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Office of the President

Salon #4:  April 3, 2014

Our discussion focused primarily on three themes: 1. A continuation of the graduate education discussion and the need for focused research themes; 2. Questions/concerns regarding the consequences of a diffuse mission and a multitude of “priorities”; 3. Questions/concerns regarding administrative structures that limit rather than enable stated organizational values such as transparency, interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching, and organization agility. 

The discussion on the need for more strategic focus and on administrative structures that enable have emerged as consistent themes and are generally viewed as fundamental to any strategic  re-orientation of the university and some of its most entrenched cultures.

  1. Research and Graduate Education

    Our discussion focused on whether it is best for RIT to be more focused in specific areas of scholarship and research to ensure proper resourcing of the research infrastructure and associated graduate programs. In general, there was a sense that our lack of focus has impacted our ability to identify and accelerate “areas of excellence” in research.  There was  a sense that we don’t have the resources, and that it would be un-strategic to seek to have an established reputation (or Ph.D. program) in every discipline at RIT.

    A case was made, that if done properly, focusing on areas of excellence could raise the profile and funding opportunities for all areas of research—especially those in close intellectual proximity to the core areas of excellence, and in connection with successful undergraduate programs.

    We discussed models for determining how “centers of excellence” are developed on campuses.  Two general models seem to dominate the landscape:  1. Decentralized/faculty-centric approaches; and, 2. Centralized/administration-centric approaches.  Faculty centric approaches place emphasis on engaging groups of faculty in defining and shaping centers grounded in faculty interests and research capabilities.  In contrast, centralized models tend to place greater emphasis on addressing the interests of external stakeholders and fostering “thematic” research that would appeal to funders.  Our college silos are perceived to facilitate neither model successfully.

    We discussed the need to better (possibly more narrowly or specifically) define both the vision for research and graduate education at RIT—it may be too broad and diffuse.

    We discussed the limitations of the current funding and accounting models that dictate Ph.D. program viability.  Questions were raised as to whether these models truly reflect the marginal costs of Ph.D. programs.

  2. Diffusion/dilution of Mission

    We discussed a shared impression that RIT’s vision and mission continue to suffer from lack of  clarity and focus.  Our recent history has been filled with “new initiatives” rather than a set of clearly defined and well integrated set of goals; we’ve added but not reprioritized or contracted anything.

    We recognized that the strategic planning process presents an opportunity to provide sharper focus but there is continued questioning about whether the community will be afforded the intellectual latitude and time to have full and meaningful discussions.

    We discussed how our siloed structure may reinforce the lack of focus with each administrative entity having a self-preserving rather than collaborative, cross-disciplinary interest.

  3. Structural dissonance

    We discussed how our rhetoric and intellectual goals and aspirations simply are not enabled by the current administrative structure and processes.  Many examples were offered but, in general, there was a sense that bureaucratic and compliance culture was stifling creativity, innovation, and academic risk taking.

    We discussed the interests that have become aligned around the status quo structure—namely deans and finance and administration—and questioned whether real change could be made if these administrative units, practices, and budget-determining powers were left unchanged.

    We discussed and debated whether the financial management of RIT was a true strength of the university.  A strong financial management model would provide greater financial latitude, real participation and involve more substantial shared governance.  A rhetorical comment was made regarding whether we would assess a successful corporation as one that regularly fell within 3% of being in a deficit.  The debate centered on the resource limitations we face, on the combined and interrelated culture of financial confidence and crisis-management, and the disconnect between those limitations and our goals; the generally poor performance of the endowment; and the lack of transparency in financial decision making.

    Considerable discussion centered around an apparent openness at the finance level that is coupled with a model of undiminished and un-collaborative control; this was connected to the question of whether the presidential/trustee level leadership is willing to consider the finance level of process a primary dimension of potentially positive change.