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On the Horizon of Change

Nov 20, 2013
In one of my favorite books, Their Eyes Were Watching God, author Zora Neale Hurston uses the metaphor of the horizon in introducing her readers to her story and her storyteller, Janie, whose life was a quest to go to the horizon and back. As a child Janie could only look to the horizon she saw from her beloved pear tree, but her world opened up as she left home to “find out about livin’.” 

A common business metaphor currently invokes horizon thinking, which involves imagining a desirable future and then developing strategies to achieve it. The process depends on input about what the future should look like, gathered from various constituencies or stakeholders.

At the strategic planning retreat that board members, committee chairs and senior staff participated in last October, we engaged in horizon thinking under the facilitation of Patrick Sanaghan, author of Collaborative Strategic Planning in Higher Education (NACUBO, 2009). Using a model he calls the future timeline, the group produced an amazing number of innovative and creative ideas — the huge pile of poster-sized wall charts we carried back to headquarters amounted to 20 pages of data when typed up! 

To make sense of all that data and the process that produced it has required a means of sorting, ordering and prioritizing. In the end, the primary themes that emerged had to do with  
  • Identity, specifically a strong desire for Phi Kappa Phi to become a more prominent voice in the national conversation on higher education.
  • Members, not only to increase the number of students who accept the invitation to join and to retain them after their first year, but also to better engage our alumni membership (that’s all of you!).
  • Chapters, to pursue a goal of helping all chapters become healthy while developing a strategy of targeted growth of new chapters.
  • Resources, to tie the budget to mission and vision.
I have a bumper sticker in my office that reads everythingconnectstoeverything, and indeed, I see a strong interrelatedness among the themes that emerged from the planning retreat. They present us, not only board and staff, but members everywhere, with an exciting challenge that could lead to a transformative moment in Society history. The horizon looks very different than it has. 

So what’s next? A follow-up strategic planning task force met in February and presented its suggestions to the board at its March meeting. While the strategic plan is still a work in progress, the board’s discussions included frequent reference to the themes that emerged from the October retreat.

You will begin to see some of those take shape in coming months as we launch a new website, announce plans for the 2014 convention, and welcome new chapters while developing action plans to strengthen existing chapters. Our mission — commitment to excellence — remains central to who we are and whatever we do, but now with an added emphasis on innovation and thinking outside the box.

What do you think of when you consider the future of Phi Kappa Phi? Whether you’re a new initiate or a life member, we value your commitment to the mission of recognizing academic excellence
in all fields of higher education and engaging the community of scholars
in service to others. And perhaps that seems enough, as it has been for the past 116 years, but higher education is changing, and we need to change with it.

And so we dream — at least I do — about what might be possible. Could Phi Kappa Phi award even more in fellowships and grants? Could we add a category of award, perhaps dissertation support? Could we find a way to recognize academic excellence in member
institutions as well as in our members?

“The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope,” wrote the 20th-century French Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin. We used this quote in our annual appeal last December as his words speak so clearly to the most visible initiative of Phi Kappa Phi, our awards programs. By means of the $500,000 the Society awards annually — to 270 individuals in 2012 — we tangibly extend the love of learning that is our motto. Teilhard’s words prompt us to look beyond ourselves to a distant horizon, or even a not-so-distant one, and to contemplate what we might do to make it better for
those behind us.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s oft-quoted phrase, “I have a dream …” has served as a powerful vision, not only for his own beloved community but for all Americans. His words offer hope, but they also convey an obligation to do more with what we have, whether individuals, community, or honor society.

And Hurston would concur, as she considers the horizon, “The dream is the truth.” 

First published in the Summer 2013 edition of Phi Kappa Phi Forum.

The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi