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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