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GEORGE KENNEDY: MU's new strategic plan sounds more concrete

Thursday, November 21, 2013 | 5:51 p.m. CST

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.


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Comments

Ellis Smith November 22, 2013 | 7:00 a.m.

George, there has been no shortage of plans, slogans, well-publicized "roll outs" (covered in this newspaper) and such. Where are the results? Where's the beef?

Elsewhere in this misbegotten "system," programs are launched with no sound and fury but get carried out. One reason why that happens is that those programs are carefully designed to be workable. Everyone understands that they actually can be achieved, so there's NO excuse for not achieving them.

Chancellors aren't hired just to "run the campus (in stasis)." Each chancellor hired has additional specific goals to accomplish. Taking the past three chancellors (prior to the present one), there was a serious across-the-board salary increase for faculty* (Chancellor Park), a re-organization and streamlining of administration (Chancellor Thomas), and obtaining an official name for the campus which actually describes the educational activities that take place there (Chancellor Carney). Since the name change we've been flooded with high school student inquiries from around the state and the country.

Things are easier to accomplish when the prevailing philosophy at an instution of higher education is that it is in reality a BUSINESS. What's that, George? You say it isn't a business? Well, George, if you look at those big operating budgets and what we're charging students for what we claim is a good education, that's a lot of money circulating around for something that's NOT a business. :)

*- Bringing salaries in line with those of our so-called "flagship campus," which they hadn't been.

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy November 22, 2013 | 8:00 a.m.

Ellis:

I included the line about Rolla just for you. (And because Ken Dean actually said it.)

As to your endorsement of a businesslike approach to university administration, my point was that the business executive who now occupies the president's chair seems to be pushing MU in that direction. We'll see how it works out.

Thanks for reading.

gk

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2013 | 8:59 a.m.

Perhaps it's time the "pot" is apportioned based on quantifiable results. You can bet we won't turn down bonus dollars.

You and others might want to take a look at the MS&T web site*, particularly our current chancellor's statement, to see where MS&T intends to go next: it concerns MS&T's position for both teaching and research vs. eight other technical institutes, some private and some public (more than half such institutes in the United States ARE private).

That's our real competition.

* - www.mst.edu/

(Report Comment)
Mary Douglass November 22, 2013 | 10:12 a.m.

While there is indeed a business element to running a land grant university, it is still a university and NOT a corporation.

Furthermore, the U of Missouri as a land grant university is obligated to provide funding to smaller programs as well as popular programs...the obligation is to serve the people of Missouri, not the whims of a corporately misguided leadership.

Our leadership is missing the key element of serving the people of the State of Missouri, who do after all own every brick and corn stalk.

No wonder the State legislature resists funding the U of MO...maybe if this quiet giant wakens...and it will...

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 22, 2013 | 10:26 a.m.

Mary: The original mission of a land-grant university was

Teaching, research, service.

In that order.

Do you think that is still the mission?

(Report Comment)
Mary Douglass November 22, 2013 | 10:49 a.m.

Teaching, research, service are STILL the land grant mandate...do you think we're seeing that today?

Our world class scholars live and breath the mandate, YES!

By those who do not understand that a land grant university is the economic engine of the state, owned by the people of the state, and must serve the people...not so much.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 22, 2013 | 11:06 a.m.

Mary: Unfortunately, I see money as the main driver. It is the engine for salaries, and it is the engine for personal advancement.

To us hoi polloi, the mission is money, research, teaching, and service (the latter as a distant last). If this is not true, then UMC has a bad PR problem with many taxpayers of this state....because that's what THEY believe. Money woes are not heard by deaf ears.

Even worse, many citizens of this state view our campus NOT in the light of the campus's accomplishments, but in the light of Columbia's liberal ways. I've carped on this, in this place, many times before...and according to the many folks with whom I talk, I'm still right.

Disclosure: I have been in Columbia 43 years and have an advanced degree from the institution. I was a grad student when many of these transitions in institutional mission were taking place. I saw it all happen....with my own eyes.

(Report Comment)
Mary Douglass November 22, 2013 | 11:30 a.m.

Note I refer to the entire 4 campus U of MO SYSTEM, not just MU.

Yeppo...there is a magnificent PR problem...a direct result of trying to run a land grant as a corporation.

There are ways the U of MO could regain the preeminent position it once had in the minds of the owners (the citizens of Missouri).

1. Branding? Really? Let's try being what we are mandated to be...and operate as such. The U of MO brand is a land grant PhD granting 4 campus institution. Nothing else qualifies.
Which means, for a few examples:
a) restructure fees so NO ONE needs student loans. Yes, this could be done...
b) bring our legislature to task on support...and give them concrete reasons to do so. See item "A". Sic em!
c) institute in-your-face demonstrations of how the people are better off as a result of the U of MO endeavors...one example...marketing strategies to include our logo(s) on products, services, and processes people across the state WILL SEE.

Just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea.

(Report Comment)
Mary Douglass November 22, 2013 | 11:35 a.m.

and as far as being liberal...well, yes, that would be the outcome of being a land grant institution...a key element of the Jeffersonian theory of education...that an educated populace self-governs better than an uneducated populace.

Thank God!

Just for good measure...stroll over to old Tom's obelisk strategically located on the MU old red campus and rub it a bit to make the point stick in your mind...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2013 | 11:53 a.m.

Michael:

It seems to me that a significant perception problem is the difference between how the administration, faculty and at least part of the alumni of University of Missouri System view the university versus how citizens of Missouri IN TOTAL view it. Rather than arguing over who is "right" and who is "wrong", more attention could be given to improved communication. Former System president Elson Floyd and his counterparts at Truman State University and Missouri State University started touring Missouri as a group to improve understanding, and that project appeared to have promise, but when Floyd left for Washington State University the project died.

And this newspaper could start reporting matters as if there actually ARE four campuses.

I've just finished reviewing Mary's archived posts, particularly some made in 2011, and I think that while Mary and I may disagree on some points we can agree on many others.

Some of us continue to insist that the Missouri legislature botched implementation of the Morrell Act in 1870. Some of the consequences have been unhelpful.

(Report Comment)
Mary Douglass November 22, 2013 | 11:59 a.m.

Yes...Elson Floyd was dynamic and when he left we lost out.

Yes...we agree on many things, never all. But your comments are accurate about how the U of MO is perceived in Missouri. Interestingly, the U of MO is perceived internationally as exemplary and is highly valued. Why does our own state not?

The Morrell Act was indeed / is still a factor...now would be a good time to correct missteps...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2013 | 12:12 p.m.

PS:

Call our campus (MS&T) Liberal? Wash your [expletive, verbal form, deleted] mouths out with lye soap!

Seriously, it is recognized that some of America's most Conservative-oriented campuses are the national military academies AND its public and private technological institutes. There are exceptions, of course: I wouldn't characterize MIT as being in the Conservative camp, but CalTech is.

Another University of Missouri System anomaly (they are legion).

(Report Comment)
Mary Douglass November 22, 2013 | 12:30 p.m.

The Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy (Rolla, MS&T)is liberal in the sense ye, too, are part of a public land grant university...mandated to provide in the best interests of the people of the State of Missouri.

Having said that, ye must also be conservative in the scientific methods employed in MS&T research and the standards to which ye are held accountable.

Does make MS&T "bipolar"? (geographically speaking of course....:)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 22, 2013 | 1:28 p.m.

Don't know about bipolar, but it could be difficult to be part of this silly "system" and not suffer from some psychosis or neurosis.

"Stupid is as stupid does." - Old Missouri Ozarks proverb. A bonus when one attends college in the Missouri Ozarks is that one has an opportunity to rub elbows with a more perceptive group of locals.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 23, 2013 | 8:48 a.m.

@ George Kennedy:

One gets the impression there are those at the Columbia campus who resent Mr. Wolfe's attempts to treat University of Missouri System in a businesslike way.

Had Sherry Forsee not been diagnosed with cancer, do you believe President Gary Forsee would have done any differently? No way!

Neither Forsee nor Wolfe are to be envied: it's no easy job dragging a dinosaur, with the dinosaur kicking and screaming, from the 19th Century all the way to the 21st Century.

Have you ever been forced to share a bed with a dinosaur, George? That's not easy either. After 143 years it becomes "tedious." :)

(Report Comment)

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