Friday, November 1, 2013

On Being Strategic


by Aaron Robertson
Professor of Mathematics

What strikes me as problematic with the current "strategic" plan is that, although the guiding document states that "Ultimately, Colgate is about its people" and speaks of the faculty's creative and research activities, there does not seem to be much that will aid a majority of the faculty.  Granted, people who do research and teaching in areas that fit some vague definition of "globalization" should be happy with parts of the strategic plan; however, there is not much for those of us who do not fit in with the globalization push. There is a nominal increase to the Research Council, but that seems to be about it.

I am concerned that Colgate appears to be moving away from the scholar/teacher model toward the strictly teacher model.  The strategic plan bends in this direction.  The last strategic plan and this strategic plan proposal both demand more time of its faculty with respect to non-research based activities.

I recall early on in the process that we should decide no only what to add, but -- equally as important -- what to subtract.  Why are we not focusing and doubling effort on what we already do very well as opposed to adding more to do, which will necessarily take away from those areas.   That idea was strategic but seems to have fallen to the wayside. A strategic plan should not just be a shopping trip; sooner or later you run out of room in your house to fit everything you've bought if you don't purge what doesn't work for you.

Many working groups with faculty on them have thought about and struggled with the issues assigned to them, and we should respect such work.  However, we should also ask why the issues were decided without faculty input.  Anonymous at 9:14 in the comment section of the post "Thoughts on Being Asked to Endorse a Strategic Planning Framework," by Jeff Baldani, believes we should be grateful to be included.  That, to me, misses the point that it is the faculty that, in large part, attract students to Colgate.  If we have been doing an admirable job thus far, why should we be taken out of the process of how to move forward?  President Herbst has argued about how faculty were involved.  And yes, the working groups had faculty.  But let's look at how the strategic plan was developed.  The first letter we received from President Herbst gave  a "tentative list" for consideration in the strategic plan  (here is the link). Please compare the tentative list with what is in the framing document, recalling that the APC had about 50 meetings with departments to discuss this.

One item not in that tentative list is need-blind aid.  I would like to approach this from a non-emotional standpoint.  The revised framing document posted yesterday tries to argue that we will see a great increase in the academic profile by noting that we could replace 92 admitted students with an average GPA of 3.64 with 92 students with an average GPA of 3.84.  Seems like a great and substantial increase when framed that way.  Let me frame it this way:  Assuming those numbers, we will see a .0236 increase in the average GPA of admitted students.  Is $150 million toward this really the best way forward? Now, of course I would like to increase the academic profile as well as help students get a great education.  Perhaps a cheaper, but maybe even more effective, way forward is to tie tuition scholarships to the proposed Honor's program.  If you are admitted to the Honors program, your tuition is covered (in a need-blind way). I'm sure ideas like this were tossed about in one of the APC meetings with faculty.

We must ask ourselves: What is Colgate truly about?  Why do students come here and love Colgate? I suspect the faculty have a large part in the answer.  We should be concerned that we are, and have been, heading down a road where it becomes more difficult to attract the best faculty.  I know many departments have lost excellent candidates/faculty because of the demands placed on us. As peer schools start moving to a 4-course load while we, by affirming the proposed Strategic Plan, will be staying at a 5-course load and adding yet more peripherals to deal with (do we really need more Centers?) for a long while, we must decide if that is -- strategically -- the best direction forward. There must be a way to move toward giving faculty the time needed to handle all that is thrown at them.

Like the inclusion of a Performing Arts Center, which is kicked down the road yet again, I feel that faculty are just being paid lip-service vis-a-vis their activities and that a 4-course load is being kicked down the road to a distance where we will fall behind others. 

If the faculty rubber-stamps the proposed guiding document, then the entire faculty must be willing to concede that everyone here will never experience a 4-course load and that research time will continually be pushed aside as we are expected to spend more time on extra peripherals.  We must then figure out how to attract faculty to Colgate when other schools have chosen to place more resources in their faculty.  But we cannot ask: Well, how did we get here?

1 comment:

Roger Rowlett said...

Strategic planning normally involves evaluating core values--in this case of an institution--and then using those important core values to valuate actions and decisions to determine if they are advancing core values. The current "strategic plan" is unlike any other one I have been involved in, here or in other venues.

Let's be honest. Our most recent "strategic plan" strikes was little more than a list of loosely linked initiatives that were handed down. Love them or hate them, were they "strategic?" The "strategic plan" did not reflect on our strengths, weaknesses, or deficiencies, nor did it reflect on institutional core values, which might include things like a teacher-scholar model of education, high-impact educational practices, integration of teaching and research, etc. When I'm outside the Colgate bubble, these latter-mentioned things are what's being talked about on campus--enthusiastically often--by faculty and administrators. When done right, strategic planning enables good decision-making and prioritization. Did that happen here?