Imagine that you have a new president; he or she has been on the job since July 1 and has scheduled listening tours both on and off campus to get a better sense of the institution and the community (and imagine that the community is broadly defined). As part of these listening tours, the president’s office has scheduled 90 minutes for your unit. So the question is: what would you do with 90 minutes to talk to your new president?
This is such a difficult question to answer, because if you are like me, I simply want to tell the president about all the great things we are doing and how these things support the mission of the institution and his vision for the future. But I need to take a deep breath, and begin with what Covey calls “the end in mind.” What is it that I want the new president to know and remember about our unit? How can I help him understand how we can support his vision for the university?
If that is my goal, I would begin the meeting by laying out why we do what we do as a unit. This of course is reflected in our mission and, in my case, is best captured by talking about the 4 A’s. As a unit we see ourselves as advocates (the first A)—advocates for those who are unable to come to our campus. We are advocates for access (the second A), providing access to education, and most importantly providing access to the promise of education. We do this in many ways from offering classes, programs, and degrees off campus; developing and offering programming that is simply not available in our community (PK-12 programs); working in partnership with businesses and industry in developing a highly skilled workforce.
We are advocates for affordability (the third A). Clearly one of the great challenges facing higher education is the runaway train of tuition costs. We advocate for affordability by utilizing multiple delivery techniques from online to hybrid to weekend formats. We advocate for affordability through the design of our programming, utilizing a module approach where the student develops knowledge and skills they can quickly utilize and scaffolding additional modules that lead to the completion of a degree program. We advocate for affordability when we partner with other higher education institutions in offer a path to a degree. We advocate for affordability by working with our community, business and industry and jointly develop programming that addresses their needs.
Finally, we are advocates for accountability (the fourth A in Shaeffer’s Forays). It simply isn’t enough to say we do good work; we advocate for finding ways of assessing whether our efforts are addressing the needs for those we serve. We advocate for accountability so that we continually assess the needs of our audiences as well as continually improve how we deliver programming. We advocate for accountability to assure that our efforts to engage our community are truly reciprocal and mutually beneficial.
Yes, that is how I would start the conversation; this is why we do what we do. And I would also want to share how we do what we do. In our case it is important to understand that we are a very young organization, having been around for just over six years. I would want the president to understand where we started, where we are now, and where we will be going — and how all of this fits with his vision. I would want to share with the president that I am very proud that JMU has been given the Carnegie Classification of a Community Engaged Institution, and how this designation fits with our activities.
What I’ve saved for last is the most important piece of our success, and that is introducing to the president the who: those people in our unit that make it happen. I am so proud of our staff, and I want the president to understand why I have such great pride in them and their accomplishments. I would turn it over to the experts (i.e. our staff) to give the president the highlights of their programs as well as specific items such as enrollments, revenue, and programming, and what their dreams are for their areas. I want the president to meet every staff member, because for our unit everyone must provide leadership on a daily basis for us to be successful. I would also mention the many partners across campus that contribute to our efforts, including academic colleges/departments and many support offices. I would also include our many partnerships with organizations and communities from off-campus; our work would not succeed without them.
I would include a tour of our facilities. (Let’s face it, I am not going to let an opportunity like this go by without some kind of ask; for us it is the last frontier: SPACE. You should see how many staff members we have in so little space.) But never the hard sell.
At the end, I would express my gratitude to the president for taking the time to include Outreach & Engagement on his listening tour; we see the fact that we’re included on his listening tour is an indication of his support. And I would offer our assistance to the president in reaching his vision.
While ninety minutes will go by in a flash, I do want the president to understand why we do what we do, how we do it, and the faces of those who work so hard to make it happen.