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State of the University Address, 2007

AUGUST 30, 2007

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Let me quickly turn to some internal matters that I think are important in sustaining our momentum.

I have periodically confessed my conversion to strategic planning as a method to advance the university, particularly in an era of shrinking resources. As with most of the converted I have become a true believer-hopefully of the substance and not the ritual. Like Dilbert I still believe that a mission statement is "a long awkward sentence that demonstrates management's inability to think clearly." I still think that the worst risk of a plan is that one will follow it blindly instead of seeing the opportunities that emerge spontaneously. But Yogi Berra was right when he said: "You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

The deans have been gracious guinea pigs in our search for a planning process that makes sense and they have, wittingly and unwittingly, contributed to its current configuration. Planning is hard work. At a minimum, it has been successful in giving those of us at the campus level a better understanding of what the colleges are trying to accomplish and a means to be supportive of those efforts.

To complete the task, we are now working on a campus academic strategic plan, informed by our experience and the planning well under way in the colleges. We are calling it a strategic compass, for it is built on and reflects the planning already completed and will attempt to articulate a general direction for the campus. After interactions with the deans, we hope to have a draft that the campus can review and critique as soon as possible. There should be no mistake of my intentions to make strategic planning the primary process for organizing our decision-making. Almost every aspect of the university is increasingly dependent on information technology. I can remember feeding punch cards into a machine as large as a room when I was a law student and now I sometimes feel that my entire life is contained in my Blackberry. Our communications with the outside world once anchored to a wall plug, now follow us everywhere. My family's recent trip photos include me on the pyramids of Mexico and on the Great Wall of China doing e-mail. I checked our earlier trip photos and found a lot of them with me asleep on the beach. Somewhere I've gone astray!

We are fortunate to have a number of very skilled and dedicated individuals who manage our IT and they scramble valiantly to respond to the demands of the campus. With the introduction of any new technology, there is inevitably a period of discontinuity and experimentation, where the institution struggles to keep pace with the freelance curiosity and innovation of its faculty and staff.

I believe it is a propitious time for us to take a careful look at our information technology, particularly with regard to how we are serving the campus, how we manage competing demands, and how we pay for these services. We need a master plan-one that builds upon but is not driven by the current accretion of activities that has occurred haphazardly in response to accelerating technological change. Over the course of the year, I intend to seek outside assistance to help us objectively think through these important and very complex issues. I will assure you that the entire campus community will have input on these matters.

Let me precede the rest of my speech with a heartfelt thanks to all of you for your patience and forbearance. I can think of at least two initiatives that I know have caused considerable frustration and resistance. I suspect that this would have been my reaction had I still been a dean or a faculty member.

I do not think I've been fully successful in assuring each of you a "best friend at work" or even convincing you that is an important question. The Gallup survey has been illuminating for some and a tempting target for bad humor from others. I know of some units that are better places to work because of this initiative; I know of others that were provoked to invent their own methods for testing and improving the climate in the workplace. And I know of still other units where I helped them achieve a sense of unity for the first time through their resistance to the Gallup process. I am not prepared to declare defeat on this one but I'm not prepared to declare a wholesale victory either.