In an op-ed in the Newark Advocate, President Weinberg focuses on the importance of the relationship Denison has not only with Granville, but with the entire county, and suggests a few ideas on how the college and community might be able to work together for the benefit of everyone—on campus and off—in the future.
Eight months ago, I became president of Denison University. I feel fortunate that our college is thriving — with talented students, engaged faculty, fiscal health and a growing national reputation for excellence. I feel just as fortunate that Denison is located in Licking County, and I am mindful our success is tied to the strengths of Granville, Newark and the entire county in important ways that we must protect.
First, our downtowns and main streets are important community assets; they often are a factor in students wanting to attend Denison. Currently, some downtown areas are stronger than others, and they all face challenges in this economy. How do we, as a community, keep storefronts filled with thriving businesses that are operated by merchants and service providers who feel optimistic about the future and are willing to make investments?
Second, we know many faculty and staff chose to work at Denison and live in the local community because of the strength of the schools. Yet, like all school systems in the country, they need to be kept strong through continual investment in teachers, facilities and programs.
Third, Licking County is extraordinary. Denison benefits from — and should be of benefit to — Newark, Heath and other parts of the county because these communities support our faculty, staff and students. Denison must think beyond Granville because, quite frankly, from the college’s perspective, the health of Denison depends on the whole county being vibrant and healthy.
So what role can Denison play? Let me say first that it is exciting to be part of a college that has a long tradition of caring about the local community, and I would like to see us build on that. I am new to the community, so I still am learning, but I want to propose some ideas.
I think Denison can be a convener. There are some difficult conversations that Licking County will need to have during the next five, 10 or 15 years with regard to economic growth. They will include complicated questions without simple answers. I am interested in whether Denison can contribute to those conversations by partnering with citizens, leaders and organizations in bringing people together and helping to find data, so that we, as a community, can make smart choices in defining community development for ourselves.
I also think about Denison as an economic driver. There are a lot of things we do every day. If we do them right, we can help the community. Denison purchased $41 million in goods and services from Ohio vendors in 2011-12 and nearly $14 million in Licking County alone. In addition, our students have developed interesting initiatives toward sourcing more local food through our new food service provider. How do we build upon Denison’s history of using local contractors and suppliers? How do we encourage our students to shop and bank throughout the county?
I think too about Denison as Licking County’s sixth-largest employer, with more than 700 employees, so I am especially aware that the biggest effect we have in this community is paying good wages and making sure we are providing good benefits.
And I think about ways that we can weave our faculty and students into community life in even bigger and better ways. We have more than 200 faculty and 2,000 students on the hill who contribute to the community in myriad ways. How can we help to make those contributions of time and talent even more beneficial for all concerned?
I also think about Denison as a community attractor. Can Denison help to attract jobs, businesses and people to Licking County? Can we do a better job of providing educational opportunities for people who might stay in the local community? Can Denison’s global networks be part of job growth strategies?
During the past couple of months, we have had good conversations with organizations throughout the county about how Denison might play a larger role. We are interested in the continued revival of downtown Newark as a key project and in joining with people who are thinking about job growth strategies for the entire county.
As a newcomer, I am thrilled to be living in a place with so much civic vitality. And as a new college president, my hope is Denison can build on what we historically have done and find new ways to be a useful partner in community development for every part of Licking County.