1.9.06

SAME PLAN, DIFFERENT PLANNER. The University's most recent mass mailing from the President includes this alert.
Provost Ray Alden joined us this summer and is now actively assessing all NIU academic programs and student services. Dr. Alden brings a wealth of experience to the task, having presided over tremendous programmatic and enrollment growth in his previous position as provost at University of Nevada Las Vegas. He is excited about NIU’s future and anxious to begin work on a strategic planning process I have asked him to initiate that will involve many of you and touch virtually every corner of our campus. I hope you can join me on October 5 for my annual State of the University Address when I can share more details on this exciting topic.
The dean at Anonymous Community has a few reservations about strategic planning.

It's about adapting. Which, I think, is what's so frustrating about strategic plans as they're usually done. With their superficial rigor, they aspire to a level of control of reality that they'll never have. A simple plan, well-executed in changing ways, is far superior to a long and complicated plan with subsections and three different synonyms for 'goals.' The more complicated the plan, the more time will be spent parsing its verbiage, rather than paying attention to the outside world.

Here's a measurable goal: no college's strategic plan should be longer than the Constitution of the United States. Colleges can be complicated, but sheesh.

But one wonders if the entire activity isn't going to be validation of decisions already taken. Here's the provost in an interview with the Northern Star.

"The first priority that I really got a sense for in the interview process is the need for university strategic planning," Alden said. "The university has done very well despite a severe financial crisis. We need to focus on where the university is going."

Students can expect to see some changes around campus within the next academic year, Alden said. A major change will occur when NIU breaks ground in October for a new residential facility for students with dependents. Alden also mentioned an early alert program in the works. This program will help detect struggling students so they can receive help before it is too late.

Presumably it would be out of order to suggest that the crisis in higher education is one of pretending that admitting unprepared students is access, and the lack of funding is a reluctance of the state to pay the universities for doing work that the high schools are supposed to be doing, and the strategy of offering public higher education that is higher education has the potential to break the positional arms race in which aspiring parents push their kids into the more "prestigious" universities to avoid the perceived remedial swamps the publics have become.

But bring that up in strategic planning and watch what happens. The business-imitators will object that you're not being a team player. (When the team is in the middle of scoring an own-goal, no.) The Quakers will cluck about reaching some kind of a "consensus." (If the consensus is to jump off a bridge, do you go along.) You can be sure the Silent Generation relics will want to find "common ground." (What was Cromwell's line about having sat there long enough?) Add to that the dynamic the dean has identified.
Savvy practitioners of internal politics get good at defining terms to mean what they want them to mean, entirely independently of any planning process. And serious institutional self-criticism is verboten in a strategic plan, so ideas conceived as remedies for particular problems outlive the problems they were supposed to solve, taking on weird lives of their own.
Yuck, indeed. But I'm unlikely to lack material this year.

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