this issue...

to effective planning





to effective planning



“The planning effectiveness of a campus depends on the planning effectiveness of its presidential leadership. There is no escape from this situation." -John D. Millett


In an Ideal world colleges and universities will have an effective, adaptable and realizable plan that describes its view of the future and the steps for achievement. These institutions will know that a plan is not a product, a one-time event, but an ongoing process designed to realize its vision. Almost everyone at these institutions will know their institution’s vision and understand their responsibility in helping to achieve it.



Actually, many colleges and universities are reactive in their approach to planning – fighting fires, swayed by whichever crisis needs to be addressed – not an effective approach. These institutions might have strategic plans, but often those plans are required by the state or accrediting agency. Planning is not built into the fabric of the institution.


This paper will identify or highlight the various barriers to effective planning. Planning is characterized as encompassing the broad understanding of institutional planning: physical, organizational, academic, financial, student life, and curriculum planning.





Roadblock One: Leaders that have not created a culture of planning



This is the most serious of the roadblocks because all planning hinges on the manner of day-to-day management. Without planning being rooted in the organization, all planning is reactive. In that case, planning is an add-on and not incorporated in the quotidian operations of the university. Only the presidential leadership, the members of the president’s cabinet, can create a positive culture of planning. Planning has to be embedded in the many ongoing administrative and operational systems that are necessary to run a contemporary higher ed institution today.





Roadblock Two: Leaders have not articulated a vision of the future


The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.
-Helen Keller



A college or university vision must be articulated by presidential leadership, it cannot, or should not be delegated to a committee. A vision statement is key to successful planning. It describes what leadership would like the institution to become. It describes a future state – what the institution will be like in the future. Without a vision of the future, what is the focus of planning? There is no institutional context or goals to achieve. Without a vision, planning is ad hoc.


An example of an effective university vision statement was created by James Barker, the former president of Clemson University. “Clemson will be one of the nation’s top-20 public universities.” Simple and straightforward. At the time that he created this vision for the University, Clemson was 36th in U.S. News and World Report. Today they are ranked 24th.


The impact of the drive to achieve Clemson’s vision had significant campus-wide implications: an increase in the number of faculty, an increase in the proportion of graduate students, an increase in research, an increase in fund raising, and the need for additional space.





Roadblock Three: Poor Strategic Plan or no plan



Many college and university strategic plans are neither strategic nor plans but simply a set of goals. Strategic plans for public colleges and universities are usually mandated by the state – typically every five years. Often a strategic plan is initiated with a change in administration: a new president or provost. Public or private, it should be an ongoing process that is periodically updated. It should be what its name implies – a plan.


An effective strategic plan has a mission and vision statement, and a set of goals to realize the vision. If it is to be a plan, then it should also include measurable strategies and tactics for attaining each goal, a list of the office or person responsible for each strategy/tactic, and a timeline for achievement.





Roadblock Four: Organizationally, the planner, if there is one, is physically located within facilities


Most small colleges do not have a planning position, many large universities do. Who the planner reports to gives an important message to the institutional community – Provost or VP Finance. The problem with being located within facilities is that it leads to the assumption that planning is only physical planning which is detrimental to the idea of integrated planning: academic, financial, student life, and facilities.





Roadblock Five: Having an architectural office and a planning office without clearly defined responsibilities


This is a problem for the large universities that have both a planning office and a facilities office. The concern is that there is a potential overlap and duplication of activities. What is clearly needed is a well-defined statement of responsibilities and an agreement to eliminate competition.





Roadblock Six: There are conflicts on campus that hinder a participatory process


What college or university doesn’t have some conflict on campus? There is always some tension or disagreement. They can be minor or major, a personality conflict or tenure track issue. There should be approved policies and procedures for adjudicating the conflict. The problem arises when the issue escalates and hinders open participation and communication or leads to broad mistrust.





Roadblock Seven: Planning is occurring on campus to justify a specific project



There are many examples of a college or university initiating a planning process to justify a specific project or to prove to a donor or funding agency that a project fits into the context of the campus plan and that the project is a priority. This is a good example of reactive planning – or ex post facto planning.





Roadblock Eight: Poor communication


In any multiple constituency organization, open and transparent communication creates a healthy and effective planning environment. Everyone – faculty, students, administrators, and staff should be acquainted with the institution's vision for the future and how it intends to achieve it.



Today, with access to the internet with multiple devices, venues, and resources, there is no excuse for poor communication. Blogs, newsletters, emails, text messages, social media, and websites can all be used to share information.





Roadblock Nine: Lack of broad and open participation



Successful planning depends on an open and transparent process involving participation of the many constituencies of a college and university. Those affected by the plan should be involved in the process. This requires a bottoms-up balanced with a top-down process which brings faculty, staff, students, and administrators to the table. A top-down process by itself, with few participants is sure to be narrowly focused and will lead to potential poor choices and mistrust.





Roadblock Ten: Lack of Trust – with President – with Faculty


Trust, lost or eroded, is difficult to gain back. It certainly takes time and it certainly requires evidence of satisfactorily addressing whatever created the problem in the first place.


Planning in an atmosphere of mistrust is almost impossible to do successfully. Data, ideas, options will all be questioned about motive and whether there is a hidden agenda that is being pushed through.





Roadblock Eleven: Lack of policies to encourage change


All colleges and universities change – sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically. How an institution accepts or encourages change will depend on the planning that has evolved over time. Are there policies in place to encourage faculty to experiment creatively with different pedagogy and technology? Are there incentives for students to explore various educational tracks that they might not have in a rigid curriculum? How flexible and confident is the institution to encourage and support change?


Not all forces of change are internal. Sometimes the change comes from federal, state, or city initiatives or requirements. Sometimes the change is in the campus neighborhood that can have a positive or negative impact on the institution: an adjacent declining residential community, or a new commercial or residential project, or a change in streets or transportation. There needs to be campus people in place to recognize these changes and policies and procedures that can respond appropriately.





Roadblock Twelve: An overly active Board of Trustees that get involved with day-to-day operations


This certainly is a roadblock for effective planning. More significantly, it is a problem for institutional management when a board of trustees or a trustee member can’t distinguish his or her role and responsibility as a trustee with the day to day management of the organization.


Having an engaged and active board is different from one which doesn’t understand the boundaries and fiduciary obligations of a trustee.


An over-reaching board can lead to conflict, mistrust, and poor institutional management.





Roadblock Thirteen: Exceedingly engaged alumni

Ah, the blessing and curse of an intensely engaged alumni. It is a blessing to have active, passionate, engaged alumni. It is a curse if, because of their engagement, they are pushing for a program or facility that does not support the vision of the institution or will cost more than institutional resources can provide.


It is a problem if an alum or a group of alumni push for the creation of a program or facility that is not high or even on the institution’s priority list. The interaction between the alumni and the institution can skew the planning process in a way that may not be beneficial.



A roadblock is defined as a temporary structure placed across a road to stop traffic. It can also be defined as anything that impedes progress. Almost all of the roadblocks described above can be removed or lifted if the situation is recognized and if institutional leadership plays an active role in creating a positive culture for planning. Decision makers need active and up-to-date information. Administrative systems, and policies need to be established that rely on this data to guide leadership in making informed choices.


The one roadblock that will be hardest to lift is the first. It depends on “if institutional leadership plays an active role.” The word “leadership” essentially means the President, Provost, and VP Finance. Any one of these key positions can create an atmosphere for successful, ongoing planning or, unintentionally foster a culture where planning will be diminished.

Arthur Lidsky




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