Over the last few weeks, we have had extensive conversations across campus and in the community about a draft document called “Charting the Future” that was developed in response to questions posed by MNSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.
It’s encouraging to see how engaged our faculty, staff, and students have been with the draft. In addition to three open forums, I visited the Student Senate and will visit the Faculty Senate to discuss the document, and there have been many other conversations both formal and informal. My impression is that Winona State University offered more opportunities for campus-wide conversation and feedback than other MNSCU institutions, and I’m proud of the serious, thoughtful, and insightful response.
Here’s a sampling of what I heard at the forums. There are too many ideas to list them all, but this should give you a flavor of the feedback.
There was considerable concern about the first priority, which relates to coordinated academic planning. The chief concern is that this will lead to more centralization, more bureaucratization, and a loss of campus control. While the draft document does not call for a larger system office, it is easy to see how it could be interpreted as calling for a centralized solution to planning given its ambiguity on this point. A second draft will need to clarify this.
Other concerns with the first priority included worries about:
• Students with different learning needs being served appropriately;
• The mandated closure of programs;
• The loss of control over our own academic programming and therefore losing our distinctiveness;
• The loss of local support if we lose local control;
• Readiness for college; and
• “Metrocentric” thinking, among other concerns.
Another comment that came out in the context of Priority 1 was that “Charting the Future” does not differentiate its recommendations by the type or mission of each institution. The needs of universities are different from the needs of colleges, for example, and the needs of the metropolitan area are different from the needs of outstate Minnesota. This criticism is not limited to Priority 1, but it especially comes across there.
Priority 2 relates to competency-based education, and probably required the greatest explanation before a discussion could ensue. This priority was an attempt to respond to the needs of veterans whose military experience is not properly credited and other non-traditional students who may have learned things along the way. It was also an attempt to respond to the very real threat our workgroup perceived at the time regarding the quality of MOOCs. Concerns I heard at WSU include:
• The dangers of standardization;
• The risk of losing social skills and other serendipities that come from being in a classroom;
• The need to avoid a “No Child Left Behind” approach;
• The lack of employer representation on the workgroups;
• The variability of support for things like credit for prior learning;
• The possible loss of revenue to WSU if credit is awarded for things other than course-taking; and
• The need for ensuring that the competencies are linked to learning and to the needs of graduate schools and employers.
While there is generally support for the notion of access and diversity (Priority 3), there is concern that affordability is not addressed more specifically, and many feel that access and affordability should be the top priority. Yesterday, the WSU Student Senate passed a resolution calling for affordability to be the top priority. The use of the word “accelerate” in this priority should not be seen as diluting or diminishing academic quality. Many folks indicated that WSU needs to take this seriously and diversify our own faculty, staff, and student body. Some expressed the need for benchmarks and goals. There was concern that while flexible scheduling may help students, it also affects the lives of employees, including a “second shift” faculty, meaning that some members of the faculty fear that they will be compelled to teach evenings and weekends. Some felt that the focus on access needed to be broadened to all students, and others felt that the term “diversity” needs to be better-defined.
Having an e-education strategy is the gist of Priority 4. Among the concerns I heard are:
• Whether more emphasis on online learning could negatively affect persistence, retention, and completion;
• Whether online learning is effective;
• Whether flexible scheduling is counter-productive;
• Whether we would need to have the right IT staff and infrastructure to do this; and
• Whether online privacy, security, and identity can be assured, among other concerns.
The fifth priority relates to continuing education and customized training, a category of work far more significant at community and technical colleges than at universities, but still something we participate in through OCED. Many WSU employees see value in professional development and CEUs for those working in professions we teach, but I heard questions about how or why this would need to be coordinated across campuses, and whether this priority even applied to universities.
Priority 6 proved to be extremely controversial because it relates to how the system is organized. There was considerable concern that this priority was intended to limit the power of the bargaining units, compel sharing of services, force us away from using local vendors, consolidate and merge campuses, and disrupt how the allocations are given to the campuses. There was concern about disrupting the financial model and whether WSU might lose distinctiveness in a realigned model. As with some of the other priorities, there was concern that these issues were more applicable or more beneficial to the two-year colleges.
At the open forums I also posed the question: “what’s missing here that should be included?” Several ideas came forward. I already mentioned affordability, but other ideas that forum participants found missing included:
1. Improving transfer;
2. Strengthening graduate education;
3. More focus on the liberal arts;
4. More focus on professional programs;
5. More focus on quality;
6. The need for more input from external constituents such as community and business leaders;
7. Whether the work groups included the right folks to answer the questions that were posed;
8. Addressing the recent drop in enrollment system-wide; and
9. Whether there was enough focus (or any focus) on student learning.
One more great idea I heard is that this document needs to connect these ideas to what is actually planned on each campus. Our vision at WSU includes, for example, maintaining the highest quality educational experience while adding an Education Village, a new neuroscience lab, enhanced campus beauty, and being a national leader in technology, sustainability, and engagement in the community. Shouldn’t the document reflect these priorities and how they relate to system priorities?
I will ensure that all these comments and concerns are communicated to the workgroups and to the Chancellor. In fact, I have already begun sharing them. I cannot guarantee that every idea mentioned here will appear in the final document, but I promise that all these ideas will be heard. If you did not have a chance to participate in these conversations, it’s not too late to have your voice heard through your bargaining unit or through this website: http://www.mnscu.edu/strategicworkgroups/feedback.html
For me, the ultimate test of “Charting the Future” is whether it supports Winona State University’s excellence, distinctiveness, and affordability. To the extent that any initiative within it supports WSU, then I’m for it; to the extent that any initiative within it limits or interferes with WSU, then I’m against it. Charting Winona State’s future comes first, and we will chart it together.