• Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

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Hosts, beneficial parasites, ratios and the like

Susan Rogers at SCUP shared with me some data on the membership of that organization, and it turns out that I apparently misconstrued the organization's membership profile. More SCUP members (individuals) are associated with colleges and universities than with corporations or partnerships. In round numbers, it's about 60% schools and 40% firms.

July 27, 2009
 

Susan Rogers at SCUP shared with me some data on the membership of that organization, and it turns out that I apparently misconstrued the organization's membership profile. More SCUP members (individuals) are associated with colleges and universities than with corporations or partnerships. In round numbers, it's about 60% schools and 40% firms.

What misled me may be that in my SCUP region corporate members DO outnumber institutional members. In that regard, though, the Northeast is atypical. Might be the relative incidence of architectural and engineering firms in this part of North America.

On one level, that's a clear victory for schools. But that level (which side of the teeter-totter is heavier) isn't the one that matters. Presume (for the sake of argument) that membership reflects the degree of prominence that planning receives in an organization. And remember that we're talking about all forms of higher ed planning -- facilities planning, financial planning, academic planning, co-curricular planning, strategic planning, tactical planning, you name it. A 60/40 ratio would seem to indicate that higher ed institutions are only 50% more interested in all forms of planning than are vendors, even though the vendor community is highly concentrated around facilities planning alone and the number of institutions is far greater than the number of major planning-related supply firms.

If there's a conclusion to be drawn here, it's that the higher ed community doesn't place enough emphasis on planning -- particularly the integrated approach to planning that SCUP promotes -- to be interested in knowing what other schools are up to. That's hardly a surprise; my impression is that any college or university which looks often at the rest of the sector -- what they're doing, what's working, what's not, what's getting left undone or undone well -- is regarded as entrepreneurial, aggressive, and somehow untrustworthy. "Keep doing what we've been doing" seems to be more common than "build a better mousetrap". As a result, "keep getting what we've been getting" is more than an expectation, it rises almost to the level of an objective. Increasing costs of operation and decreasing public satisfaction levels be damned. The status quo was good enough for Yale in 1828, so it should be good enough for us today.

If SCUP has a role to fill (and I think it does, or I wouldn't keep going to its conferences), that role involves educating educators to the benefits of integrated planning which can include rapid and efficient evolution in both operations and mission, increased efficiency in terms of both energy and financial operations, institutional agility, increased public awareness (market presence), even institutional sustainability on the level of "will your school survive the 21st Century, or even the first half thereof?"

"Integrated planning" is sometimes perceived as implying centralized decision-making, a possibility not held in high regard on many larger campuses. But integration can also be achieved by consensus-building; if we're all in a boat that's headed in the wrong direction, decentralized decision structures need to find a way to get us safely on our way.

As I understand things, SCUP has shifted its own emphasis and culture over the past half-dozen years. If that shift (to integrated, as opposed primarily to campus, planning) is to have full effect, the benefits need to be better communicated to colleges and universities. One indication of the success of such efforts might be a shift in membership category ratios. The current ratio is about three-to-two. I'd like to see something on the order of four-to-one without, of course, driving corporate members (read: convention sponsors and useful campus cross-pollinators) away.

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