If you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about our university’s latest strategic plan, don’t feel bad. After all, we’ve had a lot of plans — most recently "One Mizzou," subtitled "2020 Vision for Excellence" — with little appreciable effect on the institution. Remember "Role and Scope"?
Our university, like most others, has generally followed what Sir Isaac Newton might have called the First Law of Institutional Inertia: A campus in slow motion tends to remain in slow motion unless acted on by an outside force.
Despite that history, but without much enthusiasm, I joined about 30 faculty colleagues in a dimly lit room in Memorial Union on Monday afternoon to hear a presentation of MUSOP, the unfortunate acronym for the new MU Strategic Operating Plan.
An hour and a half later, I left thinking that this one just might make a difference. I think that because of the cryptic response to a question I posed to a senior campus administrator after the session.
I asked whether it would be fair to assume that the latest version of this plan, which was rewritten in a hurry after University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe expressed his displeasure with the first draft, reflects the president’s insistence on shaking up and speeding up the university system’s flagship campus.
The administrator responded that my assumption was "not unreasonable." Being fairly fluent in bureaucrat-speak, I took that for a "Yes."
Evidence of the outside force’s influence shows up throughout the document. Here’s an example of the difference between pre-Wolfe and post-Wolfe versions of the plan:
Objective 3.7 of the Vision for Excellence reads, "Ensure that, even as MU targets some resources toward the Mizzou Advantage, all programs that provide the core academic quality of MU are sustained at levels worthy of a major research university."
The new plan, by contrast, makes clear that there will be winners and losers. Beginning next year, each academic unit will lose at least 2 percent and as much as 5 percent of its base budget, with the money being redirected to the hiring of "high-impact" faculty and the development of "high-impact" programs. In future years, reallocation may take different percentages from various units.
Impact will be measured by such metrics as citations in top scholarly journals of articles by MU faculty (74 per tenure-track faculty member now; 100 by 2018), number of national academy members (nine now; 12 by 2018) and federal research dollars per faculty member ($92,139 now; $110,000 by 2018).
In my experience, numbers have a weight that rhetoric lacks. The new plan, unlike its predecessors, is heavy with numbers. One number that’s certain to be noticed is 15 percent. That’s the proportion of faculty who will be deemed worthy this year of consideration for mid-year raises.
Maybe the most eyebrow-raising figures are the totals to be invested in more and better faculty, more and better students and the infrastructure to support them. Over the five years, the plan envisions spending $162 million on an upgraded faculty.
That investment in the current fiscal year is a little more than $55 million. Over five years, it totals $300,811,637. Most of it will be carved out of existing programs by reallocation. The state is being counted on, despite recent reality, to supply nearly $35 million over five years for "strategic investment." Another $78 million is projected to come from student fees as enrollment continues to grow. Private gifts are expected to yield $4 million.
Also telling is the rocky road that led from "One Mizzou" to MUSOP. That journey began, we were told Monday, in June 2012 when a committee of faculty and staff began trying to "operationalize" the platitudes of the vision. Deputy Provost Ken Dean noted that President Wolfe found the product so unsatisfactory that he awarded MU only $2.9 million of a $12 million reallocation pot. This despite the fact that MU constitutes half the four-campus system. (The only campus to present a satisfactorily quantitative plan, Dean said, was Rolla.)
The computer company executive who now leads us objected that MU’s plan lacked both focus and specifics. Outgoing Chancellor Brady Deaton gave Dean and budget director Rhonda Gibler two weeks to try again. As Dean recalled that fortnight, they "tweaked" the original mission statement and did a "complete rewrite" of the details.
In the rewrite, two points under the heading of "Implementation" suggest how this plan is different.
"We will not invest in low-demand (non-strategic) programming or hiring." And, "We will not follow the budget model that has been used for years — in short, no more historical, incremental budgeting."
Those lines could almost be taken for a business plan. Call it One Mizzou.2.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.