The “Planning for Distinction” campus-wide assessment project kicked off this week with five faculty and staff informational sessions led by consultant Larry Goldstein, president of Campus Strategies LLC. All NMU academic programs and support services will be evaluated based on specified criteria to determine investment priorities. Final reports are expected before the end of the fall 2017 semester.
Goldstein uses an adaptation of the Dickeson Model of reallocating resources to achieve strategic balance. He will help to facilitate NMU’s process, but not be directly involved in decisions about the recommendations. He said the model, first articulated in a 1999 book, is designed to empower faculty and staff most impacted by the outcomes to analyze the data and make recommendations. They will play an active role in determining which programs and services warrant enhanced, stable or reduced resources and which could potentially be phased out.
“The Dickeson Model came about because there was not a lot of data-based decision making in higher education,” Goldstein said. “It was typically across-the-board cuts, but those only lead to mediocrity and completely eliminate the value of any planning. Higher education has a tendency to add programs, but rarely subtracts them. There simply aren’t enough resources to do everything well and that won’t change with support for higher education on a steady track downward.
“Reallocation of resources is the best option if you’re not getting adequate funding. And reallocation requires acknowledging that some things perform better and are more important than others. This approach is systematic and treats all activities fairly. It also emphasizes transparency, with appropriate confidentiality related to the task force deliberations.”
Nominations are being accepted for two task forces: one composed of 75 percent faculty and 25 percent department heads to evaluate academic programs; and one composed of 75 percent staff and 25 percent faculty to assess support programs, or everything beyond academics. Members selected must complete a training program this month where they will establish weighted criteria and identify guiding documents such as the strategic plan and mission statement. They also must be willing to commit 4-5 hours per week for the duration of the process.
“Everyone should participate in the development of individual program reports for the areas you work in,” Goldstein said. “The analysis will wrap up in the fall and submissions will be placed in one of five resource allocation categories. The task forces will develop a package of recommendations listed alphabetically, not in any priority order. When those are completed, everyone will have access to them simultaneously; the president won’t see them earlier than anyone else. There will be opportunities for feedback before implementation decisions are made.
After considering the task forces’ recommendations, the president will consult with his executive team and make the final decisions. Goldstein said it is possible that not all programs, functions or positions will remain afterward, but implementation will adhere to relevant laws and collective bargaining contracts.
Goldstein said the Dickeson Model has been applied successfully at hundreds of institutions where there are committed leaders, credible participants, good data and adequate transparency and support. It has also failed at several universities. Goldstein said this is mostly attributed to preserving “sacred cows,” relying on the “usual suspects” to develop recommendations, perceived inequities in the ability to demonstrate successes, corrupt data and failure to follow through on the results.
Provost Kerri Schuiling and Vice President of Finance and Administration Gavin Leach co-chair the coordinating committee, which will oversee the process. They are joined by the president, vice presidents, dean of students, ASNMU president, Brandon Sager of Engineering and Planning, professor Alec Lindsay of Biology and assistant professor Heidi Blanck of construction management.
A dedicated website, nmu.edu/planningfordistinction, has been created. It will feature video and PowerPoint slides from one of Goldstein’s sessions for those unable to attend, along with updates on the process as they become available.