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Why Madison Listening Tour



"Why Madison?" Harrisonburg

One of many points shared was that people at JMU don't say "no" instead they try to help people get to "yes." They try to help students and colleagues who have ideas they want to explore.

Thoughts, hopes and aspirations were a privilege to hear

Tonight's gathering at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts has been a great kick off to our "Why Madison?" Presidential Listening Tour. It was a real privilege to hear so much input about why Madison matters. We had the faculty, we had the staff, we had alumni and community members—people who really care about this university and about this community—share their thoughts, their hopes and their aspirations.

We're strong, and we can improve

We talked about the great strengths of James Madison University and the difference it makes in people's lives. We also heard feedback about what we can do to improve—areas that we should think about for the future. And that was exactly the point of having an event like this. We plan to have a whole series of these events over the upcoming year, but what a great way to start— to be here in Harrisonburg, to feel the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion for the university. I couldn't be more pleased with the start of this process. I've learned a lot and I hope other people did, too.

There were a number of things that stood out to me. One thing we talked about was that, through the educational process at JMU, people are prepared for lifelong learning.

People at JMU don't say 'no'

I also heard that people at JMU don't say "no;" instead they try to help people get to "yes." They try to help students and colleagues who have ideas they want to explore. If they want to start projects or explore new areas, they are told, "Yes, we can find a way to do that and we can help you." It was exciting to hear that kind of energy, that kind of support from the university community. Instead of saying, "That's not the way we do things here" or "We've always done it this way," the attitude of the university is that "this is an educational institution and that's a great idea, let's see what we can do to bring it to fruition." We heard specific examples from people in several programs and departments. That was really exciting and interesting to hear.

Increasing JMU-community interaction

I also appreciated the comments from the community about how we can bring the university into the community—through our faculty and staff and our students—and how we can get the community onto our campus. That's a conversation we need to continue to have and to be very intentional about. We are doing a lot already, but there is much more that we can do.

People really matter

Another thing that came through loud and clear—even as higher education is evolving, as technology has affected how we do our work—is that people really matter. How many examples did we hear tonight where someone mentioned an individual who had made a difference to them or how individual interactions and relationships had made a huge difference to them and how it affected their lives? That is something we don't want to forget about at this university: that even as we think about how we can be more efficient and effective and use technology, we can't forget those human relationships and that the human touch is central to what we do. It is something that JMU has done really well and I think it has made JMU a very distinctive institution.

Informing our strategic planning

What's exciting to me is that this listening tour is a learning process for all of us—certainly for me and the administration of this university. The idea here is to get people talking—about where we have been and where we can go. These conversations will feed into our strategic planning and our visioning of the future as an institution as we set priorities, as we think about where we should put our resources and our energy. We'll get some great ideas out of this process; people will talk to each other; relationships will be formed. There are a lot of things that will be byproducts of this listening process.

Reflecting back

After we've gone through this listening process, we will want to reflect back to the community, to tell them what we've learned, what we've heard—the themes, the trends from these conversations. It's something that's just starting—and in some ways it will always continue—but this is a very intentional process at this moment in our history: to think about where we've been and where we can go together.

Thank you to those who attended tonight's reception. Your participation in this listening tour means a lot to me. Your thoughts about JMU are important. If you haven't already, please offer your input about why Madison matters through the submission form on this website.

— Jon Alger