• Getting to Green

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


Planning not to change

I've been keeping a low profile for the past couple of weeks, because I've been involved with people from across campus getting Greenback's Climate Action Plan ready to submit.

September 10, 2009

I've been keeping a low profile for the past couple of weeks, because I've been involved with people from across campus getting Greenback's Climate Action Plan ready to submit.

The Climate Action Plan is the second major deliverable required of PCC signatories -- the first was the greenhouse gas inventory submitted about this time last year. It requires the involvement of people across campus because, in addition to plans to reduce (eventually eliminate) net GHG emissions, it also must include plans for education (curricular or co-) and research. It was these two elements which caused me and mine the most stress. No reason for it -- the faculty and academic administrators charged with writing those portions of the plan had a good ten months' warning. And it's not like these same folks hadn't gotten monthly reminders of what was required, when it was required, why it was required. But somehow, written explanations of what needed to change, what was changing, what change plans were still being prepared -- none of this was forthcoming, none of it was ready, almost no one remembered that they had been tasked with preparing it, at least one decided -- at the last moment, after months of getting reminders and raising no objections -- that what was being asked was totally unreasonable and couldn't possibly be demanded by any organization with which Greenback would be associated!

So, of course, it took a lot of reminding, a lot of badgering, a lot of wheedling, a lot of facilitating and -- truth be told -- a fair amount of doing the work ourselves. (I can hardly wait to tell the students that the teachers don't do their own homework!)

I may be wrong, but I kind of sense that it's not the writing that these academics have been so strongly (if passively) resisting. I think it's the planning, because planning implies the likelihood of change, and change isn't something Greenback (or other universities?) is good at. As I've mentioned before, we may have some radicals on the faculty but culturally, we're strongly conservative. What has served us well for a century or so must be pretty good, so why would we want to change it?

Now any for-profit firm in manufacturing, or services, or retail would know that if you don't change you die. Your product offerings get overtaken by the competition, customer tastes evolve, old products become cash cows which throw off investment capital by which the firm (with luck) develops new stars. Good companies have departments which focus on defining, planning, preparing for change -- departments like marketing, and research, and product development.

Not Greenback, though. And not most non-profit universities which which I'm familiar. (I'd love to hear of some exceptions.) We might not actively plan to remain the same, but if (as the old saw goes) failing to plan is the same as planning to fail, then not planning to change must be the same as ...

In a sense, the institutional stability that has served Greenback well through good times and bad may be in the process of turning from an advantage into a risk. Cultural conservatism has given us a pretty good run, but it may actively disadvantage us if we're entering (as we well may be) an extended series of shifting demands, expectations, and market requirements. If that's true (and I grit my teeth as I write this), we might have to start acting more like the for-profits. Kind of entrepreneurial. Drawing an image from a Rosabeth Moss Kanter book of a generation ago, we may be a giant who must learn to dance. Or at least an interior lineman ...


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