The first of July could be a big day for Jim Brenneman. That day may mark the start of a third consecutive term: his second reappointment as Goshen College’s 16th president.
Brenneman is currently up for presidential review, a standard process that occurs every four years served. The review involves the input of the GC Board of Directors, faculty, staff, administrators and Student Senate leaders, as well as community and church leaders and the president himself. An appointed Presidential Review Committee facilitates the process.
Brenneman was first inaugurated in September 2006; his second term officially ends June 30. The evaluation process is one he is quite familiar with.
“In some sense, I’m probably more reviewed than almost any employee here,” said Brenneman. “I am reviewed at every board meeting, where I present to the Board evidence of whether I’m in compliance with certain policies.”
Brenneman is held accountable for a set group of policies, such as asset stewardship, institutional viability, financial planning and budgeting, and integrating faith, learning and service.
For this larger review, Brenneman does more self-assessment, evaluating what he and the college are doing well and what needs to be improved, both a “looking back and a projection of goals for the future,” he said.
This year’s Presidential Review Committee has five members: Ken Hochstetler and Phil Bontrager of the GC Board, Roy Williams and Carlos Romero of Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) and Brenda Srof, professor of nursing.
According to Srof, who was asked to represent the faculty, the review has been underway for some time. Surveys have already been sent out to groups, both in and outside the college. Apart from groups on campus, all Mennonite college presidents receive the survey, as do some MCUSA leaders and conference executives; the Mayor of Goshen and director of the Chamber of Commerce also weigh in.
“It’s important to me that I engage with intensity,” said Srof. “I am representing the faculty in this process and I feel this sense of obligation to have the most excellent process possible.”
In June, after the Committee reviews the surveys and does interviews with the President’s Council, they will make a recommendation. The MEA Board and GC Board then gather and analyze the data, and the MEA is responsible for formal action.
For Brenneman, this term’s review is a bit different than the last.
“This evaluation is different in that it comes simultaneously at a time when we’re making difficult decisions within our budget realities,” said Brenneman. “The decisions aren’t fun for anyone and they’re coming at an awkward time in my tenure.”
In looking back over the last two terms of his presidency, Brenneman sees both joys and challenges. Enrollment has been a struggle since in 2009, after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
“We went from having highest enrollment in 27 years to a huge drop,” said Brenneman. “Ever since, we’ve been trying to come back out of it – that’s been the greatest challenge. [I believe all former rules are off. I am no longer comfortable using predictive models [for enrollment] that existed before. So much has changed in higher education.]”
Apart from the enrollment issue, Brenneman thinks “almost everything else happening here is just phenomenal. It never ceases to amaze me,” he said. “We are moving the college in the direction of the vision we articulated about seven years ago.”
That vision, with the development of the GC Core curriculum, includes a greatly increased intercultural presence on campus, both with faculty and students; the number of Latino students has nearly doubled in the past seven years.
Other changes included the start of Master’s programs in nursing and environmental science, with a Master’s in business administration in the works.
Technology has also changed drastically, with the addition of FiveCore Media, development of online programs, particularly for adult learners, and the iPad initiative. Goshen College is “at the cutting edge of educational technology in the classroom and beyond,” said Brenneman. “…By introducing the iPad initiative, we moved into the digital age in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
As the review process moves ahead, Brenneman finds revival in life on campus.
“Any day I sit up and think, ‘I don’t want to go to work,’” said Brenneman, “I only have to encounter a student, or go to a convo or a concert…and I am completely revived. It never leaves my mind that we are here to serve students and if we do that right, there’s no more fulfilling job for me.”