Reach Higher 2025 prompts discussions, concerns

This past Friday, in their Oct. 1 meeting, the University Academic Senate voted on whether or not they wished to endorse Grand Valley State University’s Reach Higher 2025 strategies. 

Reach Higher 2025 (RH2025) is an initiative that has been tasked with designing a set of commitments and strategies assembled, alongside feedback from GVSU’s staff, faculty and students. RH2025 appears to embrace many popular design principles, centering the needs of the people interfacing with the product; in this case, the people are students, and the product is GVSU’s new direction. 

The homepage on the university website provides an outline of the up-to-date strategies, the university’s reasoning behind why these strategies are important, and a roadmap that details the evolution of what would become the RH2025 strategies and commitments. 

2019 saw GVSU President Philomena Mantella outline five commitments in her inaugural speech. At the beginning of this year, the RH2025 steering committee and the Senior Leadership Team took those five commitments and narrowed the university’s focus to three primary strategies. In the spring and the summer, the steering committee drafted some strategies and received feedback, mostly from faculty. In August, the steering committee submitted new strategies for faculty and student input. 

The strategies and commitments outlined on the RH2025 webpage describe how the university can best serve the needs of the students. They are sorted into three broad categories that address the perceived needs of the GVSU student body; “Empowered Educational Experiences”, “Lifelong Learning”, and “Equitable Education”. 

To improve their educational experience, students will be able to use the university’s resources to optimize their time at GVSU. To facilitate lifelong learning, professors, local businesses, and alumni will model, encourage and help students integrate the skills they learn at GV into their professional lives and their communities. To create a more equitable campus, and a more equitable world, the university will change discriminatory policies and equip students with the tools needed to change discriminatory policies elsewhere. 

RH2025 is also intent on receiving feedback, having repeatedly revised the statements over the past year. However, the promise to include student and faculty voices in the design process does not automatically resolve the anxieties encompassing the initiative.

It’s the university’s responsibility to incorporate these strategies into their policy decisions, but the language on the RH2025 page, which repeatedly burdens faculty and students with making real change throughout GVSU, implies that the university may not agree. Deciding that everyone in the GVSU community is equally responsible for guiding GVSU into this new direction makes it unclear who exactly is accountable for carrying out these changes. 

That feedback, which the RH2025 page acknowledges, includes student and faculty concerns that this initiative is just lip service, and that these proposed strategies will not result in actual change. This, alongside the occasional lack of clarity in the language on the website and the magnitude of what the university is promising with this initiative, might repel some members of the GVSU community. 

While students and faculty cannot control whether or not GVSU decides to, or is able to, follow through with these goals; we are, however, able to offer our feedback on the Reach Higher 2025 draft statements, in an online form on the RH2025 webpage.