Retrenchment, Day 24

The president of BSU sent out a "Strategic Direction and Campus Marketing" survey to the faculty and staff email list. He said it builds on summer work done by students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners. I wasn't aware that such a group had been convened, and I was around all summer. So I'm curious how many people participated -- and who.

The survey asked people to rate how sever they believed a series of external threats were to the university. I assume the choices on the list reflected the feedback the administration received from its summer participants. I didn't actually think any of them were either "Very Important" or "Extremely Important". The only one I thought was "Moderately Important" was the increasing cost of delivering high-quality education to students. But even that is relative -- costs are only challenging when they can't be met by revenues. Two of the options (eroding public respect for Higher Ed and changes in the business model) seemed slightly relevant as external challenges. Two more (NCAA policy and intolerance) struck me as irrelevant -- although I thought it was significant that some people in the group that formulated the questions consider racism and sexism at BSU to be an existential challenge.

As far as external opportunities go, I think the growth of adult learners and nontraditional students is very important. But I thought several of the "opportunity" questions seemed to be too focused on local and regional businesses. Even the couple that weren't specifically about contracting to deliver customized "job training" educational programs. The implication seems to be that someone wants to hitch BSU's wagon very explicitly to training students for specific work at specific businesses.

The questions demonstrate the preferences of the administrators. I almost said prejudices, because these seem to be opinions they arrived on campus with, months or years ago, that they don't seem to have modified -- even in light of evidence that doesn't align. These biases they continue to confirm include commitments to "Engaging Place", DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), and the idea that if we would just tell our story better, students would come. The one "strategic priority" that seems really important to me is aligning the university's efforts with enrollment, retention, and student success. This is so obvious, but it doesn't seem like the administration is actually asking students. It still seems like they're saying, "we're going to do these things we come up with and we'll measure the results using these metrics."

Although the introduction said equal time would be devoted to polling people on the strategies and the marketing, the progress bar only looked like I had advanced between a quarter and a third of the way through the survey before we had dispensed with that pretense and I was being asked to assume the priorities the administration had chosen and help them figure out how to best market these.

Some of these pages were very obviously telling the survey-taker that there's a plan to try to get deeply embedded with local business and industry. Creating a master academic plan that knuckles under and makes BSU a vocational college doesn't seem to me like an answer. Later in the survey, when respondents were asked to pick descriptive words for both BSU and NTC (Northern Technical College), the survey makers neglected to change the follow-up questions for NTC about our thoughts regarding the "ideal Regional University". Is this a clue that BSU and NTC are merging? When I mentioned this to a colleague, his response was, "well, NTC is in the black."

Link to YouTube: