DUE Working Groups: Process and Progress

By Elizabeth Reed, Senior Associate Dean, DUE

In the last newsletter, Dan Hastings and I announced the formation of three cross-cutting DUE Working Groups to help us find ways to do some of our work in less costly ways while remaining true to the high quality and core mission of DUE. That newsletter included a link to a set of guiding principles developed at the January leadership team retreat for us to keep in mind as the groups develop recommendations. In this article, I want to give you a sense of how the process is going and what the groups have been doing over the past two months.

When they began their work in February, the groups were asked to look for specific, cross-cutting, actionable recommendations within the purview of DUE, that could save or raise money. Our rationale for launching this process is that MIT is in a serious budget crisis; Institute task groups are looking at some issues that have implications for DUE and we want to ensure that our own enterprise-wide effort provides a basis for our cost-cutting measures, rather than their being driven by external perspectives. The groups, whose members are named later in this article, were asked to look beyond the interests of a single office and to think independently, creatively and pragmatically.

I have been asked how this process compares to the MIT re-engineering effort that began in 1994 in response to a growing gap between MIT’s income and its expenses. Like others who went through re-engineering at MIT, I recall it well. The current process is much different in that our own staff, not outside consultants, are working together to develop recommendations. Also, in the current situation we consistently state the fact that we are developing cost reduction strategies for the long term and seeking ideas that save money while improving services. Re-engineering’s consistent messages to the community were all about efficiency, while the real goals were equally if not primarily about cost-cutting.

Proceedings from the Working Groups have been shared by their co-chairs at monthly office heads meetings. Their thoughtful, hard work is evident:: they are seeking input, gathering and assessing data and considering various ideas and approaches. Jeanne Hillery, Sharon Bridburg and I are attending as many meetings as possible to provide financial and HR expertise, ensure we are on track, and identify connections between and among ideas discussed in the groups. In May and early June, each group will present recommendations and in mid-June will submit written reports to the Dean who will review them. Some may be discussed with the office heads to whom they are most relevant while others may be considered at the July leadership team retreat. A number of the recommendations may be close to pilot phase soon after the working groups complete their work. This is most likely to be true of cost-saving ideas that fall entirely within offices whose heads are prepared to implement them.

While the specific recommendations are still “under construction”, here is a short summary of what each group is working on:

Working Group #1 – The First Year Experience
Chairs: Lori Breslow and Julie Norman
Members: Kavita Baball (MIT alum), Michael Bergren, Shonool Malik, Tammy Stevens, Holly Sweet, Kim Vandiver, Jed Wartman (DSL)

This group is looking comprehensively at the entire first year experience, including orientation, advising, mentoring, careers, residence-based advising, learning communities, Interphase, study sessions, etc. They have broken into two subgroups-- (A) transitional programs, advising and mentoring and (B) academic support and programming, and have met and/or are meeting with staff in DUE, DSL, academic departments, etc. who run programs for freshmen. They are considering, among other things, ideas related to virtual mailings, orientation, advising, tutoring, learning strategies and opportunities provided by the four freshman learning communities.

Working Group #2 –– Faculty Support and Sustaining Educational Innovation
Chairs: Vijay Kumar and Diana Henderson
Members: Graham Walker, Heidi Nepf, Susan Silbey (all faculty), Janet Rankin

This group, which includes three faculty, is looking at the
process of delivering education to students, from the point of view of professors and others. They have considered 1) how to continue supporting the faculty innovation that is key
to maintaining academic excellence, with limited resources, 2) how to bring efficiencies to the educational process, and 3) what MIT’s five schools do and where there may be redundancies in what the schools and DUE do. They have had to maintain both an internal and external focus, which means considering problems and possible outcomes of budget cuts as connected with external outreach to faculty as well as internal to DUE. They are asking DUE offices about their roles in supporting faculty in their educational mission: Which services and programs are highly valued and valuable? Which are less successful or could be streamlined? In what ways could DUE reduce stress through better networking and shared functions across offices and shared efficiencies? What structural changes need to happen, what strategies need to change, what processes need to be developed?

Working Group 3 – Program and Service Delivery Models
Chairs: Mary Callahan and Melanie Parker
Members: Leslie Bridson, McGregor Crowley, Leann Dobranski, Edmund Jones, Matt Davies, Heidi Demers

WG3 is developing staffing models that we might consider using in specific DUE offices as well as more broadly across DUE, to reduce costs and/or generate revenue. They are also exploring new ways we may use technology to facilitate some of our work. They are discussing with the office heads which models seem best suited for DUE culture and needs, and identifying some of the models as candidates for further development.

We are very grateful to the working groups for all they are doing to help us meet our goals. I look forward to sharing specific recommendations when the groups complete their work. In the meantime, please submit your ideas for the groups through the DUE Idea Bank. We appreciate the few received so far and need more deposits to keep the bank open for business!