Friday, September 25, 2009

Transparency and teapots

On Wednesday night I met with the Student Senate of URI for the first time. I was very impressed; they are a dedicated, thoughtful, and articulate group of student leaders, who clearly care about the University and what’s best for students. We met to talk about some of the issues, opportunities, and challenges that we might face, or will likely have to deal with, in the near future. Our conversation was candid – most importantly we talked openly, with other students and a reporter from the Good 5¢ Cigar in the Senate chamber. And we talked about some difficult issues around the ongoing state budget problems and their possible consequences for higher education. I believe that this is how we want to work together as a community here at URI – openly, transparently, and inclusively. I believe that faculty, staff, and students should be involved in deciding how we can take advantage of our opportunities and meet our challenges. To facilitate that we have to be willing to share information, possibilities, and ideas prior to a decision being reached, and that’s exactly what transpired at the Senate meeting. I had previously discussed these budget issues with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and look forward to opportunities to discuss these with representatives of our staff.

In several ways, the Wednesday Student Senate meeting and the resulting flurry of interest from the media illustrate some likely consequences of the new planning and budgeting process that is now in development for implementation this spring. A new, representative planning and budget council will hold open meetings, where anyone would be welcome to attend, including, I am sure, a reporter from the Good 5¢ Cigar, and perhaps other media. The council, composed of senior university leadership, deans, faculty, staff, and students will discuss and consider strategic priorities, possibilities, opportunities, and challenges for URI. The Council will develop the budget recommendations for my review and approval. We should anticipate that some meetings will generate debate and discussion across the campus. Honestly, I think it would be a great outcome to see students, faculty, and staff discussing the council’s meetings, sharing ideas, and providing feedback. To be sure, at times this kind of open and transparent process will generate external attention, even concern, and occasionally surprise and confusion. I think that’s ok – it can be considered the price we pay for participation and transparency. As we grow accustomed to our new approach to planning and budgeting the instances of surprise and confusion will diminish. The outcomes – the URI community will have the opportunity to share in creating our future, people at URI and across the state will know what we are doing (and planning) and, also importantly, why – will certainly be more than worth the cost.