June 6, 2017

Dear campus colleagues,
I write to you on behalf of APASP, the Prioritization Task Force, to update you about the progress of our work and your role in the process.
We want to thank everyone who provided feedback during the campus forums in early May. We worked under a very short deadline to get draft materials in your hands prior to the end of the semester, knowing that those were far from a finished product. Your comments confirmed several issues that the Task Force flagged in our initial meetings and are guiding our ongoing work. Some of these are discussed on this website and its Questions & Answers page, but we would like to address some of the most prominent ones here.
First and foremost, we are making significant adjustments to the timeline. These adjustments take into account your comments as well as a few firm dates that anchor the process. To better accommodate faculty participation, we will move the due date for academic program reports to October. President Stearns shared a draft of the revised timeline with the Board of Regents at their May meeting, and the Task Force continues to work on adjustments. We plan to share the final version of the revised timeline with the campus community in mid-June.
Data quality is another important issue we have heard. These questions range from counting second majors to appropriate accounting of faculty FTE and student credit hours in interdisciplinary programs. Dawn Ressel at Institutional Research has been very responsive to these and other data challenges raised by the Task Force. Over the summer, she and the Task Force will work with academic programs and administrative units to get their feedback on relevant datasets and revise the list of metrics accordingly. In addition, program and unit reports will allow writers to contextualize the relevant data and explain any concerns.
Other comments identify complexities in determining and defining the unit of analysis. For instance, some programs do not fit cleanly into the categories of an Academic Program or Administrative Service. A few centers, institutes, and the Mansfield Library straddle this divide, and some administrative units are embedded within an academic program. The Task Force is working with Institutional Research to generate lists of programs and services, identify these instances, and then work with unit leaders to determine solutions that work for them.
An especially significant theme in your feedback is the challenge of evaluating diverse programs, with differing missions and resources, according to the same criteria. The Task Force is developing criteria that allow each academic program or service unit to make its strongest case and put its performance in the context of their unique role at UM. We are especially sensitive to creating a robust set of criteria and examining both qualitative and quantitative indicators so that no single item or data point, such as student credit hours, becomes a “make or break” factor in evaluation. Student demand matters, but so do productivity, quality, and opportunity for future development. In that light, the campus’s work in this process is not simply about identifying potential reductions in employees and resources, but also about identifying areas for improvement and strategic investment.
Finally, I want to address those of you who have been skeptical of this process and model for decision-making. I count myself as one of those. I continue to take issue with some of the statements that Dr. Dickeson made in the campus forums and in his book, and I agreed to join the APASP Task Force to try to steer us around some of the more obvious hazards. But it has become clear to me that the issue is not really Dickeson or his model. For years, people throughout UM have said that we need to do a better job at making decisions strategically and transparently. In turn, the Task Force has attempted to craft an approach that takes stock of every program and service, guided by campus feedback and prior planning efforts, and tailored to the distinctive character of UM.
The entire campus has a stake in making this process work. We do not have to wait for a new President or a new Provost to chart a course for UM’s future. It is up to all of us to shape our University and to renew our vision of UM as a premier public institution in the West. The months ahead will take hard work, and we welcome your input and your help as we move forward.
Steve Schwarze
Professor, Department of Communication Studies
APASP Task Force member