One of the first steps in a process that could significantly alter the institutional direction of Macalester up to twelve years from now occurred this week.
Last Thursday’s listening and feedback session in the Weyerhaeuser Boardroom marked another important milestone in the strategic planning process put in motion by President Brian Rosenberg and the planning committee earlier this year. The session was designed as an open forum for students, faculty and staff to share ideas, comments and suggestions related to governance of the college.
The strategic planning committee, which consists of twelve administrators, eight faculty members and two students, was formed earlier this year to develop a strategic plan for Macalester’s future over the course of three semesters. The plan, which is intended to address the creation of a sustainable economic model for the college, will create institutional policy recommendations for the decade between 2015 and 2025.
“The Board [of Trustees] emerged from their [strategic planning] retreat with a number of questions that it posed to the on-campus community, in hope that we would address them in a strategic planning process,” President Rosenberg said in his initial remarks to attendees at the event. “And one set of those related to governance: ‘How can we best ensure that the governance of the college is thoughtful, accountable and adaptive? And what governance structures and processes will allow us to make bold decisions and difficult choices?’”
The purpose of governance
Over the next hour, various faculty, staff and students addressed the committee on a variety of governance topics, mostly focusing on access to information about the college. Attendees also focused on the benefits and disadvantages of different decision-making structures and committees available to faculty, such as EPAG (Educational Policy and Governance). President Rosenberg was the only member of the committee who directly responded to questions asked by attendees.
Professor Dan Hornbach of the biology department was the first attendee to address the committee by asking why governance was emphasized over other large issues currently facing the college, like concerns over budget cuts and current economic anxieties.
“I guess I was surprised to see governance as a component of questions that needed to be addressed in this strategic plan,” he said. “Do[es the Board of Trustees] see a problem that they think needs to be fixed?”
Rosenberg’s response focused on the importance of process for guiding all decisions and concerns.
“It’s my own belief that unless we get the processes right by which we make decisions it’s hard to make good decisions about any of the subsequent questions,” he said.
Some attendees emphasized “brave” decisions made by various faculty committees over the years, like the introduction of benefits for same-sex couples, while others lamented the amount of time committees took away from faculty’s core research and teaching responsibilities.
Danny Kaplan, a mathematics and computer science professor, identified the importance of distinguishing the interests of individual faculty and staff from the interests of the institution as a whole.
“I think that the committee, if it’s going to make a change in governance, has to put forward a cohesive vision without trying to balance the competing interests of people who would invest in the governance process more to protect their present stake,” he said.
A question of transparency
Paul Dosh, a professor in political science and Latin American Studies, was specifically interested in access to budgetary information on campus.
“I realized I don’t really have the tools or the information to fully participate …because the level of information I have about our budget and what things cost,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure there is a fair amount of information that is already available to me that I’m not accessing. But I’m also pretty sure there’s a fair amount of budgetary information that for both good reasons or perhaps because of routines is not available to me.”
Josie Ahrens ’14 echoed Dosh’s concerns.
“I guess I wanted to touch on a couple of things that have been said around issues of accountability and transparency,” she said. “Professor Dosh laid that out well that faculty have a hard time learning some of the ins and outs of how the college works, and I think that students have an even harder time knowing how decisions are made on campus and whether or not students can have input on some of those really important decisions.”
President Rosenberg responded to accessibility concerns by comparing Macalester’s transparency relative to other educational institutions.
“In my experience Macalester is among the most transparent institutions in existence,” he said. “If you can find another college where the CFO [Chief Financial Officer] makes the exact same budget presentation to the faculty, student government, to the community as a whole and then to the Board of Trustees, let me know because I haven’t found it.”
In response to an attendee question about the end goal of the strategic planning process, Rosenberg emphasized the importance of thorough and innovative community input.
“Most college strategic plans are bad, and are usually one of two things. [They are] either so general that it could be applicable to virtually every institution of a similar kind, or they don’t distinguish between the strategic and the routine,” he said. “So the real challenge for us is to do something beyond that …Clearly the ultimate plan is going to have to be some form of compromise between the boldest ideas we can come up with and the ideas that we think can get broad community support.”
KWOC asks for deadline
As session attendees exited the Weyerhaeuser Boardroom, they were met by twenty members and supporters of KWOC (Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus), a student organization pressuring Macalester’s administration to end its purchasing card contract with Wells Fargo.
The group, which is particularly critical of the bank’s home mortgage and lending practices in the Twin Cities, included one student dressed up as the school’s mascot, Mac the Scot. Three others held a large-scale reproduction of a Wells Fargo P-Card, a common credit card used by departments and organizations on campus to make purchases. Two students hoisted a sign over the exit to the room reading “Four Pillars Not Foreclosures,” referring to the four core values of the college: academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement.
Faculty and staff appeared surprised to see the group of KWOC supporters, who cheered as people continued on their way out of the building. When President Rosenberg walked by Celeste Robinson ’16, a member of the group, she verbally expressed KWOC’s concern with Macalester’s banking policies and asked him to sign a form committing to ending the school’s relationship with Wells Fargo by April 18th. After Rosenberg declined to sign the form, Robinson repeated KWOC’s deadline request before he left the room.
“I don’t think everyone’s voice has been heard yet”
Four students were in attendance at the feedback session, none of whom were the two representatives on the planning committee itself. Mollie Siebert ’14 expressed disappointment in the turnout and hope that more members of the student body would demonstrate interest in the strategic planning process.
“I was disappointed by the lack of diversity (four students, and basically the rest were faculty),” she wrote in an email. “I don’t know if it was because students either didn’t realize they were invited (and encouraged!) to come, or if they felt unwelcome, but it would have been a great opportunity to open the discussion up to more voices.”
Siebert also expressed concern over the governance discussion in particular.
“Many people seem to agree on a lot of fronts, which is great news because these are big issues that need everyone’s input and enthusiasm, but I don’t think everyone’s voice has been heard yet,” she wrote. “Moving forward I hope more students and staff feel like it is their responsibility to engage in dialogue and offer their presence at these sessions for completely selfish reasons —so that their college can better serve them.”
Students who have questions about the strategic planning process can submit suggestions on an input form available on the President’s office website. There will also be additional feedback sessions over the next year and a half for faculty, staff and students to address the committee with any additional questions and concerns.