Time to reassess strategic plan, Simmons tells faculty

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The time has come for the University to carefully reassess the Plan for Academic Enrichment’s strengths and weaknesses and adjust priorities accordingly, President Ruth Simmons told the faculty at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Simmons said she promised the Corporation, Brown’s highest governing body, that the University would “go back” and “reflect” on the project “midstream” as a condition of its approval in 2002, and that re-examination was now called for. She intends to present the results of the reassessment to the Corporation in February.

“No budget can bear a limitless succession of good ideas,” Simmons told the faculty.

“It would be absolutely foolhardy to take a plan and stick with it because, ‘after all, we started it,’ ” she said.

The Plan for Academic Enrichment, a comprehensive blueprint for strengthening Brown’s academic profile, has defined Simmons’ presidency to date. The plan called for such ambitious initiatives as an increase in the size of the faculty, the introduction of need-blind admission and the construction of new buildings around campus. University planning has since expanded beyond its already ambitious mandate, highlighted by the sweeping effort to internationalize the University that was announced in the fall of 2006.

Simmons’ plan has shaped the Campaign for Academic Enrichment, the fundraising drive that went public in October 2005 and aims to raise $1.4 billion by 2010. The campaign reached the $1-billion mark in May.

“Clearly now we’ll exceed that goal,” Simmons told the faculty yesterday. She declined to estimate a final total for the campaign.

Although some of the money raised to date has already been committed to specific projects, Simmons said, there is still an opportunity to reallocate funds and revise fundraising goals to reflect changing priorities if needed.

Donors to the campaign have been encouraged to contribute to projects outlined in the University’s “table of needs,” which highlights specific priorities of the plan. The reassessment will likely result in changes to the table, Simmons told the faculty, and some projects may be dropped.

Simmons said the process of “fine-tuning” would involve “perhaps adding to what we’re doing and perhaps subtracting in some ways.”

Despite avoiding specific examples of how the plan might change, Simmons emphasized restraint.

“Every year … I find myself wondering if we’re trying to do too much,” Simmons said, adding that it would be necessary to add “a modicum of discipline” to “the imperative to add on” to existing initiatives.

But Simmons sought to offset her somber tone by assuring faculty the reassessment was planned and its underlying motives transparent.

“For all those conspiracy theorists out there,” Simmons said, her remarks are “not intended to suggest anything except that we have reached that point in the plan when we need to have the discipline to come back and assess.”

Simmons said she is particularly interested in the growth of Brown’s administrative structures. She emphasized that the plan’s “core mission” is focused on improving Brown’s academics and that any expansion of the administration that has taken place under its auspices would have to clearly benefit that goal to be justified.

There is “no nationally recognized mechanism” for a university to regularly review the growth and function of its own administrative structures, Simmons told The Herald after the meeting, adding that by establishing such a process Brown could potentially establish itself as unique in higher education.

The overall reassessment will proceed through established committees such as the Academic Priorities Committee and University Resources Committee, Simmons told The Herald, and it will involve opportunities for all campus constituencies, including students, to have a say.

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, Provost David Kertzer ’69 P’95 P’98 updated the faculty on major construction projects currently underway or planned for the near future, and representatives from the Research Advisory Board and the Campus Planning Advisory Board gave brief presentations.

The faculty also unanimously passed two motions to revise its code. The first amended the charge of the Committee on Academic Standing, removing the dean of the College from its membership and adding the deputy dean of the College, who will now serve as chair. Those posts are currently filled by Katherine Bergeron – who presented the motion – and Stephen Lassonde, respectively.

Under the revised charge, appeals of the committee’s decisions will now be heard by the dean of the College.

The second motion revised the faculty rules to change the phrase “a mail ballot” to “an electronic ballot” in order to reflect the recent implementation of online balloting through MyCourses for faculty committee memberships.

The afternoon’s business began with a wide-ranging report from Associate Professor of Psychology Ruth Colwill, who chairs the Faculty Executive Committee, on the work of her committee. She emphasized recent challenges in recruiting faculty to serve on standing governance committees, particularly the Committee on Nominations, which is responsible for recruitment to faculty committees.

Colwill also presented statistics indicating that minority groups are underrepresented on faculty committees. Almost 90 percent of faculty members who served on governance committees during the 2006-2007 academic year were white.

To encourage more faculty to serve, Colwill and Constantine Gatsonis, a professor of medical science who chairs the nominations committee, announced the creation of the President’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Government. That award – and an accompanying $2,000 research stipend – would be granted annually to up to five faculty members who have demonstrated above-average commitment to committee service.

Colwill also suggested creating a pool of professors with committee experience who could agree to step in on a short-term basis for committee members on leave as a way to bolster participation.

As an inducement to serve on the nominations committee, members of that committee will be given the power of allotting the governance awards.

Professor of Mathematics Thomas Banchoff, who said he has served on recruiting committees in the past, called that idea “bizarre.”

“I don’t think that would have made our job easier. In fact, I think it would have made it harder,” he said.

Another professor suggested tying faculty pay to committee service, while John Hermance, professor of geological sciences, said he thought the best inducement to serve on committees would be to assure faculty that their input would matter.

“If you want to reward the faculty, have them make a difference,” Hermance said.

“We’ve been sitting here looking at statistics,” he added at the conclusion of the executive commitee’s report to underscore the point. “We haven’t gotten into any substantive issues.”

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