A Letter from UNT President V. Lane Rawlins

February, 2011

In large universities such as UNT, divisions and departments are profoundly affected by decisions made by leaders throughout the institution. Often, those affected know little about the decision-making process that caused change. In such a large enterprise, that’s no surprise. Yet, this approach to business often leads to confusion, mixed directions, redundancies, and inefficiencies. In that environment, the execution of an integrated plan to achieve institutional goals is nearly impossible. If we’re going to advance our university, all members of our community need to be pulling in the same direction. Involving more people in the decision-making process and improving communications about the actions of university leaders are important steps in that direction.

One approach I am using to encourage better and more interactive planning and decision making is the creation of “President’s Councils.” These councils are empowered to make critical decisions that impact the future of our university.

To illustrate, consider the multitude of plans and decisions that are related to changes in our enrollment, including the size of our student body and where in the university we seek to have growth. As most of us have experienced, increased enrollment poses a number of challenges. Those challenges should be addressed collaboratively and through careful planning. If decisions about student recruitment, academic programs, housing, classrooms, and support services are made independently and without coordination, there tends to be inefficiency, discontent, and a lot of “finger pointing.” This is especially true when enrollment is changing rapidly. But, when the key university areas are directly involved, they can plan for enrollment change and the necessary program and capital changes concurrently. There may still be surprises, of course, but not by things that were “planned by others on the other side of campus” without the right people involved.

As suggested above, the central concept of a council is to broaden the base of decision making, using the general principle that those who have the most stake in the outcome should have a say in the decisions. To that end we have created a number of President’s Councils, and we are likely to create more in the coming year. These councils actually make and implement key decisions for the university, and, like any decision-making body, seek information and advice from key constituents. Councils are largely made up of those who already have decision-making responsibility, hence you see the Provost represented on several councils, along with the various vice presidents and other officials at the university. Thus, having councils make decisions is not fundamentally a way of decentralizing or delegating authority. Rather, the councils serve to bridge the traditional administrative silos, so that the potential ramifications of major decisions can be considered as part of a joint process.

Interaction among the councils is also critical. For example, recommendations from a council or area that substantially affects the budget will be considered by the Finance Council. Those that affect our plans for buildings and facilities, go to the Capital Projects Council. And so on.

I am pleased with the progress we are making to streamline our decisions and minimize the confusion that tends to occur when decisions with broad implications are made in isolation. The existing councils are functioning well and have made some key decisions. They are guided by university and research strategic plans and our consolidated strategic plan, which is emerging from a synthesis of our existing plans through the efforts of the Strategic Planning Committee.

I have asked the councils, along with the committee, to prepare short reports of their activities and progress. For those who are interested, the reports have been collected and summarized. They can be found at the following sites:

As always, thank you for your dedication to the university.

 

Best regards,

V. Lane Rawlins
President