Friday, June 21, 2019

Ready. Willing. Able.

Summer is unfolding in central Pennsylvania, and for an avid road biker, it is beautiful to behold. I’ve discovered the quickest routes for getting out of town and onto the rolling hills (head up to Fort Hunter and right out Fishing Creek Valley Road; or down to New Cumberland and right out to Round Top).

By the way, I’m also getting re-acquainted with humidity after a 17-year respite from it. What fun.
Oh, and there’s quite a lot going on in the office too, especially with System Redesign, which is actually the subject of this blog. Let me start with what I learned from you:

At the open forums I attended during my springtime visits to our universities, I had the opportunity to meet with you and answer your questions about the System Redesign and the sharing system vision towards which we are moving. I also distributed a survey designed to evaluate our own perceptions of our collective readiness, willingness, and ability to change.

Let me say thanks to the nearly 900 people who filled out the survey—especially for their honesty and thoughtful comments. The results—summarized below—fill me with optimism and provide essential guidance for the ongoing work. Three key insights into those perceptions follow:

We are READY for change: Seventy-five percent agree or strongly agree with statements about their university facing significant competitive challenges, needing to improve performance to compete, and about people in “my unit” or the university being ready to change. There is variation though among the universities (the four most “ready” are between 80 percent and 96 percent ready; the four least “ready” between 62 percent and 74 percent), and among different groups, but the overall patterns hold strong.

We are less WILLING for change than READY for change: Only 55 percent perceived that we are willing to change. Though there is nuance in the aggregate—fully 91 percent of respondents agree they are willing to change their role if it helps improve the university’s performance. That’s amazing and shows incredible dedication and commitment to mission. Seventy-two percent agree that people “in their area” are willing to change. However, when asked about management support of the change (47 percent) and the willingness of the wider university to change (35 percent), there is a higher degree of uncertainty. We also need to do a great deal more to flesh out the vision of the sharing system—only 34 percent agree it will address our challenges while most are not yet ready to form an opinion one way or the other (54 percent neither agree nor disagree on this point).

We are less ABLE to change than we are WILLING or READY for change: Only 39 percent perceived that we are able to change and that their university has the culture, implementation capability, and management supports necessary. And the pattern is similar to the one revealed for willingness. While respondents feel they are able to change—and to a slightly lesser extent so are people in their areas—the same respondents are doubtful about the ability of their broader university to change and about leadership commitment/support for that change.

My take-aways:
  • I am in awe of the extent to which we recognize the need to change and—even more—in awe of our collective willingness to do what it takes at an individual level to improve our universities’ performance, indeed our System’s performance. Having been here now for nearly nine months and having spoken with so many of you, this does not surprise me. But it is still impressive, and I want to honor it.
  • At the same time, we need to work harder—even faster, if possible—to clarify the detail of what is being proposed with respect of the sharing system and to align and support leadership across the System in representing and enabling the sharing system vision to move towards implementation.

Figure 1. Summary results of the Ready Willing Able survey

We are taking real action to position us for success. The follow-ups listed below are focused in two areas and are directly responsive to what I learned from the survey and during my visits:

Redefining Leadership: I have formed a Systemwide Leadership Group (SLG) because we recognize—as you do—the critical role university leaders will play in building the sharing system. The SLG includes presidents, vice presidents for administration and finance, chief academic officers (provosts), people identified by the presidents as representing leadership with respect of student success and retention at their universities, and the top staff here at the Office of the Chancellor (see Figure 2). We have also initiated conversations with the Leadership and Governance Committee of our Board about the importance of shared governance, generally (more to come on that in the months ahead). The objective is to build a cadre of leaders who are working together for the benefit of our students, our universities, and our System.

Figure 2. System Leadership Group and System Redesign Project Structure

Clarifying Change: A number of advances are being made:

Five-year System Redesign goals are being defined, each associated with measurable outcomes that focus on improving our students’ success, achieving university financial stability, and laying track for a future in which this system of universities continues to sustainably and affordably fuel the economic development and social mobility of the state.

The scope of work necessary to achieve our System Redesign goals has been defined. It involves five workstreams (see Figure 3):|
  • Enhancing our culture and investing in our employees’ success.
  • Building a modernized shared infrastructure.
  • Scaling innovations that promise to improve our students’ success, reach new student groups, and meet high-demand employer needs.
  • Strengthening governance and accountabilities.
  • Engaging partners across the Commonwealth within the General Assembly.

Figure 3. System Redesign’s five workstreams, showing planning, execution activities, and outcomes

A team-based approach to moving the work forward has been launched (Figure 2) to ensure our efforts are:
  • Transparent—the work of System Redesign teams is published online to enable and invite community engagement.
  • Inclusive of all key stakeholders—faculty, staff, students, university and system leadership, etc.
  • Capable of efficiently enlisting talent at all levels of a university and distributing the workload so “redesign” takes place even as we operate this $2.3B enterprise.
  • Clear with respect of the roles, responsibilities, decision rights, and expectations of redesign teams and their members.
  • Supported out of my office with a coordinated approach to project management
Our communications approach for System Redesign has been fundamentally re-tooled:
  • We are continually improving the System Redesign website to allow for easier navigation and visibility into our progress.
  • We’ve created an internal social media platform to engage employees in the dialogue.
  • In the fall, we will work with the student government leaders to engage even more students in System Redesign.
  • Next month, we are launching an e-newsletter that will provide regular updates on our progress and collect the most timely and relevant information into one, easy to access location.
There’s a great deal more to do, including making the detail available to you that underpins the framework. But, I figure for a blog post, this has got to be enough for a lovely summer afternoon—a Friday as it happens—when the sun is out, the wind is light, and Fishing Creek Valley Road appears to be calling. As I leave the keyboard, I look one last time at the word cloud shown in Figure 4. It is built from the one-word descriptions that survey respondents were asked to describe how System Redesign makes them feel. Like an overwhelming number of you, I am hopeful, optimistic, excited (maybe a little nervous). Today, as most days, I am also tremendously grateful for this opportunity to work with and to serve you, our students, and the people of this Commonwealth.

Figure 4. Word cloud showing how System Redesign makes respondents feel 


  1. Dear Dan,

    Thanks for taking the time to share the reflections.

    We are wondering if folks might be more "ready, willing, and able" to carry out transformations at all levels, inside and outside universities, if serious conversations were encouraged and engaged regarding what are arguably the greatest threats (and the root causes of those threats) humanity has ever faced, i.e. earth life disaster linked to climate disruption; the Sixth Great Extinction; eco-systems breaking down across the planet; continuing threats of war that could lead to nuclear annihilation; the spread of tyranny and authoritarianism in both the economic and political theaters; expanding inequality and injustices; continuing assaults on and attempts to corporatize/privatize all public spaces including the space of public schools and universities. Linked to those problems could be conversations about how young people (elementary, secondary and university students and others) across the planet are rising up in support and solidarity to challenge the systems of economic and political power that they see as wrecking their future and wrecking the present for all too many people across the planet. Education is always about the future because education is also always about young people. Do we owe it to young people to open possibilities for education to help people address these existential threats and also work to create social systems that decent people would be happy to support?

    This recent article (and hundreds of similar pieces in both scientific and non-scientific journals) might assist in stimulating the readiness, willingness and ability of people to participate in and contribute to the meaningful, creative and effective transformations called for by current realities:

    Looking forward to your comments on these matters of grave import.



  2. "System redesign" reeks of the logic of corporatization and the obsession with productivity that are wrecking our planet and degrading the lives of millions. The university was originally conceived as an institution for promoting cultural enlightenment, not as ancillary to the needs of the free market.

  3. These first two comments ^ , assuming they are coming from professors or administrators, are ample evidence of why traditional higher ed is fast on its way becoming an utterly irrelevant institution and deserves to die.

    The second one apparently doesn't even know how the university was originally conceived (or that the "lives of millions" on this planet are far better than they have ever been in all of human history!). This was in the Middle Ages as a training ground for three specific professions (a profession being some field of endeavor wherein one had to profess an oath) -- theology for the clergy, medicine for physicians, and the law for lawyers. All other courses of study were added later under the general heading of Philosophy, sort of a grab bag of secular knowledge, which later became organized into the various faculties we are familiar with today.

    Nonetheless, "promoting cultural enlightenment" might be a fine thing (depending on what you mean by that, and I suspect this person ^ means something very different than I would). Indeed, I used to regret that the four-year university (at least, the state school) was becoming more and more a place that was devoted to merely getting a degree and a credential for some specific job, rather than simply a place to learn for the sake of learning. But as college has become so expensive, people can no longer afford that luxury--they have big loans to pay off and need a job. Therefore it makes sense that we move in a more practical direction (although seriously, how many Recreation Managers and Sports Administrators does the world need? Never mind the really absurd majors like Gender Studies).

    I'd estimate that about half the students attending PASSHE schools should probably be doing something else--maybe working at a menial job for a gap year (as I did) so that they can appreciate and not waste the opportunity they are getting when they do attend college. Many should be going to technical schools. Few are really interested in learning, which is convenient because the many of the faculty aren't really interested in teaching. They have abandoned rigor, standards, and teaching basic facts which their students are terribly ignorant of, having come up through the awful public school system. No, they are interested mainly in indoctrinating their students, and hanging on to their cushy jobs with their 12-hour workweeks and five months off per year and their tenure and sabbaticals and alternate workload leave and lavish benefits. And they claim to be concerned about the high cost of higher ed! Where do you suppose the money is going? Traditional Higher Ed is the most inefficient enterprise there is.

    There certainly needs to be a dramatic redesign, but I have zero faith that people who have come up through the system are capable of executing the kind of redesign which would save higher ed. Administrators generally make the problems even worse. Look at Oberlin, for example, which has been making the news recently. I'm sure these two ^ would fit right in over there.

    I just hope I can make it out of this burning house before it collapses all around me. Good Luck Mr. Chancellor, you will need it.

  4. A good look at what is duplicated in our 14 universities may be a start.Sharing and locating equipment needs from our whole state system,IE;vehicles,tools,supplies,could save even more.Whittle down the amount of managers in departments,there are too many chiefs running things.

  5. Some streamlining ideas to destroy the system.

    Central purchasing. The promise: lower prices because of the greater bargaining power. The reality: Long waits, then you get the wrong stuff if you get anything at all. You don't get as good a deal as you would have got by ten minutes googling. This used to be the system before we broke off from the Pa Dept of Ed. It stifled everything.

    Centralized computing. The promise - system-wide interoperability. We did this some years back by adopting SAP. West Chester had to switch from People-soft at immense expense the retrain everybody. No evident benefit. Same with the switch from Blackboard to D2L.

    Centralized calendar. The promise, students will be able to take classes conveniently at multiple institutions. Out here at WCU have not seem much exchange with Edinboro, or even Millersville. But we have zero flexibility to deal with weather cancellations. It's been a long time since we had a complete spring semester.

    Centralized travel
    The promise: cheaper travel because of purchasing power. The reasonable expectation: Your hotel is 90 minutes from the meeting site. You don't get your tickets until the meeting is over. There will be a surcharge on travel to pay the people who don't get you your tickets.

    Centralized curriculum, The promise: free exchange of students from one institution to another. The expectation: standards set in each discipline by the weakest department statewide. A race to the bottom. Turf wars.

    Centralized Anything
    Slow, expensive, unresponsive, impersonal.