Faculty Convocation, Fall 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011
Dr. Joyce F. Brown

Speaking of the strategic plan—which I love to do—over the summer, we prepared a brochure—which you will find on one of our back tables—that charts our progress over these past seven years in implementing its key goals. You will not be surprised to see that we have made considerable strides: after all, you're the ones who have been doing all the work. You will also not be surprised to see some of the unexpected detours or directions we have taken—the elevation of sustainability, for instance, into our college-wide goals and diversity. The new emphasis on future faculty competencies. But the plan is actually a first answer to the question: What does it mean for an institution of higher education to evolve by design? That question comes from the plan itself—and it highlights our fundamental understanding that a strategic plan can only thrive if it is organic, subject to change, to examination—and to the challenges of time.

We have been using various measures and procedures to track its progress. One of its five goals, as you recall, was to establish a process for administrative support. On that score, we have accomplished quite a bit. The work itself, which sometimes takes place below the community-wide radar, is not flashy, not sexy, and not always great fun—as those of you involved with Resource 25 well know. But we have established important new tools: automated systems that affect all kinds of institutional transactions, such as space usage and applicant tracking; we now have a quality assurance review program that includes all administrative departments, and we have instituted a job vacancy review process to ensure that any positions we fill align with the goals of the strategic plan.

In a parallel effort, we have an assessment process that evaluates the colleges overall effectiveness in achieving its mission and goals and its compliance with accreditation standards—in both its academic and administrative departments. As I observed all of this activity these past few years, including, of course, our NASAD and Middle States work, I decided it was time to centralize all of our assessment activities in order to build a comprehensive institutional program that supports our growing needs and challenges. To that end, I created a new unit that will focus entirely on institutional effectiveness and planning. It will be staffed by Frances Dearing, who has been steeped in academic assessment activities since she arrived, and, as I mentioned earlier, now holds the new title of associate dean for institutional effectiveness. Griselda Gonzalez, our affirmative action officer, will also take on some of the duties relating to compliance and procedures. And David Rankert, our institutional auditor, will be part of the group. They will all report to my office.

One of our accomplishments in this context was the development of a kind of report card—a new tool that will supplement the work we are already doing to monitor our progress on the strategic plan. The report card consists of quantitative metrics that will tell us—in a very exacting way—how we know whether—or to what degree—we are actually achieving our strategic goals.

For instance, if we were to ask how we know if we are strengthening our academic core, we might look at whether graduation rates for AAS or transfer students are improving might look at the number of minors we offeror the percentage of courses taught by full-time faculty. Student satisfaction scores from state and national surveys will tell us, among other measures, how well we are doing on student-centeredness. The report card—which will provide relevant data to us and to our external constituents—will also help us determine where and how to focus specific initiatives to fulfill our goals.

All of these new tools, indeed, all of these efforts, are part of our own growing culture of accountability. Now—accountability is a funny word. It signifies different things to different people. For some, it suggests mind-numbing statistics, charts metrics and those proverbial number-crunchers who always see the trees, but not the forests . For others, it recalls the debates raging throughout the country about programs like No Child Left Behind. So I can understand why this talk about accountability either puts you on edge—or puts you to sleep. But for me, accountability brings to mind Harry Truman and the great slogan he kept on his White House desk: The buck stops here. That is as bold and refreshing a statement of accountability as I can imagine. Because the fact is that we are, and should be, proudly accountable—primarily to our students and to ourselves—but also to all of the outside auditors and agencies whose mandates help us maintain our own high standards. And the metrics and the charts, the statistics, and the damn statistics do nothing more than hold us to those standards.

In fact, the daily test for every one of us should simply be: did we do what we said we would do as well as we could? This is a standard that a prominent and very successful British businessman from another era imposed on his employees. Competence, he said, is the ethical content of work. As a businessman, he reveled in statistics and auditors and all of the rest of the so-called business trappings because these yardsticks helped him and his company do what he called—almost reverently—good work. Not the Lady Bountiful kind of good work but the kind of salary-producing work that brings us to FIT every day. Like Freud, like me, he believed in work and love, love and work. Good work, he said, is glory: it builds, it feeds our body and soul, it fuels civilization, it makes us matter.

That is what we do here together at FIT—work that builds and fuels civilization. Good work. And that is why I am always so pleased matter what is happening outside our doors—to return for another academic year and witness the many ways in which our shared sense of accountability provides opportunity to our eager, talented students to do their own good work and to matter. It is in that spirit that I thank you and welcome you back once again. (Thank you.)

But before I turn you back to Jack, I want you to see something very special. Our offices of enrollment management and student success and external relations and communications have been working on a new series of videos that will be used by our admissions officers in their recruitment activity. They are each focused on a different aspect of or message about FIT. However, the one you're about to see—in this exclusive sneak preview—is more of an overview. Its called Meet FIT...and I cannot think of anything that more effectively speaks to the glory of our work here at FIT.