Question and Answer: a Potpourri
Posted on March 31, 2010
I haven’t done a Q&A posting in a while and a few questions have trickled in, so here goes:
1. Someone has taken me to task for not being more careful about spelling in these postings.
Mea culpa. I often find time to post between doing a hundred other things and part of what I enjoy about the informality of the medium is not worrying too much about my tone or spelling or language choices. Same with e-mail. Different media make different demands in this regard, but I suppose the writer is correct and I should set a better example. Another college president, an old friend and one of the best writers I know, is dyslexic and always told me “I never trust anyone who doesn’t know three ways to spell a word.” Whyle I tend two agree, I will bee mor dilligent about spellyng (though it takes some bit of fun out of things).
2. Someone else would like to see us provide more parking at our millyard location.
Unfortunately, we do not have access to dedicated parking. Moreover, we want university staff located down at or visiting the millyard to feel like it is part of the university as a whole, so with our current situation everyone gets to complain about parking!
3. Two people think we have too many televisions on campus, citing the Dining Hall and the unhappy prevalence of Fox News (an opinion show, not actual news).
I tend to agree, though the Dining Hall offers ample seating options out of view and sound range of televisions. Televisions as a source of campus information (on the way into Athletics, for example) are useful, but I’d be happy to reconsider their placement in the Dining Hall. Perhaps one area could be designated for those who need or want television access. Tom and Frank, stop the madness.
4. Someone has heard about bonuses for growth in COCE enrollments.
We actually have a longstanding practice of merit or bonus compensation at SNHU. For covered employees and university staff there is every year a merit component. For non-covered employees, we have tended to do selective bonuses for those who have done particularly outstanding work.
Our new performance assessment program, based on measurable goals and a 3-point score, will provide more substantial bonuses than has been true in the past. So the idea of bonuses is not new in any way, though the awarding of bonuses will be tied more directly to measurable outcomes and that will be true across all staff groups.
5. Someone asked if we are considering a reduction to the pension contribution in light of budget pressures.
The pension contribution is a negotiated matter and part of the Master Agreement. It is possible that we would approach the Association for a one-year reduction in the pension contribution, but we are not at that point in the budget process. As for the future, contribution levels wil be worked out in negotiations.
6. Someone is wondering why we are considering the creation of a new school (a combination of Sports Management, Hospitality, and Culinary) given the aditional cost of launching such a change.
There were exploratory talks with the parties involved and some sense that new programs and enrollments could cover any new costs, but the discussions did not proceed very far and have been largely shelved given all the other things we have going on now.
7. Someone else wants to know if we might also stop major projects such as OneStop and the Datatel conversion.
I feel strongly that this exactly the time to continue building the necessary capacity(Goal 2 of the Strategic Plan) to support aggressive expansion (Goal 3). COCE covers the deficit run by the main campus programs and by freezing Undergraduate Day tuition for next year, that subsidy is increasing (since our expenses continue to climb). The systems and processes that got us this far are not adequate to support the next level of growth in COCE, growth we need to move out of this tight budget phase (as one trustee said, “We aren’t going to cut our way clear — we better grow.”). Growth requires building capacity, increasing productivity and efficiencies, and finding ways to scale without throwing bodies at outdated processes. These projects have never been more important.
8. A similar question asked why we moved Marketing to the millyard (wouldn’t it have been chepaer to leave them where they were)?
The work of the marketing staff is so tightly integrated with that of the enrollment staff that we think they need to be in the same space, ergo the move. Look at the quality of the work, the big jump in enrollments, and the effectiveness of the campaigns, and the results speak for themselves.
9. Someone wants to know if we will cut the tuition subsidies for senior administrators’ children attending other institutons.
I’m pretty sure this one was pointed to me. As part of my previous contract, our two girls received a tuition subsidy equal to the amount we provide for employee children attending here. The only difference is that they take it with them elsewhere (employee children enjoy a simlar benefit when they go through the NHCCUC or CIC tuition exchage programs, sometimes getting an even bigger dollar benefit). It is common practice to let a president’s kids carry the benefit elsewhere as it can get just too wierd to be at the same instituton as dad or mom when dad or mon’s position can be political or unpopular or simply complicated by the nature of the role.
In my new contract, we eliminated any such benefit and I receive one simple base salary with no educational stipends or housing allowance or any such things. As long as I am sharing, the Board Compensation Committee took the 17 institutions Bill McGary and UBAC used for financial comparisons (so no one could be accused of cherry picking) — schools similar in size, mission, budget, endowment, and culture — and pegged my salary to lag slightly behind the median for the group (i.e. to pay me near the top of the bottom half). That seemed fair to both of us.
10. Someone wants to know if we have looked at the cost of consultants.
Of course. I’d be curious to know if the questioner actually knows how many we use and for what purposes? The reason I say that is because we don’t actually use many consultants. We have brought in a consultant for the OneStop and for the Datatel projects, but those are big, complex projects exceeding our capacity and we need the help through the implentation phase. The costs were part of the Goal 2 reserve fund from last year and do not impact this year’s budget. Beyond those key areas (revisit question 7 above), we make limited use of consultants. The questioner may be misguided by a very large budget line for consultants, but that covers all our adjuncts. Thus the seven-figure amount.
11. Someone points out that the walk button for the new crosswalk faces the wrong way and is not immediately apparent.
I noticed the same thing and will ask Bob Vachon too tke a look.
12. Soneone wants to know about the status of SCED and if we need two PhD programs to retain university status.
CED will become a department within the School of Business and we are accepting no new PhD students. We will teach out the PhD program over the next six years, a sizable window during which we will develop and launch a new doctoral program. PattyLynott is leading that discussion now. It is indeed correct that we need two doctoral programs. We have time.
13. There wa s ahearty thank you from someone who had earlier complained about more limited food choices and lack of customization in the new Dining Hall (pimp my panini?).
All credit goes to Dan and the Sodexho staff. He is incredibly responsive — entertain yourself some time by reading the suggstion board, where Dan always posts his replies. As the person wrote to me: “The food and choices are super!”
14. Someone wrote that we should pay more attention to rankings.
Schools with high rankings love them and the others disparage them. I tend not to worry about them either way as they are arbitrary and A) based on gaming the system, B) impossible to measure reputational factors, and B) just too simple minded. They tend to distract from the things we know make a difference for students. But hey, if US News and World Report decides to name us the number 1 school in the Northeast, I’ll be the first to share the good news!
15. And the final Q&A question of the day: The university is investing in marketing and recruitment, but what are we doing about retention?
Not enough. The Retention Task Force has been looking at the question and we know that a number of things we are doing have to help (centralized advising; early warning, better campus life….), but the work does not yet cohere into a well structured, well understood retention strategy. This is a high priority in the year ahead.
On a final celebratory note: everyone should be giving pats on the back to Steve Hodownes and his crew (Scott D, Gerard, Arthur, the marketing folks) for the successful launch of the new MBA. We are at 134 new students and climbing (gainst 51 last year)! Clearly the marketing campaign worked well (and went live in record time), the structure of the program and breadth of choices resonate (thank you SoB faculty!), and our positioning around quality/affordability/choice found a ready audience. That report comes on the heels of the COCE retention successes led by Amelia Manning and her team. Both effrots have been a resounding successes and at a time when we really needed them.
If you managed to make your way through all fifteen questions and final note, Jerry Clayton will come by every morning for the next week dressed in a bunny suit to serve coffee and bagels. Just drop her a e-mail with the subject line “Hey bunny.”
In response to a question about SNHU needing two doctoral programs to maintain University status, your response was “It is indeed correct that we need two doctoral programs.” This seems odd–is the State of New Hampshire actually still holding us to the requirements negotiated when SNHU moved to University status?
We may want to do that for our own reasons, and to maintain our own standards, but for the state to force us to seems unfair, since Plymouth State was allowed to change from College to University without meeting the same standards–as Dick Gustafson pointed out at the time.