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Beheruz N. Sethna, Ph.D.

Beheruz N. Sethna is a Professor of Marketing and Business Information Systems at West Georgia College. He is also President of the College.

Two Divergent Modes of Thought

Common business practices of the 1990s include concepts and phrases such as "doing more with less," "prioritization," "rightsizing," "reallocations and redirection," "efficiency increases" and many similar expressions. Do such concepts have any place in academic institutions?

Academic institutions have, for generations, regarded themselves as being above questions of efficiency. Some institutions have preferred to collapse under their own weight rather than ask themselves serious questions about doing things differently and more efficiently. Questions about efficiency and sometimes even effectiveness have been regarded as being inappropriate, if not sacrilegious, with regard to academic departments and programs. In addition, universities and colleges have long had traditions of shared governance, which are quite different from management methods found in industry. Any academic leader, particularly one who is not independently wealthy and, therefore, needs to hold onto his job, must be sensitive to this culture of shared governance.

Should we then simply sigh and say, "Ne'er the twain shall meet," and move on to less controversial topics?

The answer proposed in this paper is a firm, "No." There are at least two major reasons why we cannot and should not do so. The first, and most pragmatic reason (no comment is made is made about whether it is the most important reason), is that academic institutions will not be allowed to do so. In the case of public or state-supported institutions, regents, legislators, and the public will hold us increasingly accountable for public funds. Decreasing state revenues and/or increasing commitments and expenditures outside of higher education, force them to put pressures of accountability on the institutions under their purview. Nor are private institutions exempt from such questions; market forces pressure these institutions and their boards of trustees to ask themselves how best to utilize scarce resources.

A second reason, perhaps at the other end of the spectrum, for asking tough questions of ourselves is quite philosophical: surely academic institutions and disciplines that, by their very nature, question the nature of existence, question theories of creation of the universe, question concepts of life and death, question the fundamentals of personal and societal interactions, and many other basic philosophies, should allow themselves the luxury of asking questions about how they may better serve their constituencies and themselves, given current or declining resources. In fact, we, as academic people, lose credibility if we say that it is entirely legitimate to question the structure of the universe, but it is not appropriate to question the structure of "my"; department. If we may raise questions about the fundamentals of life, surely we should be allowed to raise a lower-order question of methodology, i.e. how best to develop and deliver these and other concepts.

A third reason, perhaps lying between the two extremes mentioned above, is that of academic pragmatism. When faced with declining or static resources, or even modest growth, academic institutions need to focus on areas of strength. The alternative is to be mediocre in everything. In order to be able to enhance some areas of the institution, current or future resources must be taken from some other areas. Thus, such questions as efficiency, effectiveness, quality of delivery of services, continuous improvement, and others, are inevitable.

Process and Content

If academic institutions cannot or should not avoid the tough "business-like" questions that are so often asked in industry, they need to have access to approaches or models that work in academic situations. This paper suggests that such an approach should regard both process and content as being critical to the success of a rigorous planning approach in an academic institution.

In this paper, the suggested approach is likened to that of a suspension bridge over a bay. The bridge is anchored at one end with a strong process and, at the other, with a solid content. The author freely admits that, even with two good anchors, the journey is rather perilous and tough! However, if one of these anchors is weak or unravels, tragedy will surely result.

PROCESS . . . . . . . . . CONTENT

Planning for the future of the Organization

Let us first consider the necessity for process. An approach that concentrates on content at the expense of process is doomed to failure in an academic institution. Legislators, the public, and business executives can rarely understand this aspect of academic institutions. They are used to the corporate world in which senior executives make the tough decisions and the rest of the company implements these decisions. If a company has to cut or redirect 5 percent of its budget, it is done behind closed doors by one person or a handful of senior people. Such an approach typically will not work in an academic institution which has a culture of shared governance. In addition to the possibility of such things as votes of no confidence, there is a very real danger that the decisions will not have the support of the faculty and so will not be likely to succeed. Process, then, is a critical anchor.

Now, let us examine the necessity for content. Certainly, many academic institutions engage in planning activities. However, in our eagerness to pay attention to time-honored academic traditions such as a broad-based committee structure, giving voting privileges almost exclusively to the senior faculty who have the most vested in the status quo, and acquiescing to "curriculum creep" (the tendency to add to curricula and programs, but never to delete or reduce requirements or programs), such planning processes rarely, if ever, lead to real change, programmatic reductions, or any hard decisions about movements of resources from less needed areas to more needed ones. Without such hard decisions and prioritizations, the content anchor will be weak or non-existent and the probability of survival or success of the organization in a competitive and increasingly difficult economic environment will be marginal at best.

Process and content, therefore, are both critical elements to the survival and success of the organization. As an example, one possible approach is suggested in this paper. It is based on a firm respect for academic traditions and shared governance, yet asks questions of efficiency and prioritization that might improve the overall performance of the organization. While there is no claim that this model would apply to a broad spectrum of academic institutions, the contribution of the paper lies in proposing the necessity of employing both process and content in a rigorous planning approach, and describing an approach that did work. Undoubtedly, other academic institutions would have to make adjustments to this approach to suit their particular circumstances, but this approach may still be useful as a starting point.


West Georgia College is a state-supported comprehensive institution in the Arts and Sciences, Business, and Education which has several nationally-accredited and recognized Undergraduate, Masters, and Specialist programs. Enrolled are 8,650 students. Approximately 30 percent of these are graduate students.

West Georgia College has historically allocated resources to planned, prioritized activities in support of the College's mission and goals. Continual self-study and evaluation provided measures by which programs have been added, modified, and eliminated. During Fiscal Year 1994-95, faculty and staff developed new mission and vision statements and began a comprehensive planning and prioritization process with the express objective of designing "an institution best suited to meet the needs of the 21st Century." Every facet of the College's operation was reviewed, each unit examined, and programs meriting enhancement, de-emphasis, or elimination (with corresponding resource implications) were identified. Administrative functions were similarly appraised. Personnel at all organizational levels and informed external advisors were involved in the process. This was a ground-up process involving all organizational levels (Department, School, Division, and College) and three reviews at each level (Faculty/Staff, Administrator, and Appeals). Direction and redirection of resources based on unit performance and upon priorities generated through the process represented a new direction in institutional philosophy for West Georgia College.

The Process

The key to this approach is the process that it employed. At the end of the process, the Faculty Senate endorsed the report and voted to commend it for the "comprehensive, participatory, and open process." Then the General Faculty voted in favor of all the organizational changes, each one by a very wide margin (the closest vote had a margin of 99 votes out a voting faculty size of 173).

West Georgia College undertook three major planning efforts during the 1994-95 academic year, each of which was closely tied to the others in process and content. These were:

(1) An extensive and participatory process led to the development of the Vision Statement in November, 1994.

(2) The Institutional Studies and Planning Committee (ISPC), a standing committee of the Faculty Senate, was entrusted with the task of developing the Mission Statement. It began its work in December, 1994, and developed drafts which went through several reviews with groups internal to the College and informally with key University System officials. The Mission Statement was then approved by the Faculty Senate. After another review at the University System level, it went back through the ISPC and the Faculty Senate with a revised version based on feedback provided by System staff.

(3) A Mission Statement was presented to the System Office covering the Planning and Prioritization Process. This was a comprehensive and inclusive examination of every department and unit of the College. (See West Georgia College's Planning and Prioritization Process)


An amount of $2.2 was redirected, with an estimated $0.5 million to follow, for a total of $2.7 million. This constitutes approximately 4-5 percent of the institution's budget. Details are given below. (See excerpts from the Planning and Prioritization Report.)

Redirection was structured along the following lines:

Budget Redirection: Mid-Year 1994-95

During Fiscal Year 1994-95, West Georgia College redirected funds as follows by budget amendment to maintain the College campus and to improve the application of technology for instructional and administrative tasks.

I. To increase overall productivity, including areas of technology and information systems.

Total of Above Redirections as of Mid-Year 1994-95: $789,950

Budget Redirection: Budget Development 1995-96

As a result of the planning and prioritization process which concluded during Spring 1995, West Georgia College redirected funds as reflected in the Resident Instruction Budget, Fiscal Year 1995-96.

II. To increase overall productivity, including areas of technology and information systems.

Total Redirection, Budget Development 1995-96: $558,254

Budget Redirection: Planned, 1996-97:

The Planning and Prioritization Process during 1994-95 and 1995-96 identified priorities College-wide for redirection of resources. Coincidentally, Georgia Governor Zell Miller announced his requirement that each State agency redirect funds in the amount of five percent of the agency budget. West Georgia College's share of the University System of Georgia's redirection is $771,000 within its Education and General Budget. The College is required to redirect funds in the amount of $179,239 within its Special Initiative Program Budget.

West Georgia College will redirect budgeted funds prior to July 1, 1996 consistent with priorities developed by the Planning and Prioritization Process and approved by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia in July 1995:

I. From low priority to high priority academic programs, consistent with mission.

II. From administrative to instructional activities

III. To admissions, retention, and graduation strategies. IV. To increase overall productivity, including areas of technology and information systems.

Budget Redirection: Currently Approved Items (relative to a target of $771,000)--$859,223

Additional Re-directions Under Consideration West Georgia College is likely to redirect Special Initiative Funds from Nursing programs per University System requirements:

A. Nursing/Nursing-Dalton: Nursing programs remain a priority for the College, with special emphasis on off-campus instruction in the under-served northwest Georgia, northeast Alabama, and southeast Tennessee region served by the External Degree Program in Dalton. The College may fund fully the Nursing Program from Education and General, and Sponsored sources.

Consistent with priorities developed during the Planning and Prioritization Process, the College may redirect Education and General funds as follows, pending completion of College development, and Board of Regents approval of West Georgia College School of Education reorganization:

I. To increase overall productivity, including areas of technology and information systems.

Total Additional Re-direction Items Under Consideration: $372,304


This paper suggests that business practices such as prioritization of needs, raising and answering questions of efficiency and effectiveness, and redirecting resources from areas of lesser need to more pressing ones, do indeed have relevance in academic institutions. Further, it makes the case that, to be effective, a planning approach is desirable that includes a major emphasis on both Process and Content.

As an example, the West Georgia College approach demonstrates that significant budget redirections may be made to enhance academic programs, prioritize needs, improve efficiency and effectiveness and meet other goals that business, Regents, Legislators, and the public desire, while preserving the sanctity of the shared governance approach in an academic institution.


Jones, Dennis P., "Strategic Budgeting: The Board's Role in Public Colleges and Universities," Association of Governing Boards Occasional Paper Series, No. 28.