Being witness to shared governance #highered

This past weekend the college hosted its annual fall meeting of the Board of Trustees, which reinforced to me how important—and unusual—shared governance is. Board meetings at Augustana involve dialogue, deep discussion and very careful consideration of input provided by representatives of all stakeholders. There is a respect among those who participate for the areas of expertise each brings.

This meeting was no different from most fall meetings as the board went about the typical business of approving fiscal matters, including the college’s budget and audit statements, but there were other items on the agenda that placed shared governance on full display. Among these items were discussions about curriculum revision, the proposed Center for Student Life, Greek life, and the implementation of the Net Price Calculator. I witnessed a curious and inquisitive board throughout.

What is even more impressive to me is the deference board members provide to members of the faculty and our students. There is nary a discussion that takes place, either in committee meetings or in the business meeting, in which members of the Board of Trustees do not ask directly for faculty or student input. This impresses me and demonstrates a willingness on the part of the board to ask; and on the part of the faculty and students to speak up. This is essential to effective shared governance and I am pleased to see it on display at Augustana College.

I also know that shared governance takes practice and a shared commitment, which is why I am so pleased that we’ve identified the practice of shared governance as one of the college’s strategic imperatives as part of Affirm, Assure, Assess.

The recent board meeting serves as a good reminder of the work we must do to fulfill our strategic direction, outlined below:


This strategic imperative will formalize the positive practices of effective communication and good shared governance, which in the past have enabled the college to successfully address significant challenges faced by higher education institutions. The recent national recession, for example, demonstrated the college leadership’s ability to nimbly respond to negative external pressures. The tactics outlined will incorporate the successful strategies employed during the economic crisis, particularly those which promoted greater awareness and involvement of all constituencies. Incorporating the identified tactics into the operational and strategic planning development process is intended to strengthen all campus stakeholders’ understanding of current college goals and issues related to good shared governance.

Augustana will strengthen its shared governance and open communication practices to ensure shared and timely decision-making in response to changes in external conditions impacting Augustana and higher education in general.

To accomplish this we will pursue the following strategic initiatives:

• Develop information resources to educate and communicate to the Augustana community on campus governance, policies and key initiatives, as well as provide opportunities for feedback

• Create and encourage opportunities for informal connections and social interaction to facilitate communication among constituencies

• Develop and promote clear and efficient, outcome-oriented “dashboards” of key indicators measuring the institution’s progress toward the identified goals of the college

• Create a presidential advisory committee or council responsible for advising the president on matters related to shared governance, and fostering open communications among all college constituencies in furtherance of good shared governance

Our goals include:

• Deepening the understanding of Augustana’s shared governance, committee structures and decision processes, as well as current initiatives

• Fostering an environment of collegiality among college constituencies by strengthening the sense of community and encouraging informal communication channels

• Communicating the college’s broader common goals, progress of these goals and the criteria used to measure progress to the college stakeholders

• Ensuring sustained accountability towards the assessment and reporting of initiatives related to progress in achieving our established institutional goals

• Supporting and developing faculty leadership for roles in shared governance and leadership

We will be successful when:

• We develop resources to assess and communicate high-impact goals of the college

• The college community and interested stakeholders are updated three times a year on progress toward achiev­ing the objectives of the strategic plan

• Stakeholders are periodically surveyed to measure awareness of strategic issues facing the college and governance

• Attendance and participation in governance increases

• The work and values of all stakeholders are properly aligned

This strategic imperative is critical to Augustana’s future and responds to the risk of leadership being unable to respond quickly and proactively to external conditions.

I believe our attention to shared governance and our recognition of its strategic importance is noteworthy within higher education.

What do you think about our practice of shared governance? What are your ideas for strengthening our practices of shared governance?

W. Kent Barnds

VP Enrollment, Communication and Planning

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Rating agencies and planning at Augustana College #highered

A few weeks ago President Bahls forwarded a report from Moody’s, which is one of the bond rating agencies that focuses on institutions of higher education. Moody’s periodically releases reports and offers opinions about the financial health of colleges and other sectors of higher education.

I find the reports fascinating, in part because they boil down complex issues to simply statements and observations. Additionally, they make judgments and offer proclamations that make us jump, even if we don’t agree completely. These reports matter and there is no getting around it.

The report President Bahls forwarded to me is from November 2010 and is titled, “Governance and Management: The Underpinning of University Credit Ratings.” As I reviewed the report I was reminded much of what we hope to emphasize in Affirm, Assure and Assess.

Moody’s cited the following five factors considered in rating assessment:

1.     Board and senior management leadership capability in stable and stressful times

2.     Oversight and disclosure processes that reduce risk and enhance operational effectiveness

3.     Execution of integrated short- and long-term plan to optimize resource utilization

4.     Commitment to self-assessment and benchmarking to promote ongoing improvement

5.     Effective management of government relations to encourage future support

While the fifth criterion is not as relevant for Augustana as an independent college, the other four areas are within our plan and should please Moody’s.

In particular, I think our emphasis on self-assessment and benchmarking through the development of the Institutional Effectiveness and Mission Fulfillment effort will not only reassure Moody’s, it likely will serve as an example to others. And, it will help us improve the experience for all of our students.

I think Moody’s and others also will be reassured by our emphasis on risk minimization throughout our planning process.

Finally, I think Moody’s would be impressed by our emphasis and acknowledgement of good shared governance as an essential element to institutional health.

I hope you will read the Moody’s report I reference and consider it within the context of Affirm, Assure and Assess. My hope is that you will share my confidence that we focused on the right things in our plan.

Please share your thoughts on the Moody’s report and how it relates to Affirm, Assure and Assess.

W. Kent Barnds, Vice President of Enrollment, Communication and Planning

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Measuring what we do, not what we have. #highered

Among the forward-thinking aspects of Affirm, Assure, Assess, Augustana’s new strategic plan, is the effort to shift our thinking from measuring what we have (i.e. student-to-faculty ratio, endowment per student, US News ranking, etc.) to what we do.  In our particular case, the president charged the Strategic Planning Task Force with developing an “outcome-oriented dashboard of indicators.”

This outcome-oriented dashboard was meant to supplement an input-oriented dashboard of indicators that has guided decision-making for the last decade. You may view Augustana’s dashboard here Augie dashboard. While it is a useful tool and does measure key performance metrics, it does little to actually measure what it is we do and seek to do at Augustana College.

With each of the eight strategic imperatives, President Bahls asked that we not only reach our goals within three to five years, but also measure success against those goals over time. Doing so will require a new measurement tool, which—unlike the current dashboard that lists inputs and their values—will measure “outputs” and outcomes, or real results. To assess our institutional effectiveness in this way, individuals and groups across campus all will have a role in measuring and contributing results.

For example, greater diversity among our employee base and student body would be evidenced by greater percentages of students indicating extent of serious conversations with people of differing race, ethnicity or values/beliefs on campus, as well as greater percentages of contact among students of different backgrounds (both in the National Survey of Student Engagement). To ensure the experiences that lead to such percentage growth, we would request evidence of actions at several levels across campus.

Three of those levels—to continue the example—would be academic affairs, academic departments and department faculty.

Faculty responsibilities would include, among others, participating in the admissions recruitment process and articulating how their courses fit into department goals and outcomes. Likewise, their department would be responsible for ensuring ongoing discussion of the department’s roles in relation to the broader college mission, and mentoring new faculty. Finally, academic affairs would review the outcomes of more intentional recruiting, teaching and mentoring to attain greater diversity through yearly department assessment reports—and then systematically gather and report this data for the national surveys.

Information gathered and assessed through our new measurement tool will be shared with all college stakeholders and the public through an annual report on Institutional Effectiveness and Mission Fulfillment. This annual reporting represents a new path for the college by aligning strategy and expectations in a new way. It also demonstrates a commitment to transparency and accountability seldom seen in higher education.

I think this is likely to be the most transformative part of the plan once people fully comprehend what we are trying to do and measure.

Working with Mark Salisbury, director of institutional research and assessment, we have inventoried our outputs, which you can review  here Effectiveness measures (mark s). As you will see, there are several areas we believe important to assess but for which we currently do not have measures. We will need to develop these in the coming months to ensure we are able to offer a clear assessment of Augustana’s effectiveness.

What do you think about the move from measuring what we have to what we do?

W. Kent Barnds

VP Enrollment, Communication and Planning


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More on why strategic planning fails in higher education and how Affirm, Assure and Assess is different.

Recently, I read another opinion piece, “Why Strategic Planning Fails,” describing why strategic planning in higher education fails.

This time the author, Jerry Bishop, suggests on his blog The Higher Ed CIO, that most planning in higher education fails or is not optional because it:

  • Is based on history
  • Is lacking meaningful data or forward-looking insights
  • Is diluted by consensus or perhaps it is consensus by dilution
  • Is intentionally ambiguous and fuzzy
  • Is lacking an accountability mechanism
  • Is just bad
I agree with the author’s assertions about what one typically sees in higher education strategic planning and his conclusions.
However, I continue to believe Affirm, Assure and Assess bucks the trend in higher education strategic planning.
  • Our plan is not based on history, but uses history as a way to ground our vision.
  • Our plan is based on data and as one stakeholder described “our reality, as sober as it might be.”
  • Our plan responds to the future in a thoughtful way to minimize what we see as vulnerabilities that could, or will impact us if we don’t act.
  • While the plan was built through consensus, it is not diluted by it. In fact, our plan intentionally forced choices among the many things put into “the hopper.”
  • Our plan is clear and each strategic imperative outlines with specificity what it will take for us to be successful.
  • Our plan includes accountability measures and the emerging “dashboard of Institutional Effectiveness” will change the way we describe our success.
Our plan is different and has the potential to buck the trend and serve as a new successful model for effective strategic planning in higher education.
W. Kent Barnds
Vice President of Enrollment, Communication and Planning
***In a forthcoming post I will outline the areas we seek to assess in the Institutional Effectiveness”dashboard.”

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What risks were considered?

Following my brief update to the faculty during the Faculty Retreat I was asked what risks were considered and how did we come up with the eight risks identified in Affirm, Assure and Assess?

I thought it might be helpful to provide a little background on risk.

2008-09 and Enterprise Risk Management Assessment

Augustana’s assessment of risk and vulnerability goes back to 2008-2009 when President Bahls was challenged by Doug Hultquist, who was then chairman of the Board of Trustees, to develop “an enterprise risk management assessment.” While this kind of risk identification is commonplace in the corporate world, it was new to Augustana College.

In typical fashion President Bahls responded to the board chair’s challenge and produced a very thoughtful analysis of the most significant risks Augustana faced.

At the annual board retreat in January 2009, the president and senior leadership team presented a summary of the ten most important issues facing the college, as well as steps being taken to address those issues:

  1. Inability to maintain enrollment
  2. Inability to adjust to stock market and high levels of debt
  3. Breakdown of “high-cost/high-discount” business model
  4. Loss of reputation
  5. Breakdown of trust between board, administration, faculty and staff
  6. Neighborhood concerns
  7. Change in federal or state financial aid policies
  8. Failure to address deferred maintenance
  9. Natural or manmade disasters
  10. Inept management or complacency of the board, administration or faculty

So, the idea of risk and assessing vulnerabilities is not new to the college, but members of the Strategic Planning Task Force believed it was prudent to revisit the risks identified in 2009 to determine if any or all were still relevant.

Re-Reviewing Augustana’s Risks

This re-review of the risks facing Augustana College was the foundation for the plan we developed.

Early in the planning process, The Strategic Planning Task Force reevaluated the risks identified in 2009 and asked whether or not each risk was still relevant. The group then went a step beyond, and asked whether or not the college had “any control” over the identified risk.

This question was critical because it demonstrated that the Strategic Planning Task Force understood right away that our plan must focus on those things we can control.

Grading Augustana’s Risk

To help the  The Strategic Planning Task Force set the college’s strategic direction and focus on vulnerabilities over which we have some control, the risks were grouped in the following way.

Risks facing all of higher education and those colleges in our sector  over which we have little control:

  • Natural or man-made disaster
  • Loss of state and federal aid
  • Endowment losses and market volatility
  • General attack on higher education
  • Lack of meaningful measurement of core learning outcomes
  • Sustainability of the liberal arts model

Risks facing all in higher education and which we can minimize through strategic focus, planning and programming:

  • Difficult job and graduate school market
  • Calls for accountability and demonstration of effectiveness and outcomes
  • Inability to advance reputation
  • Inability to respond swiftly to the market or a crisis
  • Changing demographics in employee base and student body
  • Breakdown in the high-cost/high-discount model

Risks facing Augustana that we must minimize through strategic focus, planning and programming:

  • Physical plant
  • Neighborhood
  • Tuition dependence

This exercise helped the Strategic Planning Task Force narrow its focus and develop those risks that most deserve our strategic focus.

A Contemporary and Realistic View of the Risks Augustana Faces

Although our list of ten quickly grew to 15, we were able to ultimately settle on eight contemporary risks, with the understanding that 1) each area is something over which we have control, and 2) the inability to address each could have a significant impact on the college.

  1. Inability to maintain full-time, on-campus enrollment of 2,500 students from diverse backgrounds without significantly increasing the tuition discount rate
  2. Inability to maintain and develop the necessary financial resources to deliver our mission/program
  3. Inability to prepare our graduates to stand out to employers and graduate schools
  4. Inability to demonstrate the college’s value, advance our reputation and earn positive recognition
  5. Inability to successfully recruit, motivate, diversify and develop our human resource base
  6. Inability to address issues related to our physical plant, including technology infrastructure and deferred maintenance, in a timely manner
  7. Inability to respond to adverse changes to our neighborhood and/or broader community
  8. Inability to respond quickly and proactively to external conditions

In agreeing on these risks, we clearly delineated the boundaries of our risk profile—those things that uniquely or independently impact our college and those things that others also may face, but to which we are committed to being better than anyone else. We had a strategic direction that mattered.

W. Kent Barnds

Vice President of Enrollment, Communication and Planning

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A great mission and vision and new questions to guide our work ahead.

At the campus-wide convocation held on August 15 President Bahls highlighted a number of things about Affirm, Assure and Assess that are worth noting and emphasizing repeatedly.

President Bahls reminded us that our plan calls for us to be true to our mission and values.

He reviewed the following, which make Augustana the special place it is.

Fulfilling our Mission & Vision

Affirm, Assure and Assess emphasizes the values that guide what we do and what we seek in our community today and tomorrow, including a commitment to:

  • Remain accountable to our students and our mission
  • Ensure a student-centered approach and culture
  • Foster critical thinking, creativity and an active life of the mind
  • Encourage both intellectual and spiritual development
  • Embrace diversity, civility, integrity and respect for others
  • Respect academic freedom and traditions of academic governance
  • Cherish academic excellence
  • Act collaboratively within the college while seeking partnership with the community
Isn’t worth taking time to remind ourselves of the values often?
President Bahls also posed several questions for each of us to ask of ourselves and others on campus. He offered a question for each of our eight strategic areas and challenged us to consider these questions in our daily work.

Questions to guide our work and conversations

• How does what we’re doing help prepare students to stand out, and how can we prove it? What experiences can we introduce that will further enable our students to stand out?

• Are we continually revisiting recruitment, admission and retention strategies to ensure we are as innovative and effective as possible? Which new ideas are the best ideas and will they help Augustana become a more diverse institution?

• Is our workforce diverse enough and organized and distributed appropriately to deliver on our mission? How can we be sure?

• Are we actively participating in shared governance and are we communicating with all affected constituencies about important matters?

• Are we working to improve our surroundings and community? What might we do better?

• Are we acting as good stewards of the college’s resources? How do we reallocate resources when new expenditures are required?

• How are we advancing Augustana’s reputation? How can we prove it?

As you review Affirm, Assure and Assess are there other questions that should accompany those identified by the president? If you think of any please be sure to let me know.


Kent Barnds

VP Enrollment, Communication and Planning

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Can a strategic plan have a brand?

I am not really crazy about the word brand and its use in higher education, but I thought including it in a blog post might get some people to tune in.

It’s hard for me to imagine that a strategic plan can be branded in the same what Fruit of Loom or Tide is branded, but I do think it is possible to identify a few distinguishing characteristic of Affirm, Assure and Assess that make our plan stand out in higher ed and position us well to implement the plan.

The following statements represent the values and value of Affirm, Assure and Assess and probably comes as close to a brand as anything might:

•  It responds thoughtfully but very directly to identified contemporary risks to the college  (RESPONDS TO REAL RISKS)

•  Furthermore, it includes methodology for measuring our responses to those risks across all levels of the college  (MEASURES OUR RESPONSES)

•  It drew upon the input of a vast cross-section of the college’s constituencies throughout its development, and will continue to rely upon that broad commitment throughout the execution of strategic goals (INCLUSIVE)

•  The plan will focus our attention and align our work for the next three to five years as we work to strengthen the college’s human resources, improve our physical plant and neighborhood and implement programming curriculum, experiences and teaching that prepare our students to stand out (ALIGNS OUR WORK)

Again, I don’t know if this is worthy of a so called “brand,” but I sure do like the values and value described above. Don’t you, too?


W. Kent Barnds

VP Enrollment, Communication and Planning

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Strategic plans have their critics…that’s for certain.

Over the summer an op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Benjamin Ginsberg, titled “The Strategic Plan: Neither Strategy Nor Plan, but a Waste of Time” got me me worried about our Affirm, Assure and Assess (all you need to do is read the article to understand why).

In a nutshell, Ginsberg maintains that strategic plans are worthless and he offers plenty of reasons why–some of which are pretty valid. Judging by the 84 comments his editorial received, the piece clearly struck a nerve with many.

While many of those who commented agree with Ginsberg’s assertions, I found comfort in libartphil who posted the following:

“Although I enjoyed the snarkiness of the excerpt, as a critique of planning I don’t see much of value aside from the point about cooptation. One thing that seems to have changed for a lot of institutions in the last 40 years or so is vulnerability. Vulnerability increases the likelihood of crisis management, and this is when, to my mind, the real harm is done to institutions and faculty. Planning at least promises an alternative. Planning suggests that we can publicly discuss where we ought to be headed. Crisis-management silences all discussion. If I have to choose, I’d rather plan for the future than let caprice and external circumstances determine our direction. We won’t always achieve everything in a plan, and some of it will be rendered moot by circumstances. But, making it up as you go along shouldn’t seem like a viable alternative for anyone with the slightest sense of how precarious much of higher education is in this country. But then it is funny to make fun of administrators, they’re silly. :)”

I especially like that libartphil knows that administrators are silly!

On a more serious note, though, linartphil emphasizes the idea that vulnerability presents a reasonable and valuable context for strategic planning in higher education. This is an important point and one that was not lost on me since vulnerability, or as we called it risk, provided the foundation for Affirm, Assure and Assess. 

Our plan is different because it responds directly to the risks/vulnerabilities Augustana College faces today. Each of the eight strategic imperatives that shape our plan responds to real risks for our community.

Affirm, Assure and Assess provides us with opportunities to focus our attention and implement strategies that will minimize our risks and in some cases eliminate the risk altogether. Through the development of this plan and its adoption in May, we’ve taken an important step forward in controlling those things which we can control.

Our emphasis of minimizing risk and measuring our results represents different thinking in the higher education community and I think even Ginsberg (if you read his thoughts carefully) might think so, too.


W. Kent Barnds

VP Enrollment, Communication & Planning

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Affirm, Assure and Assess: What now? How about a blog?

In an effort to maintain an ongoing narrative and discussion of the implementation of “the addendum” to Authentically Augustana, I have committed to maintain a blog to keep our community and other interested parties up-to-date on our progress. For me, this is unfamiliar territory and I hope not to fly completely solo throughout this effort.

It’s my most sincere hope to be joined by those of you who have questions, comments, observations and other things to add to our process. I will do my best to answer questions, clarify direction and keep the entire community apprised of our progress and results with as much frequency as possible.

Successful implementation of Affirm, Assure and Assess is dependent upon our community–faculty members, staff, administration, Board members, alumni and friends all doing their part, which includes participating in the blogging effort by sharing thoughts, asking questions, and making suggestions.


W. Kent Barnds

VP Enrollment, Communication and Planning




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