By President Harry J. Elam, Jr. Marc Campos
President Elam addresses new and returning students at Convocation on August 29.

From rebuilding a sense of community to completing the Integrated Strategic Plan, President Elam outlines Occidental’s priorities for the new academic year

On August 29, the familiar sounds of taiko drumming resounded through the Quad as Oxy held an in-person Convocation ceremony for the first time in three years. While Convocation—the ceremony that marks the official beginning of the academic year—is one of our oldest traditions, this year's event was deliberately designed to return to its original purpose: a gathering that purposefully includes the entire College community. As we formally welcomed the 534 new members of the Class of 2026 and new transfers from the classes of 2024 and 2025 to campus, the joy, excitement and optimism present in Thorne Hall was palpable.

As evidenced by this campuswide opening event, renewing our sense of community—not just for students, but for all of us, including Oxy alumni and parents—after the disruption caused by the pandemic is one of our top priorities for the coming year. Even though we had a full year of in-person activities last year, there remains much we can and will do to develop and maintain an environment in which all students, staff, and faculty know they are welcomed and valued—where they can belong, thrive, and excel.

Rebuilding community is just one of our major objectives for the academic year ahead. My other priorities include:

Completing the Integrated Strategic Plan (ISP). Last fall, I initiated the development of a new strategic plan. Ours is an “integrated” plan because it brings the co-curricular, the extracurricular, and the curricular all together and also incorporates our fundamental economic concerns. While Oxy’s mission and its cornerstones of excellence, equity, community, and service will remain, the ISP offers the opportunity to make a new promise to our community and the world as we determine where we want to be as an institution by 2030; what kind of school we want to be; and what strategies we will employ to get there. During Homecoming and Family Weekend in October, I offered a preview of my vision for Oxy’s future, including the extensive feedback we have received from students, faculty, staff, and alumni over the last year. We intend to present the plan in its final form to the Board of Trustees for its endorsement in April 2023 and start implementation in earnest next fall.

Finishing The Oxy Campaign For Good. Having reached our initial campaign goal one year ahead of schedule, we have an opportunity to build on that momentum and meet some of our most pressing needs. In the coming months, our hope is to continue to build on the most successful campaign in the College’s history by endowing even more student scholarships; financing the much-needed expansion and renovation of 62-year-old Norris Hall of Chemistry; and enhancing support for students and faculty in our ever-growing Computer Science, Economics, Media Arts and Culture, and Music departments.

Initiating the Climate Resiliency and Equity Task Force. The primary goal of the Occidental College Climate Resiliency and Equity (OCCRE) Task Force, which consists of student, staff, faculty, alumni, and trustees, is to develop an overall plan for the College’s climate justice strategy, such as carbon reduction, water resources management, extreme heat resiliency, and environmental justice. The work of OCCRE will help guide our efforts to reach zero emissions by 2050. 

Assessment and data-driven decision-making. In July, Oxy was reaccredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) for another 10 years—the maximum period possible. The WSCUC report as well as the self-study the College performed as part of that process identified the need to further develop a culture of assessment for all programs at Occidental: academic, co-curricular, and administrative. Our faculty and staff have done some excellent work in this area. Still, we need to expand and take a more comprehensive evaluative approach to the College as a whole. In this way we will become more institutionally effective with a set of collective matrices and objectives and a common strategy for evaluating whether we are achieving those goals.

As you can see, much exciting work lies ahead. We want to involve the Oxy community as a whole in this process as that is the only way, ultimately, for us to be successful.

I look forward to working with you and visiting with you as I travel to talk with and hear from our Oxy community members across the country. Have a great fall!