Our discussion focused primarily on six interrelated themes:
- The kinds and quality of the data available to the planning process;
- The question of consistency and/or potential disconnect among different conceptions of Strategic Planning: the Board’s, the President’s, the Provost’s, the RIT community’s;
- The question of which or whose metrics are decisive in shaping the plan, and the potential mismatch between RIT’s ambitions and its resources: to what degree do present metrics define and/or limit our strategic options?
- The impact on SP of perceived differences amongst the different styles of leadership and management at RIT: regarding the Trustees, the CFO, the President, and the Provost;
- Concern for and hope to overcome significant gaps in communication, understanding, and governance connectivity between Trustees and Faculty.
- How best to convert our discussions into meaningful and useful recommendations to the SP Steering Committee.
There was a persistent concern for whether the SP process is clear about the kinds of data it needs to drive or inform the planning process; whether there is transparency and full access to all the data and financial information in RIT’s possession; whether strategic questions are driving the kinds of data sought and received. The concern was not that data must be the sole driver of the plan, but that our capacity to re-imagine RIT must nevertheless be predicated upon sound data.
- Conceptions of Strategic Planning
There was a general concern that the speed and timing of the process was not achieving significant community engagement or elevating our capacity to imagine significant change and reorganization. This concern focused primarily on whether the SP will foster increased flexibility of collegiate and program structures, of financial administrative and accounting systems, and articulate new frameworks for connecting and integrating teaching and curricula across and beyond the conventional collegiate, program, and disciplinary boundaries.
There was considerable discussion of a potential disconnect among different conceptions of SP, and of different degrees and kinds of investments in SP: the Board’s, the President’s, the CFO’s, the Provost’s, and the RIT community’s—especially Faculty. Between fostering fiscal anxiety or imagination, creativity or preservation, managed speed or deliberative openness, there seem to be different conceptions of SP (and, therefore, unresolved tensions) coming into prominence.
At this point, in fairness, it was not clear how best to overcome these challenges, except to be honest and explicit about them, and to ensure the process is engaging them openly.
There was a concern for which or whose metrics are decisive in shaping the plan, and the related mismatch between RIT’s ambitions and its resources. There was discussion of the seemingly contradictory impression that we’re extremely well managed fiscally but are resource poor, have a very limited endowment, and have consistently unremarkable success in development. We seem to be capable of adding always and significantly to the physical infrastructure, yet we have no additional or incremental resources for the core mission: academics.
This suggested the perception that it is fiscal/financial metrics that Trustees hear most about, know best, and will be likely to privilege in the SP process. This precipitated discussion of the difference between strategic metrics and traditional financial metrics, and how best to ensure that the former guide our interpretation and weighting of the latter. Strategic thinking suggests risk-taking. This, in turn, precipitated discussion of whether RIT's financial and accounting practices tend to maintain a highly centralized and risk-stifling authority over experimentation at the collegiate/program/curricular levels.
- Leadership: Perceived Differences/Potential Inconsistencies of Leadership Styles
There was considerable discussion of the impact on SP of perceived differences in leadership style amongst the leadership and operational management of RIT: at the level of the Trustees, the CFO, the President, and the Provost.
Candid perceptions and characterizations were shared of these different leadership styles, for the purpose of better understanding how different leadership styles affect SP, subsequent implementation, and the overall conceptual coherence of what/who RIT is and could/should become as a university.
Discussion centered around the following:
Whether trustees are sufficiently connected to academic discourse/faculty governance; whether they lack representation from Ph.D’d academics of national/international stature; whether they're prone to focus necessarily but too much on fiscally driven conceptions of the university; prone to accept a meeting culture that maintains too great a distance from engaging with academic/faculty culture.
Whether the President, CFO, and Provost share compatible or different frameworks of leadership with regard to change, centralized control, academic priority setting, experimentation, and shared governance.
The purpose of engaging with these considerations was to highlight the intrinsic connection between SP and leadership, and to raise the question of whether sufficiently candid and critical thought is being given to RIT’s different leadership styles and cultures, given their centrality both to developing and implementing a successful SP.
- Governance: Assessment and Proposals:
There was considerable and very concrete engagement with the proposal that we should foster greater informal and formal interaction between Trustees and Faculty. This would significantly enhance the lasting value of the SP process.
There was a wide-spread conviction that real communication, understanding, and collaboration across the boundaries between Trustees, Administration, and Faculty could and should be fostered through more direct opportunities for dialogue, and a greater degree of real and representative involvement in each other’s governance systems.
The proposal was made that the Salon should extend an invitation to interested Trustees for a conversation. This would have the purpose of opening up an honest, transparent, trust- and respect-building dialogue regarding the nature and purposes of SP. The hope is that this would also provide an additional foundation for increasing the dialogue, quality of participation, and shared membership between the Board of Trustees and Academic Senate.
It was agreed that we would all prepare and bring along a few key proposals for discussion at our next meeting (May 15). Our intention is to prepare these proposals as recommendations to the SP Steering Committee, and to invite the committee to a subsequent meeting for discussion of these recommendations.