discussion in the context of the college’s past. With CC’s sesquicentennial, 150-year anniversary, just months away, the school’s history of innovation provided the backdrop for the panel’s future-oriented discussion.

“I see my task as talking about the past, especially as it relates to the present,” Ashley said.

Her remarks began with an anecdote about the birth of the Block Plan, acknowledging the history that makes the college what it is today. She went on to share other stories of the past, including one time when professors came to important revelations between swigs of beer at a local Colorado Springs bar.

Before passing the mic to her fellow panelists, Ashley brought the discussion back to the task at hand. “Can we replicate what they did when they created the Block Plan?” she wondered aloud. “I think we’re doing it now.”

Taber spoke next about the opportunity to celebrate the college’s 150th anniversary.

“Colorado College’s sesquicentennial is the moment for us to find joy in our dreams,” Taber remarked. It is a unique occasion, he said, for a celebration of the past with a hopeful eye toward the future.

Yet this opportunity also poses a significant challenge. How should the college go about celebrating its rich history while also contemplating a break from the past? Plus, as Taber noted, “the dichotomy of celebrating is not exempt from the pain, suffering, erasure and dispossession of the Ute peoples who lived on the unseated land we now sit on.”

He referred to this dilemma as the institution’s grand challenge: the momentous task of reevaluating the college’s future while confronting its problematic 150-year history.

Fortunately, this effort to chart the path to the future has been underway long before it hit the stage last Monday.

In the fall of 2021, the college launched the “Project 2024” initiative to engage the campus community in confronting questions of the future. Inspired by the innovation of the college’s past, the project revolves around two guiding questions: how can CC do what we do better? How should we address the most pressing issues experts say are facing higher education in the U.S. today?

In its first year, the project held workshops and discussions to hear from the community about the college’s most pressing issues. From faculty to students to alumni, the initiative aimed to engage every corner of the campus community to create a better future.

Lily Byrne ’24, who was part of the project since its beginning, joined the panel to share what she gleaned from the project’s efforts.

“All of our first-year conversations revealed that everyone desired greater connection,” said Byrne. Especially with the campus emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, this theme appeared to permeate the discussions.

“As we continued to listen,” Byrne added “there was a collective realization that there is a gap between our aspirations and our actions.” Byrne was referring to concerns about the school’s commitment to anti-racism, cherishing time, and respecting its people.

In its second year, “Project 2024” set out to find solutions to these concerns. If the first phase of the project sought to diagnose issues, the second phase was the prescription.

Proposals that arose from this stage of the process included more multi-block course offerings, an increase in wages to employees and contract workers, and efforts to improve communications around school-wide decisions and the rationale behind them.

Now the project turns to the future, hoping to put these proposals and goals into action–the treatment phase of the process. By working through the concerns that arose from the project, the college hopes to reach consensus on how to address what Taber calls “the grand challenge.”

“This year, the goal is to continue the work and to implement key proposals in the areas of reinforcing liberal learning and supporting our people,” Ashley said. “And what’s coming at us in another 50 years makes thinking ahead and thinking big an imperative.”

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