November 2, 2021
The FAS Study Group has its roots in our response to March 10, 2020, the day we announced the transition to virtual instruction and remote work. There was so much we didn’t know at that time, but one thing was certain – everything about our teaching and research was about to change, radically. And we had a range of fundamental questions to answer about how to pursue our mission in these new and challenging circumstances.
To respond to this very hard problem – we mounted a broad planning process involving more than 100 members of the faculty and senior administrators. Through the 11 working groups, the FAS Scenario Planning Process allowed us to look across a wide range of activities, grapple with every dimension of operating during a pandemic, and work quickly to frame out the range of options available. This effort was extraordinarily successful – it set the foundation for how we have responded to the pandemic. But while the Scenario Planning Process delivered what we needed most at that moment, it also raised some important questions about our operations and our readiness for the future; questions we didn’t have answers to.
It’s these questions that motivated me to create the FAS Study Group, and to ask this group to spend a year thinking about financial sustainability, organizational flexibility, institutional resilience—all in the context of our commitment to academic excellence, across the full disciplinary breadth of the FAS. The study represents a different way of working—a bit of an experiment, though one informed by the earlier success of our FAS Scenario Planning Process. We brought colleagues together from across departments and areas and gave them room and agency to tackle a hard problem and follow the conversation wherever it took them.
The resulting report provides a glimpse of what we could be as an academic community—a place that makes connection and collaboration easy, that is nimble in acting on emerging academic priorities, that makes the most of our deep strength in the disciplines and positions us to successfully compete for the very best faculty and students in emerging fields. A place where we can say “yes” to big ideas.
What began as an experiment is a model that I’m eager to scale up. There are some recommendations we can act on now, particularly in how we understand our long-term financial condition. There are three actions in particular that I will take in response to those recommendations:
- We will adopt the new economic budgeting model the study group developed, which fundamentally changes the way we understand our financial health and opens up the possibility of setting strategy and making policy decisions with the benefit of a long-term view.
- I also will create a new position that will work directly with units to help them increase their access to and use of restricted funds that are now underutilized.
- And we will pilot a new space planning model to bring transparency and consistency to how we manage our space and make tradeoffs against it. This is particularly important as we are experimenting with new configurations as part of “future of work” planning.
There are other areas where the Study Group has provided us with a running start. They identified several areas that are rich with opportunity for innovation, but now we need to deepen our understanding of local experience, priorities, and context, and we can only achieve that through broad-based engagement.
Those areas are 1) graduate education, 2) faculty support and development, and 3) our academic communities (our centers and departments). These are the programs, practices, structures at the heart of our academic mission, that most directly touch the lives of our faculty, and they are fundamentally interconnected. The study’s findings and recommendations on these topics provide a strong foundation for further engagement, and through a three-year process launching in November 2021, we will extend this work and bring these important questions to the full faculty.
The first year will begin with small group conversations among the faculty to share ideas, perspectives on the academic vision for the FAS. The FAS academic vision that emerges from these conversations among colleagues will be shared with the faculty early in the spring. We will also set about deepening our understanding in the three areas of graduate education, faculty support and development, and academic communities. While each of these efforts will unfold in their own way, there will be some common attributes and activities: Each will engage in data gathering and will convene working groups to drill down on particular topics. There will be ongoing engagement with Faculty Council, department chairs, DGS’s and other faculty groups. And the output of this work will be to define a set of pilot projects for us to undertake next year.
The second year will be dedicated to piloting activities and to assessing the impact and effectiveness of these pilots. And then, after two years of concerted strategic planning, we will convene the faculty for a full-day retreat in June 2023: It will be a time of celebration and recognition of the first phases, but also an opportunity to integrate across the various streams of work, review what we have learned, make adjustments, and come to a shared understanding of the change that is happening and will happen.
The third year is dedicated to implementation of the change we will have designed together.
This process will demand imagination, creativity, and hope—the belief that we can be an even better version of ourselves and can unlock possibility and opportunity across our faculty. It is an opportunity for large-scale collaboration to define how we as an academic community should operate for the 21st century, and I’m excited to get started.