A 7 Hour Meeting on Sunday

A 7 Hour Meeting on Sunday
On Sunday, March 29, 2009 the Cabinet met for 7 hours with a facilitator to finalize our process plans in each of our 5 focus areas of change. It was a grueling marathon of a meeting, in part because of the ambiguous nature of the work we are trying to accomplish. There is a certain tension in an institution like HSU between too much centralized guidance and not enough. We’ve heard criticisms for both. As a result, we find ourselves left with the role of ‘planning to make plans’ or literally architecting a process for a process for implementing change. It sounds like a redundancy, but I didn’t write that sentence wrong. We now have 5 ‘focus area’ plans for how we will release the change process to the key constituents over the next semester or two.  There are public working meetings coming up that will be announced shortly. Things are moving. The movement feels slow to me, but is apparently quite fast for how messy leading change in an organization of this size and nature is.

A Grad-Student’s Perspective On Change in a University
The university president at my alma-matter in Southern California told me that his job was so difficult because the leading faculty was in his mind likened to being the caretaker of pure-bred horses. There is a balancing act between integrating them into the necessary systems and routines and yet treating them with the care and respect they deserve as the driving force in the organization.

Thus, with this change process, there are painstaking efforts to avoid planning all the changes and implementations ourselves- and rather to create a highly participatory (the buzzword the cabinet keeps using is ‘iterative’) process. On the other hand one of the criticisms found in recent consultants’ reports about HSU is that the governance and decision-making processes are too decentralized and distributed, making decision making unclear and cumbersome.

As an inexperienced grad student I think I lack the patience of the amazing Provost here. If left to me, I would probably just make a plan, implement it, and see who’s on board and who’s not- using ‘budget cuts’ to dissolve the squeaky wheels. But then that’s why I’m not right for that type of role. There are always these moments in our meetings when I can tell Bob is frustrated because he raises his voice (in a good way) and shares an idea with great conviction, but then settles back and says something along the lines of: “but we need to see what other folks think”, or “we need to vet that across the university”, or “I doubt the ________ (insert group name here) would go for that”.  He always seems to have strong opinions, but is also very humble and seems to assume things will require more process than just making the call himself. If you are a faculty member at HSU reading this, you’re pretty lucky the administrators (that I’ve seen on this cabinet) respect you as much as they do, because it makes their lives much more cumbersome than if they had the control over the institution that I imagine a k-12 administrator would have over theirs.

Forward Motion
All in all, I’m fairly optimistic about the change plans moving forward. There is a lot of work yet to be done, but there is also a ton already underway. As we review the different campus groups and initiatives already making great strides towards changes, we realize many interested parties have laid some great stepping-stones. We plan to build on and honor the work that has been done already- and coordinate those efforts for the next leg in this relay of change. The future looks bright.

Posted by Dan Davis at 01:43 PM
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