Sunday, April 25, 2010

What is our mission again?

So during a recent BOT meeting the university community was assured that the budget cuts, personnel reductions (firings) and other various and sundry activities designed to 'right size' the university, would not impact the university's mission. The statement was made with such conviction that no one asked what that mission is. So I decided to look it up and remind myself what grand mission we are all in support of. From the university web site I found,

"The mission of the university is to: 1) provide access to higher education for residents of the region, the state and beyond, with an emphasis on meeting the educational needs, undergraduate through doctoral levels, of promising graduates from outstanding secondary schools as well as educating students where academic and personal growth may have been inhibited by lack of economic, social, or educational opportunity; and 2) produce graduates who are responsible, discerning, and informed global citizens with a commitment to lifelong-learning and service."

This is a noble mission, one that appears to position the university as being all things to all people. For example, recruiting promising graduates from outstanding secondary schools and educating students from what could be characterized as at risk backgrounds is quite challenging. There is a compelling need to maintain the academic standards needed to retain the promising graduates and those whose preparation for a university education has been inhibited. How well do we do this is subject to debate. We do graduate more than a thousand students per year. We do this having very little in terms of resources, have had significant leadership challenges and we continue to perform this balancing act in terms of the mission.
We also seem to be challenged by defining the parameters of the region, state and beyond. How much recruiting does the university do beyond the borders of the city of Chicago? Is there something about our fixation of recruiting high numbers of CPS graduates and not graduates from Northwest Indiana, Southern Wisconsin, Western Illinois, Eastern Iowa and Eastern Missouri. How many high schools get visited in those areas? What about visits to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, California or Arizona schools? As a Minority Serving Institution, what percentage of our recruiting budget goes to recruiting in states with high minority populations? Oh, it seems we would rather use our time and energy to partner with community colleges five miles from our campus than expand our horizons and possibly draw out of state students, paying out of state tuition. Of course that would mean fundamentally altering the character of the university, a task only a visionary educational leader could accomplish. It would mean getting the entire university community invested in and inspired by a new vision, a shared vision of educational excellence, not acting like the local high school.
So how is it that we got here? Is it a strict adherence to this mission or something else that guides the university? It appears that the university is on track to go through yet another strategic planning process, one that will either affirm or change the mission of the university. Given the number of strategic planning processes I have witnessed I have little hope for it substantively guiding the university into the future. Rather I suspect there will be much hoopla about a community effort to re-define ourselves or re-affirm our positioning. Then the administration of the day will continue to operate in crisis management mode much like administrations for the past 2o years have done.
And where will the faculty be in all of this? Who knows. There is talk of shared governance and no real practice of shared governance. There will be nominal faculty involvement and no real dialogue between faculty and the ruling regime. And for those of us who have been here for more than 15 years it appears like the movie Groundhog Day. The university keeps repeating the same mistakes by focusing on the wrong things at the wrong time and consulting the wrong people.
So the question for me is what is the mission that we are supporting and does that mission really matter that much when everything is managed as a crisis because of our lack of planning, execution and leadership.
I realize I will be challenged around the absence of leadership given the number of firings recently and our performance during the HLC visit. What has been absent is something mentioned by supporters of our CEO, namely being a local who has relationships with power brokers in the city and state. The university was told by Chairman Finney last year that the Board could not possibly consider hiring anybody from outside of Chicago. I like many are waiting for the local connections to translate into fund raising. At the last Board meeting about finances, not one board member or the CEO mentioned any plan or commitment to raising money during our fiscal crisis to reduce the necessity for firing or laying off employees, people with families and responsibilities. It seems firing people is easy. Inspiring people to excellence and impeccability in support of a noble mission is a bit more elusive.

1 comment:

  1. Phillip,

    What an awesome reflection on the mission of the university and the Board's role (or lack thereof) in executing it for a long time. You have articulated well the problems that we face as a university "poised for the 21st century"