ASU’s New Strategic Plan is Neither, Nor

WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 8/22/16

About a month ago, I asked a senior and long-serving faculty member what had become of ASU’s 2020 Strategic Plan. After all, we had been excited by the Plachy ‘town hall’ event this time a year ago in which employees were asked for contributions to that plan.  This signified a major change from ASU’s old ways of decision-making behind closed doors.  I had been concerned that the 2020 plan was nowhere in sight.

He laughed and said that strategic planning at universities was a waste of time, and directed me to a thoughtful piece in the July 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Strategic Plan: Neither Strategy Nor Plan, but a Waste of Time.”

I thought he was being a little cynical and I argued that the success of such planning wasn’t inevitably a pointless exercise but depended upon the quality of the institution’s leadership and the business savvy of those involved in the planning process.

Despite my optimism, ASU’s new plan has proven him and the Chronicle right.

If you compare the 2013 – 2016 Strategic Plan (which, by the way, was only ever a draft and was not implemented by the time 2016 rolled around) with the 2020 plan, they are essentially the same. Yes, ASU’s exciting new 2020 Strategic Plan is really just large chunks of the old plan, cut-and-pasted an warmed over into the 2020 edition.

The old Mission, “…to educate, serve, and inspire our diverse populations in the pursuit of their lifelong dreams and ambitions” is now re-branded as the Core Purpose. The new Mission is essentially a long-winded amplification of the new Core Purpose. This is what the best minds put together while making six figure salaries have come up with.

The Vision is exactly the same as the old one.

The Values are exactly the same as the old ones.

Goal 1 is exactly the same as the old one.

Goal 2 is another shout-out to diversity. Except if you don’t agree with the administration and its fawning clique, of course.

Goal 3 is almost identical to the earlier version, but in the current one, students are not included for “professional and educational development opportunities.”

Goal 4 amounts to the same as the old version.

Goal 5 is the same the old version.

If you go into the “Initiatives” section of each goal, you’ll find some variations, some wordsmithing, a little fiddling and tweaking, but it’s all essentially the same as before.  Was this 2020 document written by Melania Trump?

Just imagine if a student plagiarized his/her own work in one class for another the following year, they would be in deep trouble, even risking expulsion. But our leaders seem not to be aware of that irony; apparently the expectations are different when you run the university than when you’re a student at the university.

Administrators have merely regurgitated a plan that has been gathering dust for years. What’s that old cliche about the definition of neurosis – that you do the same thing again and again and yet expect a different result?  In fact, the last Strategic Plan ASU published was for 2010-2013 (published in 2011), so essentially the university has been running without an official plan for three years, have just now cobbled together an outdated plan, and presented it with renewed fanfare.  Don’t you feel satisfied?

And what are the results? ASU has been slipping down the field for years, from some of the lowest graduation rates and high rates of employee turnover to growing financial problems and academic probation for non-compliance. Every cross-country runner knows that if you are at the back of the pack and have any desire to be in the front with any chance of even a consolation prize, you have to run a lot faster than the rest of the also-rans. ASU is jogging on the spot and convinced of its excellence from last place.

A couple of other things:

The announcement of this 2020 plan on the ASU website links you to the PDF.  At the very bottom of this beautifully-designed document is a sentence that perhaps exemplifies the whole thing. It says, “the detailed plan with action steps and metrics is available at adams.edu.” But the link takes you to a page of… No detail! No metrics! I have hunted around the far corners and dark recesses of the ASU website and have not yet been able to find “action steps and metrics.” They may be there somewhere but they are not at the end of that link, which effectively means ASU never actually intends for anyone to find them. The show is over, move on.

Isn’t it fitting that the news page on the website tells you to go to the PDF which tells you to go to the front page on the website, leaving you more lost than when you started?  Many ASU employees can relate because this is how a day in their office feels.

And finally, in small print is a homily to shared governance. Apart from the paper-waving event at Plachy last year, there seems to have been no further discussion with the wider ASU community. Certainly, contrary to normal corporate practice, there has been no consultation of the draft before the board’s rubber stamping. So it makes one wonder: what is the administration’s definition of shared governance?

If this document had been an original work, a professor might generously grade it a “C.” But seeing that it is essentially a copy of a previous assignment that was never turned in, this 2020 plan most certainly deserves an “F.”