V. Identity Goal: Articulate a shared understanding of Illinois Wesleyan’s identity as a residential liberal arts college with professional schools and programs.
Strategy A: Developing a Shared Understanding of Identity. To lead to a more unified understanding of our identity as a community and as an institution, undertake a serious discussion among faculty, staff and students to locate points of intersection and to establish a shared understanding of the university's present identity and the identity to which it aspires, as articulated in the University's Mission and Vision Statements; such discussion at the department, program, and school levels should clarify their contributions to the aspired identity as well as define "fine teaching" and "rigorous scholarship/ discovery and creation of knowledge and art" as they pertain to the institution's internal identity.
The University's Vision Statement calls for IWU students to be "talented, intellectually curious… who have a strong motivation to pursue the best education that the University has to offer" and for faculty members who are "excellent teachers, mentors, and advisors, [and] who are actively engaged in the discovery and creation of knowledge and art." The Identity Work Group identified a need for serious faculty discussion in order to understand better what fine teaching and rigorous scholarship mean, to define the relationship between the two, and to outline the expectations of faculty to accomplish both.
The Identity Work Group concluded that because there appears to be a lack of a unified sense of identity on the part of the University faculty, and perhaps among other internal audiences (students and staff members), the first phase of an Identity Plan should focus on fostering a unified sense of how faculty members, students, and staff members see themselves in relation to each other and the University as a whole. The development of a unified understanding of how individuals and groups reflect on and get inspiration from the University's Mission and Vision statements is recognized as having its own intrinsic value that is separate from its role in marketing the University to outsiders. We see a unified sense of identity as necessary for enhancing individual and group morale, strengthening relationships among members of the campus community, and clarifying our sense of purpose as we move forward. A rigorous series of discussions with students, staff, and faculty (at the department, program, and school levels) should focus on how they see their work, activities, and experiences relating to the Mission and Vision Statements. Possible topics for such discussion include:
What is the ideal relationship between the liberal arts and the professional schools and programs? How should differing expectations for May Term be negotiated? What is the role of information technology at a residential college? How should expectations of faculty for teaching and research or artistic creation be clarified? How should Illinois Wesleyan balance its regional commitments and national aspirations? Who are our peer institutions?
Strategy B: Conducting Identity Research. Use research to identify and explore identity issues and to form the foundation for an Identity Communications Program.
The essential foundation of an Identity Plan is solid research that goes beyond the descriptive statistics that are currently available. Involvement of an outside researcher or firm will be essential in conducting surveys, focus groups, and personal interviews with key constituencies including IWU students, faculty, and staff. External audience research is also essential to gather qualitative and quantitative data that reflect targeted external audiences' understanding of the University's assets, deficits, and core values--as articulated in the University's Mission and Vision Statements. Reports on the research data and their interpretations should be shared, as appropriate, with internal and external audiences from whom feedback will be solicited.
One preliminary question to be addressed before research begins involves determining the geographic parameters. Do we want a truly national survey that is large enough to also produce statistically valid findings for smaller geographic subsets, e.g., Illinois and the five contiguous states or Illinois alone? Or should these smaller geographic areas be the entire universe of the study?
Strategy C: Crafting an Identity Communications Program. Using a collaborative, inclusive effort involving all key IWU internal constituencies, develop and implement an Identity Communications Program that addresses all key IWU audiences, both internal and external; the Program should include specific channels to reach each of these audiences and identification of individuals or departments within the University who will be responsible for communicating with these audiences.
A university by its very nature is a complex organization, with many stakeholders on the campus, within the broader university “family,” and certainly numerous external audiences. The development of an Identity Communications Program must reflect that complexity and the breadth of the stakeholder group.
While development of the Identity Communications Program should be overseen by the University Public Relations (PR) office, the process must involve representation from all key constituencies and especially must include those University staff and faculty who are, by the nature of their work, serving as University communicators, even if they are not part of the PR staff (admissions, athletics recruitment, development, department chairs, etc.). The process should draw upon the experience and expertise of our to-be-named Vice President for Public Relations. The process should include partnering with departments/schools to develop communications programs for their current and prospective students and families, and these programs should build on identity research findings.
Strategy D: Identifying Core Messages. Using the data collected from internal and external audiences, craft a set of core messages used throughout all University communications, including communications from departments and from individuals representing the University, as well as internal/external channels such as the University website, publications, media relations activities, and internal communications.
In order to build a clear, articulated identity for IWU, it is important that the University focus on a limited number of core messages that describe and define the essential attributes that, in their totality, present a distinctive position for IWU in comparison with other institutions in our competitive universe. Ideally, this would include no more than five key distinctive features and five key “personality” trait features that would be woven into all University communications–not just admissions, but also athletics, individual departmental communications, development and fund-raising communications, etc. These messages become everyone’s messages.
It is critically important that the messages build out from the Mission Statement, Vision Statement and the “shared identity” process described in Strategy A above, and that the attributes of IWU are translated into benefits statements that are relevant to key audiences, with both an intellectual and emotional appeal.
It should be noted here that Strategy C under the Financial Resources planning goal stresses the need for financial aid policies that ensure accessibility for qualified students; although final determination of the core messages must await the internal and external research findings recommended above, it seems likely that one core message to prospective students should clearly emphasize the University’s affordability because of its financial aid programs.
Strategy E: Focusing on Critical Communications Channels. Because of their disproportionately greater impact in reaching many of the University’s key audiences, devote special attention within the Identity Communications Program to the University website, the media relations program, and internal communications.
The IWU website is our window to the world beyond the campus. It shapes the perceptions of all members of the University community as well as prospective students, faculty, donors and other key audiences. The University should create and maintain a site that reflects the University's core messages in a way that is visually compelling and reflective of the look and feel of the University, its personality, and its culture. The IWU web site should be competitive with websites at other leading U.S. colleges. To achieve this goal, individual departments and program websites should reflect the quality of the University website, sharing some consistency while also being designed to reflect the individuality of each department, program, and school. These websites should include content that explains how departments, programs, and schools reflect the University’s Mission and Vision Statements. An effective navigation system is also essential.
Because media coverage is a second communications channel that reaches all of our key audiences, the Identity Communications Program should also include a special focus on using local, regional and national media to convey information about IWU that reinforces our core messages.
One of the strategies under the Human Resources (HR) planning goal (see HR Strategy F) addresses the need for enhanced internal communications, and the University communications team should work collaboratively with the HR team to design programs to meet this need. The Identity Communications Program should also include methods for enhancing internal communications, including the distribution of findings that are generated through research conducted as part of the Identity Plan.