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February 7, 2002 Services for students to be linked to learning goals



by David Gobby,
Coordinator, Quality Programs, Rector’s Cabinet

Administrators from the sector reporting to the vice-rector, services, have agreed to explicitly tie their activities and budgets directly to academic priorities.

This was one of the outcomes of a recent strategic planning retreat held for all directors reporting to Michael Di Grappa. The member units are the Office of the Registrar, the Student Recruitment Office, the Bookstore and Computer Store, IITS (Instructional and Information Technology Services), Auxiliary Services, Security, Facilities Management, Dean of Students, Environmental Health and Safety, and Recreation and Athletics.

This marks the first time there has been an attempt to design a formal, yearly mechanism to link the services sector to academic planning. For many in the group, it was their first experience with strategic planning at Concordia. The outcomes of the retreat have outlined an ambitious set of goals for the next few years.

Lively debate on best practices and daily challenges

The highlight was a case study on the first evening, moderated by the Vice-Rector and modelled after the Fred Friendly Seminars televised by PBS. Directors were presented with a scenario where an anonymous benefactor donated a substantial amount of money to build the Concordia College of University Administration. The fictional gift had the condition that directors in the services department not only had to plan this new college’s facilities and services, but also had to design the curriculum, taking them squarely into the realm of academic planning.

The result was a two-and-a-half-hour discussion, lively and passionate, on academic mission, best practices in the delivery of education, and the role support services ought to play in an institution devoted to the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

The debate also touched on controversial issues that many of these managers face daily: the corporate influence on university campuses, the role of student government, labour relations, gender equity, outsourcing and the privatization of services, and increasing competition from online services.

At the retreat, the directors also endorsed the services sector’s response to Concordia’s Strategic Plan, “Quality in Service.” In it, the services sector named its three priorities to be used by managers to guide their yearly goals and objectives.

• Documenting, for all VRS units, clear planning and budget links to the university’s academic plan;
• Developing an open, responsive and measurable client-service environment;
• Creating a climate of ”best practices” to ensure the most efficient and effective use of all resources: financial, human, space and material.

The second day of the retreat included workshops that allowed for frank discussion on the sector’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Directors shared information about their plans, goals and objectives, another first for many. Traditionally, they have submitted plans, projects and budgets independent of one another, sometimes leading to unnecessary turf wars, overlapping mandates or worse, gaps in service.

One of the outcomes of the retreat was the election of four directors to form a Vice-Rector Services Planning Committee to develop a more transparent, formal structure for planning and budgeting for the sector. One of the committee’s first actions will be to advise the vice-rector on allocations for this coming budget year.