Dear College of Arts & Letters Staff and Faculty,

Since we last met during the College Virtual Meeting on March 5, 2021, I have received several questions as it pertains to the 2020 Contingency Plan and the Budget Reduction Task Force (BRTF) initiative. Throughout this process, we have sought to establish opportunities for dialogue and input that will shape the decisions we make. In keeping with this spirit, I have curated the questions we received and responded to each of those questions below.

What are the purposes of the program indicators dashboard process?

One of the main tenets of the 2020 Contingency Plan was to “lead transformative change: periods of intense disruption open new opportunities for the arts & humanities to shape a more just and meaningful future; we will summon the courage to enact the change we envision.” The indicator dashboards will empower us to bring a sophisticated, information-rich understanding of our programs to bear on our efforts to lead the transformative change we envision.  

How will the results be used and by whom?

All faculty and staff in the College of Arts & Letters will be the primary users of the dashboards. We stand at a critical point of inflection at MSU as we begin to return to campus and the University undertakes an ambitious strategic planning process under new leadership. As a College, we must position ourselves to make strategic decisions to ensure that the arts and humanities shape the future direction of the University. To do this with integrity, we need to develop a sophisticated understanding of our programs—where they currently stand and how they have historically developed—in order to discern where we are headed and how we will accomplish the goals we have established. The development of program dashboards has been intentionally designed to be an inclusive, iterative, and collaborative process that will continue to evolve over time with input from faculty, staff, directors, and chairs. These dashboards will inform the strategic planning process we undertake in the Fall of 2021.

What and how will decisions be made by the administrators based on the results? 

We value shared governance in the College. We aim to make decisions together. Some of these are done through regular deliberative processes as laid out in our unit bylaws. Other times, as with the BRTF, we create structures for decision making to ensure that our commitment to shared governance guides the way we proceed. In these deliberative moments, having evidence to guide our decisions is critical. The dashboards will inform a strategic planning process that will involve identifying the values, mission, goals and strategies each unit will need to chart a pathway to leadership in its field. Once the goals and objectives are established, the program dashboards will serve as indicators of success, holding us accountable to our values and priorities. A critical aspect of this work will be to further develop a compelling and inclusive curriculum that will enable us to attract and retain a new generation of diverse and engaged students. The dashboards will inform this important process of curriculum reform. Without a clear understanding of our strengths and a sober recognition of our weaknesses, we cannot develop or implement a strategic plan that situates the arts and humanities at the center of the MSU mission. 

In what way is this process tied to the on-going and projected budget reductions?

Candidly, almost all of our decisions at present are in some way related to the current recurring budget shortfalls we are facing. Our efforts continue to be guided, as they have from the start, by the principles outlined in our 2020 Contingency Plan. We have emphasized that we are adopting a bridging strategy to handle the budget reductions. Since the large majority of our recurring budget is bound up in salaries, the main way we aim to return recurring monies to the University is by using savings from retirements and attrition. To accomplish this, we need to use non-recurring funds (e.g., travel, supplies, and services, etc.) to cover the immediate reductions so we can, over time, identify recurring funds to cover the costs of the cuts. Historically, we have had an inadequate understanding of how our curriculum needs shape our instructional costs. The dashboards are designed to give all of us a deeper understanding of this relationship so that when we have attrition, we can strategically redistribute resources to meet the demands of the cuts. The dashboards will enable the College and unit administrators in dialogue with College staff and faculty to make strategic and compassionate decisions regarding hiring, scheduling, and future investments.

In what way is this process relevant to the potential change to a decentralized/RCM university budget model?

At the current moment, we do not know what the new University budget model will look like. The University is in the process of hiring a new Chief Financial Officer, and I was very pleased that Associate Dean Sonja Fritzsche was asked to serve on the search committee. In addition, I served on the Strategic Planning Steering Committee’s Budget Model working group last summer as we made recommendations to the University Task Force about the values that should shape any new budget model. The program dashboards are directly related to an anticipated change in the budget model. In order to better understand the impact a proposed budget model might have on the College and our programs, we need a sophisticated, information-rich understanding of our programs. Without the dashboards, informed by feedback from the staff and faculty, we will not be able to strategically advocate for the budget model that aligns with the transformative change we envision. Regardless of the model, the program indicators dashboards will determine how budgets in the College of Arts & Letters are distributed. 

Everyone is so extremely exhausted now and really need a break, why do we have to do this right now and complete the whole process this semester?

Yes, I agree this has been a difficult year. I want to thank each of you for the conscientious leadership, compassion, and generosity you have demonstrated during this time of uncertainty. Your dedication has been an inspiration for our students, colleagues, and the entire MSU community, and for that I am grateful. We undertake this process now for two reasons. First, we have a significant recurring budget shortfall we need to address strategically, as mentioned above. Second, we need to lead proactive change in the face of a changing budget model at the University. Our approach from the beginning has been to lead with creativity and imagination rather than responding in regressive and reactionary ways.

We will hold another College Meeting hosted by the College Advisory Council (CAC). I look forward to our ongoing conversation on Thursday, April 15, 2021, from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. The CAC sent an email earlier this week that includes the Zoom information and a link where you may submit questions.

Finally, I am grateful for the time everyone has taken to bring their energy and insight to this process. I look forward to your feedback as we continue to put the core values of our College into practice in navigating the challenges we face. 

In the meantime, please be well, stay safe, and take care.


Black signature of Dean Christopher P. Long

Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters
Dean, Honors College