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The 2002 Strategic Plan: How’d They Do?

For an illustration of the uselessness of most college strategic plans, a subject that we looked at last week, we need go no further than Dartmouth’s own plan from 2002.

As we have seen, the years following the publication of the 2002 plan were financially strong ones for the College. Between 2003 and 2007, the endowment grew from $2,121,000 to $3,760,000 (a total of 77.3%) and the Trustees and the administration had a misplaced confidence that the growth was almost unstoppable. So how did the College do during these flush years in implementing the goals of the strategic plan as they related to the undergraduate program and to Dartmouth’s employment practices — two areas of particular interest to Dartblog?

Look at the goals for Arts and Sciences (click on the graphic for a better view).

Strat Plan1.png

The first two goals could not be more anodyne. It’s a safe bet that any strategic plan in higher education over the last 20 years had among its goals the building of support for the institution’s academic departments and the creation of further interdisciplinary programs. Yawn. Notice that there is no specific, quantifiable goal in either point: the administration’s vague plan is just to have more of these good things. From today’s vantage point, I can’t find anything new that occurred in the two areas.

The third point is one close to my heart: “We must look for ways to extend our first-year writing program into a multi-year program that teaches writing within a student’s major in conjunction with discipline-specific research skills and techniques.” In this area the College went backwards rather than forwards. In 2006 it cancelled the Departmental Editing Program that I had initiated and funded in the departments of Art History, Religion and Mathematics. The program had received the highest possible praise from all three departments.

The College might point to the creation of the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric in early 2008, but anyone with institutional memory of the College knows that this fancy sounding entity is little more that a renamed RWIT, coupled with the College’s renewed interest in rhetoric — a program which had been cancelled in 2005. At that time, the Dean of the Humanities noted that the study of rhetoric “would be appropriate at a technical or service college.”

The College had also planned to oblige all freshmen to take English/Writing 5 (currently over a quarter of freshmen are exempted from it). The administration even went so far as to announce the change, and it enjoyed a laudatory write-up for the decision from Inside Higher Education (February 6, 2008). However, the decision to actually end the exemption — a step that has been discussed for close to a decade now — still has not been taken.

The final point in the above section of the strategic plan refers to tighter collaboration with the medical school, and it notes the importance of the then-very-popular Human Biology course (also called Humanitates Vitae). I can’t point to greater involvement by undergrads at DMS, but despite the strategic plan’s plaudits for Human Biology, the popular interdisciplinary program was cancelled outright —despite great protest — less than a year after the plan was published.

The College did no better in respecting the plan’s goals for staffing.

Strat Plan2.png

The first and third points of the section of the strategic plan are the usual vanilla boilerplate: we must recruit, retain and train a high quality staff. Now that’s ambitious.

But the second point is worth parsing: “We must provide a compensation program that ensures that Dartmouth competes effectively with our peer institutions and with the local market.” [Emphasis added] The College does compete adequately with our fellow institutions in recruiting senior administrators. But do we “compete effectively” with “the local market”? Certainly not. The administration now blows it away. As we have seen over and over again in this space, rather than following the stated goal of its strategic plan, the College chooses to overpay its staff members by approximately double the local wage scale.

What can we conclude about the 2002 strategic plan? In the above areas — areas relating to the undergraduate program and the great majority of the College’s budget — the plan was just so much hot air. It was written, announced, filed away, forgotten, and ignored. Will Provost Folt’s currently-in-the-works plan be any different?

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