Fall Convocation 2006
A Look Ahead: Building Capacity, Broadening Support, Extending Our Reach
Convocation is an opportunity to for us to think about the year ahead and the goals and priorities that will provide focus to our work and to my efforts to serve you as president. I will organize my comments around several themes: building capacity, broadening and strengthening support, and extending our reach.
Of course, my work, and our work together, will be guided to a significant degree by the campus strategic plan now under development. For the coming year, we will focus on implementing the strategic goals identified in the plan’s first two priorities. In general, these priorities are related to building institutional capacity and broadening and strengthening support.
The strategic plan’s first priority is to strengthen and diversify revenue streams. While I realize that we are not likely to ever feel like there is enough money to achieve our aspirations, simply because our aspirations are so high, AUNE clearly needs additional revenue. We have already begun to make measurable progress on the goal of strengthening existing revenue streams that primarily consist of tuition revenue. We are very close to achieving the goal of fully enrolling each program for 2006-2007, and overall enrollment has exceeded targets. This outcome reflects the great work done by the marketing committee, admissions staff, and faculty. Congratulations!
Strengthening existing revenue streams, however, is only one part of that first strategic priority. The second component is diversifying revenue streams. Stated another way, this priority means that in order to thrive in the future, AUNE needs more different sources of revenue. This year, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee will begin its work on priority four, building AUNE’s business plan for the future. As they undertake that effort, I will ask them to develop specific goals for diversifying revenue streams. One key component will certainly be increasing revenue from fund raising. Most of you have already heard me say that I will have a strong focus on improving our fund raising and development results. But let’s be clear: fund raising alone will not produce the increased revenue we need in the near term, so establishing other revenue streams is vitally important.
The first two priorities in our strategic plan stress the importance of building institutional capacity to support the accomplishment of our mission. In any institution, two keys to organizational capacity are having highly effective organizational systems and high quality leadership. Priority two of the strategic plan specifically addresses our need to clarify governance structures, functions, and reporting relationships. I have taken some steps already to clarify organizational structures and reporting relationships so that responsibility, and the authority that accompanies it, can be carried out as effectively as possible. I would like to give you an update on the changes I have already implemented.
As you know, our institution consists organizationally of three major divisions. These are: (1) the academic affairs area, which includes the academic departments, their faculty, programs, and support staff as well as the library, admissions department, and the grants office; (2) the finance and administration area that manages our fiscal resources and procedures, financial aid, information technology, and our facility; and (3) the recently renamed institutional advancement area whose responsibilities encompass fundraising and development, alumni relations, communications, public relations, and marketing. All faculty and staff are housed within one of these three areas and each area is led by a senior administrator who reports directly to the president. I have established the group consisting of my direct reports as the President’s Cabinet. We meet biweekly to review ongoing work in each division and discuss institution-wide and central Antioch University issues. Currently, we are working on revising AUNE’s organizational charts so that they reflect this organizational structure accurately. Drafts of these new charts will be circulated soon for feedback.
Two of these key leadership positions are currently vacant. We are well into the search process to hire a new Vice President for Institutional Advancement and will soon advertise the chief academic officer position that has recently had the title of Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs. In order to attract the best possible candidates and in keeping with the new Antioch University titles and designations guidelines, I have decided to adopt a vice president title for each of the three senior leadership positions that report directly to the president.
Another component of our organizational governance structures are the various standing committees that have significant institutional responsibilities. This year I am committed to following up on the work begun by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee to review and clarify just how this complex arena works. As part of this year’s strategic planning effort, we will develop a clear description of the role or mission of each committee along with a list of its specific responsibilities and tasks. We plan to also develop a sort of organizational chart of these committees that delineates how they interconnect with each other and with the institutional table of organization.
Underlying all of our strategic priorities and plans to build capacity and strengthen the institution’s financial support are the resource allocation decisions we make. Our values and priorities are reflected in how we spend our dollars. Therefore, how we allocate our resources should reflect our values and priorities. I believe this is a crucial test for any organization. I also believe that both the process and the outcomes of resource allocation decision making are important for our institutional well-being.
I would like us to acknowledge one fundamental truth about financial decision making. A corollary of the fact that we will never have enough money to fully achieve our aspirations is that we will always have to make difficult decisions among competing priorities. A first step in doing this successfully is to have a strategic plan that establishes agreed upon institutional priorities. We are very close to having that plan in place.
It is also important to create a collaborative and transparent annual budget development process. I have worked with the Finance Committee to design a set of procedures for the development of the 2007-2008 institutional budget that are built upon detailed input at the department level followed by an approval process based on levels of responsibility and authority within the organization. Information about the budget development process for 2007-2008 was recently sent to unit budget managers and we will review it fully with them at their meeting next week. They will then share it with everyone during departmental budget planning discussions in the coming weeks.
As the campus president, I have a confession to make to you – I am not neutral when it comes to budget priorities. No one really is neutral, of course, so hopefully it doesn’t surprise you that I have some thoughts about this issue. Based on what I have learned about AUNE through these last few months, I have arrived at several general conclusions that I would like to share with you today.
First and foremost, I believe that we must invest our resources as much as possible in people as opposed to things. By this I mean, to the degree that our financial flexibility allows, new dollars should be spent on providing improved salaries for our current people, funding new positions where needed, and supporting faculty and staff professional growth and development. I will review every financial decision we make through this lens.
Second, as the foregoing implies, there is an important distinction when it comes to spending money. Investments generate additional revenue, whereas just spending money on things does not. For example, if the roof of this building needed repairs, we would have to spend the dollars required to fix it. On the other hand, if we spend additional money on better marketing, and thus increase program enrollment, we have achieved a successful investment not just an expenditure. The dollars we spent are not simply gone, but rather have had offspring, so in the end we have more dollars overall to support our mission.
To summarize then, my general priorities are to drive dollars to investments whenever possible and to prioritize investing in our people. You can count on me having this focus.
There are several initiatives that I will fund now that begin to address these priorities. First, I am establishing a fund in the President’s Office to support faculty travel to present the results of their work in various kinds of professional venues. This will offer a $750 award to up to ten people during this academic year. An announcement with details about how to apply for these funds will follow shortly.
Also, I will establish a faculty mini-grant program to provide support for faculty research and scholarship. I have asked Dean Guerriero to work with the department chairs and the faculty senate on the specifics of the design of this program, but in general I envision it as offering, through a proposal-based approach, funding of up to $3,000 for each grant recipient. The funds could be used for a variety of costs related to scholarship such as start-up costs, pilot studies, hiring research assistants, supplies and equipment, travel to collect data, and so forth.
While funding for these two initiatives will be relatively small at first, I will aggressively seek foundation or individual donor support to grow them significantly.
Another area of capacity building is related to improvements in how this building supports our programs and activities. Somewhat unexpectedly, we are now the lucky owners of new square footage created by the departure of the MC Squared school. The east wing, as the one-story wing is called, contains approximately 4,500 square feet of space vacated by the school. It is my goal to carefully consider the best use for this space that will enhance our capacity in critical areas. You will be hearing soon through your department chair or director about a process to harvest ideas concerning how to best utilize this new resource.
Before I conclude, I want to speak for a minute about my concept of AUNE extending our reach. Here I am referring to our potential to reach, through time and space, beyond our usual bounds of geography and program delivery modality. Of course, this idea is not new for Antioch University New England. It will simply be a continuation of the institution’s expansion over forty plus years from a local Vermont focus, to a strong regional presence, and now to some programs having a national profile. Even our international reach has grown recently, for example, through the work of the Center for Tropical Ecology and Conservation. Program delivery modalities have also changed over time, however, we have yet to capitalize fully on the potential of the internet and other 21st century technology to extend our reach virtually.
I believe it is time for us to explore avenues for extending our institutional reach in a number of ways. First, we need to do a better job of communicating about the current breadth of our reach. I have found that this is less well known than you might expect. Second, I believe we should strategically target new national and international audiences for our programs and outreach. Finally, we should seriously consider new ways to leverage the power of technology to offer an Antioch University New England education to people around the world for whom it would otherwise be out of reach. I will ask the Strategic Planning Steering Committee to engage in a conversation with all of you about such issues as they facilitate our work on creating the institution’s business plan for the future.
Now it is time to take a deep breath and move forward recognizing that we at AUNE are certainly very busy people with a full plate of challenges. But what exciting challenges they are. I urge you not to lose sight of what a vital and powerful institution we all are part of, and what amazing people we get to work with on these challenges we set for ourselves. And in the midst of our busy, sometimes hectic work lives, please do not forget why we are doing this. AUNE is a transformative institution. Students walk in these doors and a few years later walk out profoundly changed, capable of carrying the AUNE mission forward into their own spheres of influence. This multiplier effect of our work is profound and it echos through more places and through more years than we can ever be fully aware of. And while we nurture and support these profound transformations in our students, we are also transformed ourselves. I also urge you to be open to that; enjoy it, and enjoy the coming year.