A Structure That Frees Our Best Ideas


Last week I read a stunning quote.  A Gallup/Inside Higher Ed survey asked Chief Financial Officers about the future viability of their institutions.  The result:

“Only a quarter of business officers express strong confidence in their colleges’ financial models over five years, and fewer still over a decade.”

Now there’s a line that will get a new president’s attention.

Unfortunately, the news only got worse the farther I read.

“The survey also asked business officers to gauge the financial sustainability of various sectors of higher education. They expressed the most confidence in the long-term prospects of elite private universities (84 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the institutions have a sustainable model), wealthy private liberal arts colleges (67 percent) and public flagship universities (62 percent), followed closely by community colleges (51 percent).  Three other sets of institutions trailed badly: non-flagship public universities (26 percent), for-profit colleges (21 percent), and non-elite private colleges (17 percent).” (Inside Higher Ed)

Just so the connection is crystal clear: Indiana Wesleyan University is a non-elite private university with a business model that draws heavily from some aspects of the for-profit sector.

IWU sits squarely in the two sectors of higher education that very few university CFOs expect to survive over the next decade.

For those of us who have participated in IWU’s spectacular rise over the last two decades, this news is hard to take seriously.  To be sure, in many ways, IWU is well situated to take on the challenges that may come our way.

STOCK trackBut we dare not ignore the warning signs in today’s environment.  The world is changing around us.  The circumstances in which we charged to the top of table of Christian colleges and universities have changed.  The social, economic, and policy landscapes of today bear scant resemblance to those in which our university grew large.  We must ask ourselves some hard questions.

Are we still the same community with a passion for its mission, and a zest for nimble, creative, innovative engagement with the people we serve?

Are we willing to learn what it means to be this kind of institution in today’s drastically altered environment?

Four Institutional Responses

We must respond to the challenges of this day in four ways.

First, we must passionately own our mission and our vision of success. 

Second, we must embrace a culture of innovation and creativity. 

Third, we must create an administrative structure that frees our best ideas to emerge.

Fourth, we must exercise rigorous discipline in financial matters. 

Principles of Empowered Organizations

As I try to face the challenges of these days realistically my confidence in IWU’s future is not shaken.  We have a stellar community of faculty, staff, and administrators who are passionately committed to the mission of serving students.

I believe with every fiber of my being that empowered organizations united around a common purpose have the best chance to thrive in uncertain times.  Thus, I believe one of my paramount duties as President is to shape an administrative structure that empowers the people of IWU to dream, create, and achieve our greatest ideas.

We are working to create an administrative structure that is lean, focused, empowered, and committed to quality, innovation and growth. This structure must have these characteristics.

chapelblog2Unified leadership of our two primary administrative units

We struggle to name these units.  In the past they were the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the College of Adult and Professional Studies (CAPS).  But we now have six principal academic units.  For now I’ve adopted the terms “Residential Education” and “Non-Residential Education” to name these two great wings of our university.  Our administrative structure must provide unified, focused, and empowered administrative leadership for each of these units.

Accountability for commonly agreed upon goals

The administrative leaders of Residential and Non-Residential Education will be accountable for commonly agreed upon goals.  These goals will include measures of student success, programmatic quality, enrollment growth, and financial performance.

Delegated responsibility and authority

The administrative leaders of Residential and Non-Residential Education will hold both responsibility and authority to guide their units within the frameworks of our mission, institutional policies, and legal requirements.  They will have full authority to operate their units within these frameworks so as to achieve the goals on which we have agreed.

Embedded operational departments within the units they serve

Centralizing some administrative functions can promote efficiency and yield economies of scale.  But centralized administrative functions also are prone to two opposite problems.  In some cases they may add costs that are not directly tied to the student-serving programs they are meant to support.  In other cases they may be starved for resources because their needs aren’t visible enough to those who lead student-serving programs.  We can combat these problems by ensure close connections between administrative offices and the programs they serve.

Limited central administrative layer 

Some administrative functions must be centralized because they serve the whole university.  But we must keep this layer as lean as possible.

IWU Structural Vision

Before we look at an organizational chart that depicts this structure I think it helps to get a particular picture in our minds.  Here is a simple graphic of the work that lies at the heart of IWU.

Structural Chart[3]

At the heart of IWU are the programs that help our students achieve the learning and developmental outcomes we espouse – development in character, scholarship, and leadership.

Over the last two weeks I’ve spent about 14 hours listening to over 100 members of our staff talk about IWU.  I am about halfway through my Listening Tour.

It has already become abundantly clear to me that all of us at IWU see ourselves as integrally involved in helping students succeed.  From housekeepers to business office staff, every department has told me they celebrate the contributions they make to the lives of our students.  In one way or another, we all work to achieve the outcomes we desire for our students.

Most directly, these outcomes are fostered through the collaborative work of three crucial areas – Academics, Chapel/Chaplaincy, and Student Development.

This graphic depicts the centrality of these three areas, served and supported by the two administrative Cabinets, which are in turn served by the administrative framework provided by the President’s Executive Council.

IWU Administrative Structure Chart

With that picture in mind, here is the organizational chart of the administrative structure I am asking us to work together to implement.

Framework Chart

This chart represents our first step towards an administrative structure that embodies the principles of focused, empowered, creative, nimble leadership.

Academic Governance

It is important to note one thing the chart cannot adequately show.  The university’s academic units still report directly to the Provost and from there to the President.  Thus the academic governance system does not change in this structure.

Representatives of the principal academic units are placed in the structure according to the administrative services that their students require.

Two Primary Changes

There are two primary changes reflected in this structure.  The first is the creation of the two Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer positions.

I am delighted that Keith Newman has agreed to serve as the Chief Executive Officer for Residential Education, and Audrey Hahn has agreed to serve as Chief Executive Officer for Non-Residential Education.  These are supremely skillful, experienced administrators who are deeply committed to the mission of IWU.

The second change reflected here is the creation of the two Cabinets that will give oversight to Residential and Non-Residential Education.

Leadership Councils

We work best when we talk to each other often.  This structure will be enacted through the following five leadership groups that will meet together regularly.

Click here for more details on the leadership councils.

Where Do We Go From Here

What I have described here is a beginning framework.  From here we must work together to move from this conceptual map to an actualized reality.  This will take our best efforts of ingenuity, discussion, and idea-sharing.  I welcome and invite those discussions.

Steven Mintz, a professor of history and executive director of the University of Texas system’s Institute for Transformational Learning, recently detailed 15 innovations shaping the current higher education revolution.  Here is his broad assessment of what is needed.

“Colleges must become more nimble, entrepreneurial, student-focused, and accountable for what students learn.” (Steven Mintz, Chronicle of Higher Education)

I believe this describes the institution that IWU has always been.  We are called to take this identity forward so that our best ideas will shape the future we hope to achieve.