In my February blog, I invited your comments regarding our upcoming strategic planning process. Specifically, I asked for your thoughts about Baruch: What do you think are the College’s strengths, assets, and accomplishments that differentiate us? What is your idea of an aspirational future for Baruch? What do you perceive as the challenges that we can and should address together? What priorities should we focus our attention on and address?
I am delighted that so many of you responded—with more than 17 pages of comments! While I realize this is neither a scientific survey nor a well-designed qualitative analysis, the responses nonetheless represent a distinct set of perspectives that are worth sharing and can perhaps stimulate additional thoughts and conversations. Further, the feedback provides us some sense of the scope and complexity of the engagement for the community-centered planning process on which we are about to embark.
At the risk of making this a very long read, I am quoting, as directly as possible, the voices from different corners of the Baruch community.
What Differentiates Baruch
I was heartened to see a great deal of consensus and agreement concerning Baruch’s strengths, assets, and accomplishments that differentiate us. The most frequently used words and phrases were “students,” “diversity,” “high-quality education,” “dedicated staff,” “dedicated faculty,” and “heart of New York City.” Several comments summarized these sentiments particularly well:
- “Baruch is very inclusive and accepting with one mission—to educate at a high level to all students.”
- “The ability to provide an affordable, top-quality college education that enables so many students to transform their lives and the lives of their families. . . . The concentration of world-class researchers who conduct and publish amazing work that is the same caliber as other institutions that have order of magnitude more resources devoted to supporting research… a New York City culture and character, striving, scrappy, resourceful, tough and resilient, collaborative, and civic-minded.”
- “We have dedicated, experienced, and highly qualified staff working in all student-facing areas of the college.”
- “Our location and our academic programs go very well together. There are great opportunities for internships, field trips, and other forms of major-specific experiential learning nearby, as well as job opportunities for graduates.”
Our Aspirational Future
The shared ideas regarding an aspirational future for Baruch, again, showed a relatively high degree of unanimity. There was a sentiment that the College is comparable in quality to other top colleges/universities in New York City and around the country and should therefore strive for the same level of reputation and recognition. There was also a nuanced understanding of our mission, the diversity of our students, and the rapidly-changing higher education landscape. Let me share several representative comments:
- “We are known as the model for other institutions who are also resource constrained on how to deliver excellence.”
- “I would like to see Baruch build on its strengths as an institution that prizes and helps encourage and develop a community of ‘teacher-scholars.’”
- “Our infrastructure must match the educational potential of our students and instructors. Classrooms and laboratories need to be renovated to be safe and effective workspaces. We should be mindful of a future that includes both in-person and online/hybrid instruction, so our spaces need to accommodate both.”
- “I would like to see the campus continue to hire diverse full-time staff for administrative management positions… diversity in race, education, passion, and skills.”
- “The focus of administration should be academic programs and learning, ensuring areas of study and course offerings are fundamentally sound as well as meeting current market and social demands… The point of view and experiences of our students naturally provide a window into the future of our economy and culture, as well as civic and social needs. It is important that we listen to and act on the messages we hear in the classroom and across campus.”
- “[Baruch should] continue to accept and educate a diverse, smart, and motivated group of students; continue to provide them with excellent support and education; and assist them to enter the work world with excellent earning power and the ability to find jobs in which they can grow and support themselves and their families in a good quality of life.”
Challenges to Address
When it comes to challenges that we should address together, the submitted comments do not reflect the same degree of agreement as above. This is understandable, as the identified challenges seem more individualized, perhaps influenced by one’s own experience and frustrations. Upon reflection, I realized that the different perspectives highlight the importance of connecting broader institutional priorities with individual reality in a planning process. Some themes did emerge, however, that are worth further exploration: support faculty in the changing demands for teaching and research; address the myriad hindrances to student success, from mental health to achievement gaps; enhance financial resources, staffing support, and physical infrastructure; tackle the broad implications of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and envision the future of work and learning.
When breaking those areas down, a variety of concerns emerged around faculty and community, from retaining talented and diverse individuals (“These faculty are easily and regularly poached by institutions with lower teaching loads and more proactive spousal hire policies”) to a lack of cohesiveness (“The idea of joint research presentations during Creative Inquiry Week is a great first step, but faculty need regular opportunities to interact if we are to provide students with interdisciplinary learning opportunities”). The absence of proper finances and funding having a significant impact on staff and faculty and their ability to be effective was also mentioned, with comments along the lines of “the lack of resources and funding… prevent many offices from getting software improvements, additional staff, and more training to improve on the services we provide,” while others focused on Baruch gaining financial independence, citing, “Strategic priorities are constantly scuttled due to the ups and downs of the budgetary environment.”
A timely topic raised multiple times was how to sustain the Baruch culture in the future. Like so many other organizations, the College moved to remote work during the pandemic, and as a result, “we have lost the connectivity between people. It will be tough to get back to where we were, but we should create a campus community that goes even further than what we had prior to the pandemic.”
Priorities to Focus On
When it comes to what priorities to focus on moving forward, we again find vastly different perspectives across a wide array of topics. Despite these contrasting views, it is reassuring to see a unified concern for our students as well as a commitment to our mission. While I recognize it is premature to draw any conclusions at this early stage, I attempted to summarize the stated priorities into a few broad categories and included some of the comments. While incomplete, I believe they serve as a straw poll to stimulate additional thoughts from our community. I encourage you to share ideas you believe are missing from this list:
- Center on Our Mission and Student Success
Diverse students are our driving force and pointed comments urged: “Continued affordability and academic excellence”; “Focus on the student experience. Access to resources for all of our students”; and “Improve the graduation rate by providing better academic support. Provide additional tutoring pathways, in-person and online. Focus on providing the graduating classes with better access to internships and jobs by fostering better relationships with hiring companies.”
- Strengthen the Academic Core to Meet Societal Needs
While many comments focused on specific aspects of faculty teaching and research, staff working environments, and different aspects of societal needs that require attention, the sentiment of providing a supportive environment for everyone to thrive was clear. Representative comments include: “I would like Baruch to excel in teaching and in research”; “Improving transparency and the free flow of information to people who need it to function in their jobs, and setting higher expectations around responsiveness, respect, and civility, and accountability at all levels of the college, including the senior administration, should all be priorities”; and “We need a better plan to respond to climate change—in our teaching and community outreach. The world and NYC will change in the coming decades. We need to respond accordingly.”
- Re-envision the Future of Work and Learning
The pandemic and technology changed how and where people work and learn, which prompted many to call for a thoughtful and intentional approach moving forward. One responder wrote: “We should focus on retaining the benefits of remote teaching and learning. Set standards for excellence in online instruction and allow students and faculty who excel in hybrid and online modalities to use them.” Another wrote: “Modern technology is crucial to remain a competitive and desirable institution… from learning platforms, to registration, and so on.”
- Fortify Resources and Enhance Infrastructure
Calls for an increase in resources and strengthening the College’s infrastructure also showed up frequently, reinforcing the need for us to create a well-supported and effective work environment. These two comments resonated: “Ideally, funding and resources should be a top priority, but also making sure that the faculty/staff that are working hard each day are provided with things that can improve their quality of life with what we currently have…” and “Renovating the buildings should be the #1 priority of Baruch… But we need to emphasize that no renovation should happen around students and faculty. We should relocate operations during such a renovation so it can be done quickly, fully, and with as little daily disruption as possible.”
Understandably, there were individuals who expressed cynicism and suspicion to the institutional planning process with comments such as “[M]any of us are inherently suspicious of every new push for planning and innovation. There are many reasons for this, but a large part is that we’ve heard a lot of the same demands and vague promises before.”
We will therefore embark on an engagement-centered planning process, heavily reliant on the community, to maximize our ability in balancing institutional priority with individual reality. As demonstrated in the initial feedback, it is clear that while we very much agree on what differentiates Baruch and what our aspirational future may look like, we have widely contrasting perspectives on the challenges ahead and how we should set our priorities.
The very point of a strategic plan exercise is for our community to think clearly about who we are and where we are heading and to listen carefully to one another and our stakeholders in order to understand our strengths and weaknesses. We will then have to make some hard choices together about our priorities and resources, followed by a disciplined and systematic approach in execution. The long-term priorities and goals identified in the strategic plan will then serve as the guide for our annual College Focused Goals for the succeeding years.
In addition to receiving your initial thoughts and comments, prior to the strategic planning process, the College is completing a stakeholder survey and market analysis that collects—from both internal and external stakeholders—a comprehensive, up-to-date perspective on the achievements and perceptions of Baruch.
Informed by these outcomes, we will enlist facilitators to design and deploy an intentional, methodical, and frequent process to engage internal and external stakeholders—to help them figure out the part they could play in impacting Baruch’s institutional future. The process will involve three main stages:
- In Spring 2022, we will lay out the overall process, formulate a Baruch Community Planning Committee, review existing data and analyses, and begin engagement-centric meetings with stakeholder groups.
- In Fall 2022, we will launch a full community-engagement process by facilitating a series of “appreciative summits” for ideation and theme generation; hold town hall meetings for general communication, feedback, and information dissemination; and conduct focus group meetings and design thinking sessions to discuss identified goals and to start contemplating their implementation. An initial draft of key priorities and goals will also be completed for the Baruch community’s reactions.
- In Spring 2023, multiple successive drafts of the Strategic Plan will be created following community feedback, and a finalized Strategic Plan will be ready for broad dissemination. The Baruch community will collaboratively develop, and subsequently finalize, an Implementation and Assessment Plan.
Marching on Together
I believe Baruch is a compelling institution with tremendous potential. We are well-recognized in New York City as a premier academic institution and a “dream school” for those who grew up in New York. But if we truly want to maximize our impact, we need to aspire to more. Baruch deserves a significantly expanded reputational footprint, not only nationally but internationally. Baruch stands for something important in a democratic society: a high-quality education that expects the most out of its students and is accessible to anyone and everyone willing to work hard to attain it, not just a privileged few.
To scale what we do and expand our impact while achieving an even higher level of quality and excellence is not only possible, it is our responsibility.
How are we, as a community, going to achieve this together? I found inspiration from one of the comments that started with a quote from the poet Robert Frost (“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence”) and went on to provide insight on how we can push through the chaos of the world and come out successful:
“Seems to me that as educators, the key elements for a successful life and thereby for a successful community are the ability to think critically, assess data accurately and understand biases, and to listen rationally. The entire world is shouting at each other. We can either prepare for annihilation or prepare for inhalation. It’s as dire as that. When I was younger, I had a communications teacher who insisted we take debate views opposite our own. Wow!”
‘Wow,’ indeed. I look forward to embarking on this journey with the Baruch community.