Teamwork Builds College's Future
Claire Gaudiani wants to lead Connecticut College to the forefront of liberal-arts education
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`I ASKED questions all day long for two days about what we would need to know to ... create a strong sense of direction for a strong liberal-arts college for the 21st century," she says. "What we were trying to do during these early sessions was not so much write the plan as create a structure within which the questions would be asked and the issues raised by the community."Skip to next paragraph
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Gaudiani wanted to avoid the notion of a new president or a couple of powerful trustees or administrators outlining the future of the college. "What we were trying to do was create a structure in which the community could explore this. That lessens the tension that something is going to be done to somebody. And that's critical."
"No one can say that it's an administration plan," says Dirk Held, a professor of classics who chairs the Priorities, Planning, and Budget Committee, a group of faculty, students, and administrators which oversees implementation of the plan.
Gaudiani's goal was to use the process of designing a strategic plan as an opportunity to rethink every aspect of the college.
"We didn't have a formula. We were going in at it from the questions," she says. "The Socratic method moves people into the frame that I call 'blue sky.' Open space. Absence of constraints - the constraints of tradition, the constraints of funding, the constraints of structures we've always lived by and can't imagine not living with."
Part of Gaudiani's advantage was that she knew nothing about ingrained institutional habits at the college. d done consulting before, so I just decided to run as far as I could into the organization as a consultant," she says.
"An institution gets stuck in certain modes and people make assumptions about what's possible," Gaudiani says. "Leadership can throw that open and cause everything to be reconsidered."
Ms. Matthews says the strategic plan "has given us a comprehensive management tool. It's given us a focus."
Professor Held says the plan "has had a far-reaching effect on the whole campus. It gives you a framework in which to make decisions and keys those decisions to the priorities in the plan."
"The goal is to get the strategic thinking to permeate the whole institution," Held says, noting that he sees evidence of that happening. Initially, many faculty members were skeptical about the plan and some remain so, he says. But some departments are responding by rethinking their own priorities.
A key component of Connecticut College's plan is having one committee responsible for both planning and budgeting, Held says. "Often what undercuts a plan is that it's not integrated into the budget process," he says.
The inclusive nature of the plan - allowing all segments of the college community to participate - makes for a time-consuming and arduous activity. But Gaudiani views it as the only way. "Leaders need to be primarily in service to the people and values of the organization that they lead," she says. "Leaders almost never need to exercise power. They need to lead in ways that create a vision that motivates people."