President Teresa Amott said that during her nearly four months in office, she has been working to “figure out what we already know” about a strategic plan for the college.
Amott framed the formation of a strategic plan, her fourth priority for the college, as an issue of whether to form a new group of people charged with gathering information and forming a plan or to simply aggregate out knowledge of the collective vision for Knox in five years.
“The issue for me is whether we need to convene a large group right now, or whether we actually already have an implicit strategic plan that we might be able to write up and take out into the community for feedback,” Amott said.
As an example of the kind of material that would end up in such a plan, Amott talked about the study of campus facilities undertaken by Dean of the College Larry Breitborde. During the study, issues with space and office placement, including outdated facilities and poor placement of faculty offices with some faculty “marooned” on campus apart from the rest of their departments, were made clear.
And Amott explained that studies like that can provide the foundation for a broad, overarching strategic plan.
“Implicit in there is really a strategic plan for academic buildings, and we’ve already done it,” Amott said. “So we don’t need to convene a new group to sit down and figure that out.”
Amott said she should have a better idea of exactly how the planning process would be run by February, but in either case, she said she wants to balance openness and accessibility with making sure that the process does not do the work that has already been done.
“We need to figure out what is a process that is inviting, inclusive and participatory but doesn’t reinvent a wheel,” she said, maintaining that student input would be a major part of the process.
An open process
According to Amott, the planning process would remain open so that we could determine “how ‘out of the box’ we want to be.” She posed a hypothetical (and certainly not probable) solution to a perceived need for more space, in which the college would open a branch campus in Dubai. She said that option could be safely ruled out, but some ideas that seem far-fetched may not be so.
“Somebody’s unreasonable idea could be exactly what we need to do,” Amott said. “The process [should have] enough input so that new ideas can also surface. What I don’t want to do is close the door to new and interesting ideas.”
Amott’s vision of the process would include information gathering through both formal and informal venues, keeping in mind the diaspora of around 16,000 Knox alumni.
“You want to use all the representative and elected bodies that exist, but you also just want to have open meetings where people could come and react,” Amott said.
The areas of improvement already on Amott’s proverbial radar include information technology planning already in motion by Director Steve Hall, continued commitment to scholarships and financial aid, a more competitive pay structure for faculty and staff, sustainability and expanding the Center for Career Services and Professional Development.
In short, Amott plans to look primarily at the peripheral services of the college, keeping the academic core intact.
“What I don’t envision at the moment is a new academic program,” Amott said. “The academic program is very strong here. The faculty have mechanisms to review, assess and re-envision the academic program. There’s a continuous process of planning that happens around the academic program.”
She added that a comprehensive look at the academic program should be put off until Breitborde’s position, from which he plans to step down after the 2012-2013 school year, is filled by a new chief academic officer.
Money makes the world go ‘round
Aside from the process purely devoted to planning, Amott said any major changes would have to be paired with a capital, or fundraising campaign
“It’s been some years since Knox has had what they call a comprehensive capital campaign, which is just essentially major fundraising of more than $100 million, but that is also going to be tied to this planning,” Amott said. “When you raise this money, you have to say what you’re raising it for, because people don’t just give you money, they give you money for a purpose.”
A capital campaign with that kind of scale would be unconstituted in the recent past of the college, as the endowment sits around $67 million at the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to US News.
“So the strategic plan is linked to the capital campaign goals, and so the plan forms the basis of the capital campaign, and the capital campaign provides the resources to execute the plan,” Amott said.
Working on perceptions
Amott said that a study of admissions would also come into play, as there is not yet any comprehensive data about how the messages projected by the admissions department are perceived by prospective students.
“We’re in a competition with other schools for really good students, and any strategic planning should also include a plan to enhance our competitiveness with other schools, so that a student faced with a choice between Knox and another institution is more likely to pick Knox,” Amott said. “We would be better off if we have a broad and growing pool of prospective students.”
She used the “Freedom to Flourish” message as an example of what which needs to be evaluated as part of the strategic plan, which will include a marketing component.
“I like that message. It makes sense to me,” Amott said. “But I’m not sure I know how students hear it. Does ‘Freedom to Flourish’ really convey the very close connection between faculty and students here? It could be that ‘Freedom to Flourish’ is getting read as, ‘I’m on my own,’ which isn’t true. It’s a very tight-knit community.
“Are we getting across the dedication of the faculty and the closeness of that relationship?”