Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Academic Affairs Structure Review

The President’s Think Tank recently encouraged me to write a post with an update on the status of reorganization considerations in the Academic Affairs area. I asked our VP for Learning and Academic Affairs, Dr. Maryrose Eannace, for a sense of where she is in leading the process. Dr. Eannace subsequently provided me with the following, that I think serves as a wonderful perspective on process as well as spirit – I rightly have left it in tact for your review.
A Guest Blog by Dr. Maryrose Eannace

How do we go about re-organizing the Academic Affairs Unit? With the collaborative and creative input of involved community members! With courage, positive anticipation, maybe a frisson of fear and a dose of caution. Alice Walker, in a commencement address to the graduates of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco (May 2002), shared the following Hopi exhortation:

We have been telling the people that this is the
Eleventh Hour
Now we must go back and tell the people this is the

And there are things to be considered:

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.

Create your community.
Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.

The Elders say we must let go of the shore, and
push off and into the river, keep our eyes open, and
our head above the water.

See who is in there with you and Celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves.

For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth
and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.

Gather yourselves!

Banish the word “struggle” from your attitude and
your vocabulary.

All that you do now must be done in a sacred manner
And in celebration.
“We are the ones we have been waiting for…”

--The Elders, Hopi Nation, Oraibi, Arizona
As quoted in Walker’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, New Press 2006.

For the past four months, I have been gathering thoughts, ideas and opinions about effective and exciting potential structures for our Academic Unit from members of our college community, colleagues in the SUNY community college network and many others. A small design group has been busy researching and constructing models of what might work for us. The timeline is pressing, driven by strategic indicators (our vision) and an ever challenging budget (our current realities).

This month and next, I will be holding conversation forums with unit faculty and staff. All interested community members are welcome. The first conversation is scheduled for Monday, November 24th from 12:30-2:00 in IT225 and the second is slated for Thursday, December 4th from 2:30-4:00 at PH300. I am also happy to meet with individuals and groups at other times. The goal during this stage is to generate lists of possibilities that we can craft into workable, effective models for richer academic engagement and strategic goal fulfillment.

In January 2009, we will examine a proposed re-organization model for the Academic Affairs unit, with an expectation of feedback and refinement. By early February, we will be putting budget numbers to the model, with anticipated adjustments based on budget dictates. By March, I would expect to take the proposal to the President’s Cabinet. If all goes well, the Board of Trustees should have the final proposal in hand for their review by April. By May, we should start planning for transition.

Phew! It feels something like a gallop! But I’m inspired by Margaret Wheatley’s exhortations, in her Leadership and the New Science, concerning change and restructuring. She encourages us to “analyze wholeness,” recognizing how change will affect the whole and she suggests that “If we can’t analyze wholeness, how then do we learn to know it?”(140). I delight in her suggestion that appreciating system dynamics and individuals is a “dance of discovery” (143).

As we move forward together, in our ever-changing, ever-responsive college community, I invite you to think about replacing “struggle” with “celebration.” I invite your creativity, your “huzzah moments” (which I define as bigger than an “aha moment” and closer to an epiphany—but less overworked.) I also respectfully suggest that we honor the history that brought us to this strong place of potential and change—and that we not let that history tether us to the banks. “The river has its destination.” We are on our journey together—with our eyes open, our head above water—in celebration of the journey and the destination.

If you have any thoughts on her commentary, you can contact Dr. Eannace at meannace@mvcc.edu.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Student Success & Community Involvement

A colleague of mine recently asked me about my blog - "how do you ever find enough to write about every week?” Sometimes it comes from just experiencing all MVCC has to offer. In the past few weeks, I've seen how our mission of promoting student success and community involvement through a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service takes shape beyond our classes.

Cultural Series
I had the opportunity to attend the fall musical, Fantasticks. The hard work of the faculty and students was clear to see in such wonderful performances after just a few weeks of the semester. Last week, I had a chance to join some criminal justice students and faculty to meet New York Times and syndicated writer Randy Cohen prior to his lecture at the Utica Campus. I'm looking forward to meeting Jean Kilbourne when she visits the College this Friday. All of the Cultural Series events are open to the public, many are free while some performances have a small admission fee (usually around $5) and provide our students with outstanding experiences. For more information, visit http://www.mvcc.edu/culture.

Athletic Success
At MVCC, student success and learning happens outside of class in meaningful ways. In addition to the cultural series, our 20 athletic teams provide hundreds of athletes with tremendous learning opportunities. I recently watched our men's and women's cross country track teams qualify for the national competition. Being that this was the first cross country meet I'd ever attended, I was fortunate to have the full experience. I was told that it was a perfect, standard day for a cross country meet in New York - persistent rain, a chilling breeze and about 52 degrees. That didn't stop our teams from qualifying and going on to have the women's team take the national championship and the men's team place second. This past weekend, I watched the men's and women's basketball championship games in the 8th annual Torcia Classic. Both of our teams lost solid leads in the second half, only to learn what it means to never give up and pull together for dramatic victories in both games. In addition to the success they experience in competitions like these, our student athletes are committed to community involvement through volunteering for different fundraisers and participation in community events.

Smarter than a Fifth Grader
A great example of promoting student success and community involvement was the recent “Smarter than a Fifth Grader” competition. WUTR organized the event and MVCC was the presenting partner. Nine finalists along with their adult teammates competed in the 2nd annual event. The questions ranged from geometry to geography, with U.S. presidential trivia and a few Nickelodeon fifth grade pop culture questions mixed in. I confess that several of the questions sometimes gave one pause as to whether or not you actually were smarter than a fifth grader. All of the finalists received laptop computers, an MVCC backpack/carrying case and the winner won a large flat screen television and a two-year full tuition scholarship to MVCC. By the time that scholarship comes due in 2016, I can only imagine all of the ways in which our significant mission will come to life beyond the great things we see today.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Empowerment and Action

I firmly believe that individuals achieve their greatest successes when they become part of something larger than themselves. I also believe that we achieve our best when we succeed as a community. Community, no matter how you define it (global, national, city, neighborhood, campus), can only succeed if those involved are committed and empowered. Certainly our country’s most recent national elections prove that point.

As I sat in the Commons of the Academic Building earlier this week, trying to encourage others to participate in our mock presidential election, I enjoyed my interaction with students. I also enjoyed the social experiment element, in terms of gaining a window on what motivates people to participate. What are the intellectual and emotional processes that drive individuals to turn toward an unknown direction or untested proposal? Why do some people want to engage in and learn more about new ideas, while others act like they don't hear or see the call to gain their attention? Reflecting on an historic presidential election - the first in fifty years without an incumbent President or Vice President on either ticket - I think about those who chose not to vote; not to engage; not to participate. While tens of millions of Americans fulfilled their obligation to vote last Tuesday, millions of others stayed home.

What is the price that comes from choosing to sit idly while afforded opportunity passes by?

I've been thinking about that question a lot lately, both in terms of the election and in terms of how our faculty and staff engage in the life of the College. If opportunities offered faculty and staff are not engaged, how is the institution’s direction affected? When does the accumulation of missed opportunities lead to institutional stagnation or, worse, willing complacency?

The American Heritage Dictionary definition of empowerment is, "to equip or supply with an ability; to enable." If people don't believe they are empowered, feel empowered or act empowered, how do they move forward? What advantage is there to providing opportunity for engagement if those involved are unable or unwilling to trust the validity of the offer?

Because our mission is so critically important to individual students and our greater community, success or crisis on campus is – or should be - a shared commodity. The triumph or failure of one department should prompt the pride or concern of all. We should all be proud then when, each year, hundreds of smiling associate degree and certificate holders cross our commencement stage on their way to achieving their life goals. In the same breath, we should all be concerned when one student fails to thrive!

As an institution dedicated to the realization of human potential, our sense of connection comes only when we engage in things beyond the j-o-b. This type of engagement comes only through individual empowerment. I recognize that the primary condition that allows individuals, offices, and departments to feel and act empowered is multi-level leadership that understands how to support opportunities that enable. It also requires balance, dialogue, teamwork, and...oh, I almost forgot...time.

I believe MVCC stands at a point of demarcation - a point at which a cultural shift has the opportunity to occur. For that to happen, we all need to nurture it every day we come to work, through actively empowered engagement! I'd appreciate your thoughts on empowerment and the journey ahead. Share your thoughts with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.