NetVUE Members Receive Grants for ‘Reframing the Institutional Saga’

CIC awarded major grants to 20 Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) member institutions in late 2020. These new Grants for Reframing the Institutional Saga provide up to $40,000 over two years to colleges and universities that seek to re-examine and reframe their institutional commitments in ways that balance their history, identity, and heritage with attention to their present circumstances. The grants are made possible thanks to the generous support of Lilly Endowment Inc.

Many NetVUE member colleges and universities have strong historical ties to a specific religious tradition, a particular educational philosophy, or a pioneering educator. These elements of an institution’s heritage are important, but their significance may not always be clear in the midst of changes in the institution’s demographic profile, surrounding community, or founding organizations. These changes influence the institution’s understanding of its own mission and vision, and they impact matters such as student recruitment and retention, curriculum design, and faculty composition. Some campuses have struggled to give adequate attention both to their particular institutional heritage and history, and to the changed circumstances in which they now operate.

This important new NetVUE grant program is designed to help institutions articulate the ties between their inheritance from the past, the vocations that situate them within their current context, and the opportunities that call them into the future. David S. Cunningham, CIC director of NetVUE, explained, “The use of the term ‘institutional saga’ is meant to underscore the narrative character of any historical account: It has a beginning, a sojourn through history, and a continuing impact in the present day. Any process of ‘reframing’ this narrative should give adequate attention to the elements that motivated the institution’s founding, the historical development of its mission over time, and its contemporary circumstances—with special focus on the ways that its current context differs from that of its past.”

comparing historical skyline with modern skyline
A Reframing the Institutional Saga grant recipient, Lipscomb University (TN), in 1917 (as Nashville Bible School) and today. (Photos courtesy of Lipscomb University)

Most of the institutions receiving grants plan to gather one or more teams of researchers and writers to carry out the project. The teams typically include faculty members, archivists, and administrators; some also include trustees, emeriti faculty members, recent graduates, or current students. These teams will explore the institution’s mission—including its role in the founding of the college, the evolution of its expression over time, and the ways that it is now being affected by changes in its student demographic, local and regional communities, and other constituencies. Teams will develop an awareness and a full account of how these constituencies have evolved and shifted—particularly in recent years—and how these shifts affect the institution’s understanding of its current calling.

By the end of the grant period, recipients will have created one or more enduring products, such as a book (whether a monograph or a collection of essays) or other products that reflect deep research and that gather the results of the reframing process. This grant requirement is designed to allow the institution’s work to continue to have an impact as it moves into the future. Most of the awardees plan to produce a book that will summarize the results of the research and analysis conducted by their campus teams. For instance, Augustana College (IL) will create a research and writing team consisting of faculty members and administrators, who will examine standard histories of the college and focus on how these histories may have served dominant groups at the expense of those on the margins. They will then write chapters describing the college’s institutional calling to be a place of belonging for all on campus.

While almost all grantees plan to produce a monograph or a collection of essays, many also expect to disseminate and amplify their findings through additional channels. For example, Wesleyan College (GA) will create a digital archive of historical materials and current findings, allowing broad access among its constituents and a smooth process for updating its institutional saga in the future. Dominican University (IL) will create a museum-quality exhibit on campus so that incoming students, community members, and others who wish to learn more about the university will better understand its history and current context. Anderson University (IN) will produce a new documentary film that traces the institutional saga over time and up to now. And the University of La Verne (CA) will commission a public art project that will seek to encapsulate the arc of research and writing generated by the project.

Unlike many NetVUE grants, this award may be held concurrently with NetVUE grants for professional development or student programming, as long as project leadership is distributed so as to allow both projects to succeed. A second round of Grants for Reframing the Institutional Saga will be offered in late 2021; proposals for this second round will be due in August.

For more information about this and other NetVUE grant programs, contact Lynn Hunnicutt, assistant director of NetVUE, at For information about the entire range of NetVUE programs and services, visit the NetVUE website or contact David S. Cunningham, director of NetVUE, at

Recipients of Grants for Reframing the Institutional Saga (First Round)

​Anderson University (IN)
Augsburg University (MN)
Augustana College (IL)
Dominican University (IL)
Elmhurst University (IL)
Fontbonne University (MO)
Goshen College (IN)
Grove City College (PA)
Huntingdon College (AL)
King University (TN)
​Lipscomb University (TN)
Messiah University (PA)
Mount St. Mary’s University (MD)
Salve Regina University (RI)
Sewanee: The University of the South (TN)
Stillman College (AL)
University of La Verne (CA)
University of St. Francis (IL)
Wesleyan College (GA)
Whitworth University (WA)