At the conclusion of the fall term, the first phase of strategic planning wrapped up for our departments and schools in the College of Arts & Letters. Next, we move to a meta-analysis of the unit strategic plans, specifically to uncover the emerging themes that will serve as the foundation for the college plan. By February, I will develop a response document, which will be returned to the faculty/staff for a comment period. The College Executive Committee will be tasked with amending the plan with the feedback from that comment period. The final plan will be presented to the faculty and staff at our spring convocation in April.
Despite a busy fall, most units in the college embraced this process. In these fiscally challenging times, it seems self-evident that planning, strategic or otherwise, can only facilitate the focus that we must acquire. Effective planning can address goals related to improving governance, program reach, accountability, and ultimately, the best use of public and development funding.
Nonetheless, there can be a danger of a disconnect between the plan and the organizational focus and daily activities in college. While the consensus is that these conversations have been worthwhile, there is a fear that the effort might result in a document that will find a special place on the shelves of chairs, directors, and upper-level administrators, to never be seen again. That will not happen under my watch.
A college’s organizational culture is strongly influenced by the dean as well as the leadership team surrounding the dean. The core values and behaviors demonstrated at the top of the organization will permeate throughout and can create a very strong culture for focus or change. However, it is not enough to simply build a strong culture, it must be a balanced one. I am committed to developing our potential, based on the plan that emerges from our faculty and staff conversations this fall. We will build a performance-centered culture that encourages a healthy level of risk taking (thinking in terms of what can be, not what has been) and an appreciation for learning, development and diversity of opinion. These factors fuel innovation and help propel stronger long-term growth and performance. To do this, we must have a plan… one that rises up from the faculty.
Fall semester ended this past week with finals and events associated with the pomp and circumstance of graduation. The College of Nursing (CON) had 125 graduates who were awarded the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice, or Doctor of Philosophy. Faculty, family, and friends gathered in the Bennett Auditorium for the CON Recognition Ceremony to acknowledge the accomplishments of our graduates. It was a gratifying event for all.
The significance of the events this past week extends beyond the personal achievements of our graduates. The number of graduates and the diversity of the degrees emphasize The University of Southern Mississippi College of Nursing’s commitment to meet the health indicators of our population and nursing workforce projections. The Institute of Medicine Report Future of Nursing Leading Change, Advancing Health has issued the challenge to transform nursing and health care. Our faculty and our graduates accept that challenge to become leaders in this change. In the words of Nelson Mandela “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Who doesn’t feel a little more optimistic when the sun is shining, the sky is blue and a warm breeze is gently blowing? In just the same way that the environment can impact our lives, it can also contribute to or detract from the way we learn.
In Arts & Letters, we provide excellent educational experiences in our classes, studios and labs and through our performances and internships. We also are beginning to focus on providing that sense of “place” that draws students together outside of the formal academic experience. This summer, we began to exam that sense of place in the Liberal Arts Building so that students would want to linger between classes and congregate to visit with classmates or to meet new people. Slowly we are building an environment that is not only functional, but that is also aesthetically encouraging and provides a greater identity for what we do. We’ve added study nooks and places to quietly congregate before and after classes, an electronic message board on both floors. We’ve added art and cleaned up technology in the classrooms. The Manonni Performing Arts Center and the Fine Arts Building have also gone through a renaissance of sorts. In both old and new facilities, our focus on developing an encouraging environment is beginning to show some results.
What I hear in the halls now is the quiet buzz of student conversations as they work and study. Faculty report that they enjoy seeing students working between classes; they appreciate the animation of students as they process their learning; and I revel in the atmosphere of warmth, beauty, and friendliness that is our home in LAB and was already a part of the School of Music and the Departments of Art and Design, Dance and Theatre. Soon our School of Mass Communication and Journalism will move into their beautiful new home, and we will have new learning and performing spaces on 31st Avenue by way of the pedestrian walkway project, just in time to enjoy the spring weather next semester.
On Friday, August 24, the College of Arts and Letters faculty and staff convened in the Thad Cochran Center for our very first “beginning of the year” college-wide meeting. I was thrilled to see so many attend a late Friday afternoon meeting at the end of the first week of classes. After the introduction of new faculty, we enjoyed two wonderful addresses from Interim President Lucas and Provost Wiesenburg. The primary focus of the meeting, however, was to discuss our strategic planning initiative.
I pointed out during my presentation that we are an energized and passionate faculty and I have witnessed the delight and satisfaction of our wonderful students for the experiences we provide in our classrooms, studios, and rehearsal halls. But despite the great work happening all over the College, we lack a clear, self-determined identity. At the very basic level, the strategic planning this fall will help us tell our story, in such a way, that we will be able to articulate that which is already true…that which sets us apart from the rest. We might ask why we would undertake strategic planning during a year of transition? Benjamin Franklin said, “You may delay, but time will not.” If we look back, the university is always in a state of transition… when have we not been engaged in the search for some critical position at the university – a new chair, a new dean, a new provost, or a new president? Yet by crafting a plan that will position us for future distinction, with a commitment to mutual goals and a shared vision for a successful future, we take a giant step forward in controlling our own destiny no matter the leadership changes that happen around us.
Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” No college or department can remain static for long, nor should we wait for the perfect time to move forward. We’ll get “run over.”
The following update was sent out to the Southern Miss faculty/staff email listserve Sunday afternoon 8/26/2012:
“Tropical Storm Isaac continues on a path to enter the Gulf of Mexico. It has been difficult to pin point where Isaac will make landfall and currently locations from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle should be monitoring the storms activities and be on alert and prepared to act if instructed to do so.
The university’s Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) is being updated as information becomes available.
Updates and information concerning day-to-day operations of the university will be distributed through the Eagle Alert emergency notification system and will also be available at http://www.SouthernMiss.info.
To sign up for Eagle Alert or ensure your contact information is current, visit http://www.usm.edu/safety/eagle-alert.
Take this time to prepare for possible severe weather and impact of the storm. Review your preparedness and plan accordingly. More information regarding preparedness can be found at http://www.redcross.org and http://www.nhc.noaa.gov;
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