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In 1986, college and university administrators from across the nation, alike in nature and mission, joined together to form what is now known as the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC). From Evergreen State College of Olympia, Washington, to the College of Charleston of Charleston, South Carolina, presidents and chancellors gathered in a living room to share their intentions, similarities and the desire to be more visible in a crowded landscape of prestigious universities.

female student reads outside Painter HallToday, COPLAC consists of 29 colleges and universities from 27 states and one Canadian province. All members are state institutions that serve local and regional student populations with academic focuses surrounding local matters. Enrollment of member institutions varies from more than 8,000 students to as few as 800. The median size of member institutions is slightly above 4,000. By national comparison, they can be described as small. Looking past the numbers, each institution likens itself to one another with accessible and teaching focused faculty, seminar-styled classes for undergraduates and the availability to engage students in a range of curricular and extra-curricular activities. Additionally, a campus environment that is described as “pleasant” and “unified” where students can walk from class to class is a unifier.

For each member of COPLAC, the organization communicates to state and federal policymakers the vital importance and benefits of providing students with comprehensive public higher education in the liberal arts and sciences.

In June 2021, the COPLAC Executive Committee voted and officially approved Mississippi University for Women as a provisional member. President Nora Miller will represent the university at the COPLAC board meeting in January 2022.

Dr. Scott Tollison walks in front of Poindexter HallDr. Scott Tollison, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said a COPLAC membership will benefit the entire campus community.

“From faculty collaboration to professional development sessions to undergraduate research conferences and beyond, the opportunities provided through COPLAC membership are too numerous to list,” said Tollison.

According to Tollison, the organization will further bring the university’s liberal arts mission to the forefront. COPLAC’s annual summer institute, faculty development, student research opportunities and a piloted course exchange program will only enhance The W’s mission of offering a high-quality liberal arts learning experience while maintaining affordability.

COPLAC’s annual Summer Institute brings together faculty and staff members for two days of workshops, discussion and networking.

For summer 2021, The W was represented by faculty members Ashley Chisolm, Katherine Newman and Irene Pintado when they met with peers for conversations and strategies to address racial justice issues on university and college campuses. The 2020 Summer Institute emphasis was music programs and their contribution to public liberal arts universities. Tollison said, “The COPLAC team has been kind and helpful throughout The W’s exploration of provisional membership. There is no doubt that should our membership application ultimately prove successful, COPLAC leadership and our newfound peer institutions will be outstanding partners for years to come.”

Dr. Erin Kempker lectures to class wearing a facemaskFor Dr. Erin Kempker, professor of history and chair of the Department of History, Political Science and Geography, joining COPLAC will offer training to future university administrators and provide a ready-made peer group for anyone interested in leadership in higher education.

Kempker said, “I am really excited about the university joining COPLAC. At a small liberal arts college like ours, the faculty are often the only representatives of their disciplines or fields.

“Joining COPLAC means that we will have a community of scholars who share our research and teaching interests. For many faculty, we have not had that kind of community since graduate school. The kind of conversations that you might have with peers at conferences can be sustained and continuous with COPLAC as they have the kinds of teaching circles and writing groups that faculty need to stay connected to changes in the discipline and keep their teaching and research alive and improving.

Kempker highlighted that students will benefit enormously from the shared online courses and the new undergraduate research opportunities including conferences and publications.

“There is a host of other kinds of learning outside of the classroom that will also become available by joining the association. It is really an exciting opportunity,” said Kempker.


In Focus: The W's Strategic Priorities

The University's Priorities:

Pillars of Purpose: Priorities 2021

In Fall 2021, a task force of 25 people from throughout the campus community revised the university's strategic plan, guiding The W for the next five years.

Priorities 2021

Academic Excellence:

A United Liberal Arts Voice

Academic Excellence

Advancement Excellence:

University Challenges Donors to 'Be The Light'

Advancement Excellence

Community Connections:

A Summer of Enrichment

Community Connections

Degree Completion:

Building a Bridge

Degree Completion

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion:

DEI Council Committed to Change

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Financial Sustainability:

Mise en Place

Financial Sustainability

The full plan can be found at www.muw.edu/priorities.