Phase IV of "The Power of SUNY" begins

On Wednesday Oct. 20, nearly 300 students and faculty from across the SUNY system convened in Albany to begin the implementation of Phase IV of Chancellor Nancy Zimpher's strategic plan, "The Power of SUNY."

Among the attendees were six Geneseo faculty members: Dennis Showers and Kathryn Rommel-Esham of the School of Education, Maria Lima and Paul Schacht of the English department, Jeremy Grace of the political science department and Associate Dean of the College Savi Iyer of the physics department.

Since beginning her tenure as chancellor, Zimpher has been working on a strategic plan to transform SUNY into a system that can "revitalize New York's economy and enhance the quality of life for all its citizens." This overarching goal will be accomplished through Zimpher's Six Big Ideas: SUNY and the Entrepreneurial Community, SUNY and the Seamless Education Pipeline, SUNY and a Healthier New York, SUNY and an Energy-Smart New York, SUNY and the Vibrant Community, and SUNY and the World. The Six Big Ideas help those working on the plan to "look internally, but also externally to New York State" in considering SUNY's future, Showers said.

"We're calling attention to the economic role of SUNY in New York State," Schacht said. "It can be hard for taxpaying voters to see how SUNY is valuable for the state of New York."

The plan solidified in its first three phases, and now phase IV, the implementation phase, has been set into motion. The Power of SUNY is organized as a five-year plan to be re-evaluated in 2015.

"The strategic plan is a nice plan," Showers said, "but unless you actually put it in motion, nothing happens."

There are three broad categories of implementation teams: the Research and Data Advisory Group, six Innovation Teams each focusing on one of Zimpher's six Big Ideas, and seven Transformation Teams.

A prominent focus of all of the teams' discussions was the development of metrics, Showers said. "We have to ask ourselves: What can we measure? And if we accomplish what we want to accomplish, how will we know we accomplished it?"

The reason for developing metrics, according to Showers and Schacht, is that there needs to be a methodology for definitively evaluating the current state of SUNY and its institutions so that the progress of the plan can be reliably tracked going forward.

"You get what you measure," Showers said. "We see this all the time in education. If you tell teachers that you're going to test if students learn all of their state capitals, students will learn their state capitals."

Showers is on the Shared Governance Transformation Team and said that his team is making sure that administration engages in conversation with faculty at both the campus and the system level.

Grace, who is on the SUNY and the World Innovation Team, reiterated Showers' emphasis on the importance of measurements, saying that his team was "charged with coming up with measurable indices for a SUNY report card that's going to come out every year."

Specific programs and statistics that SUNY and the World may look to as possible metrics include the number of international students attending SUNY schools, in-house surveys on diversity, the number of students that study abroad and what concrete benefits such experiences afford, the raw values of grants received for international programs, and to what extent SUNY faculty participate in research with international dimensions.

"We also want to find out the actual financial impact of attracting foreign students to New York State," Grace said. A recently published report from Australia articulated numerous economic benefits to surrounding communities of colleges that bring in international students. Grace said that his group would like to pursue a similar kind of project.

"I personally was struck by the fact that there are no graduate programs in international relations all across SUNY," Grace said.

Schacht, who is on the Academic Excellence Transformation Team, spoke about the importance of defining such general concepts as those outlined in Zimpher's strategic plan, and that much of his team's work was performed with the intent to do just that.

"We started out trying to define academic excellence, and we decided that we want employers or really anyone from the general public to look at a SUNY graduate and think that they stand out among all college graduates." He added that the value of a degree goes beyond its instrumental economic value to ways in which a SUNY education can make a student's life more rich and meaningful while also moving one to become a contributing member of his or her community.

There is difficulty, Schacht said, in trying to identify how progress in the realm of academic excellence will be measured. Some potential metric questions revolve around whether students have rich experiences outside the classroom and whether colleges offer courses across the spectrum of subjects. The team is considering measuring the extent to which internships, collaborative research and community work are incorporated into academic subject matter.

The Innovative Instruction Transformation Team focused largely on how SUNY can take greater advantage of online tools, said Iyer, a member of the group. SUNY colleges are finding themselves increasingly in competition with programs like the University of Phoenix, which offers rolling admission to online courses.

"I don't think we'll ever see rolling admission, but we're definitely looking to use more online opportunities," Iyer said. Examples include expanding SUNY's online presence and developing hybrid courses that could combine traditional lecture sessions with more technological office hours and coursework.

These teams will continue to remain in contact with each other as they work on their individualized objectives until the next mass meeting early in the spring 2011 semester when the first annual SUNY report card is due.