The Incoherent Ramblings of a Madman by Dr. Robert Wilkinson

As I have been sitting through endless video meetings, my mind started to wonder. What am I going to write for this blog? So, as I started writing I realized that my mind was full of disconnected and random thoughts that I had not yet processed. Therefore, this is going to be one massive cerebral data dump of topics related to institutional effectiveness in one form or another.

First, what is institutional effectiveness?  The AHEE definition states that integrated institutional effectiveness is “the purposeful coordination and integration of functions that foster student success and support institutional performance, quality, and efficiency; those functions include strategic planning, outcomes assessment, institutional research, regional/specialized accreditation, and program/unit review.” But is that all? Surely there must be more to it than that. So, I went on an IE crawl (much like a pub crawl but looking at IE websites) to see what I could find to refine a working definition that works for me. The definition needed to include all aspects of an institution including teaching and learning, discovery, and engagement – it had to include assessment, strategic alignment, and integrative planning and, it had to encompass institutional mission and culture. Also, while there are commonalities across institutions and institutional types, the definition of institutional effectiveness had to be broad enough to encompass all institutions.

With all this as a starting point and using the working definition I have used for years, I have modified my working definition as follows: Institutional effectiveness is the purposeful coordination and integration of institutional functions and processes that support institutional performance, quality, and efficiency. Within the framework of the triad of teaching and learning, discovery, and engagement, those functions and processes include strategic planning, outcomes assessment, institutional research, regional and specialized accreditation, and program/unit review. It is important to note that while the definition is the same for all institutions, the model and implementation will be based on institutional mission and culture. This also means that teaching and learning, discovery, and engagement are at the core, but the degree of importance given to each will vary based on mission and culture.

Next on this journey of my cerebral purge has to do with the overuse of jargon. We are going to do a deep dive into the data to do a heavy lift so the institution can pivot to the new normal. What in the world do these words mean?  EAB has a one-page document (How to Write Better Right Now) that lists the following words to avoid – deep dive, drill down, core competency, leverage, buy-in, hardwiring, reinvent the wheel, low-hanging fruit, and robust. Grant Thornton has a “Jargon Index” with 124 jargon terms used on Fortune 500 company websites, and in press coverage and social media during the first quarter of 2018. Here are some of my favorites from the top 20: best in class, game changer, organic growth, thought leadership, moving parts, bring to the table, laser focused, and move the needle. Even the Dilbert comic strip got in on the jargon issue with the boss saying, “let’s do a deep dive in the big data and drill down until we hyperbolize some disruptive technologies.”

What does all this mean? Why can’t we speak in simple terms and say what is important without using all the crazy jargon? I read an article about how they move rhinoceroses from one habitat to another to enhance the genetic distribution of the dwindling population. They suspend the animal upside down and move it by helicopter. They closed the article by saying “This is the definition of a heavy lift.”  Can’t we save the appropriate words for the appropriate occasion and simply drop the jargon? Maybe we would be more productive if we understood what was being said.

Finally, what happened to simple common courtesy in the workplace?  I know we are all under a great deal of stress, COVID fear is running rampant and we are all worried if our jobs will continue, but why can’t we all get along? I have always greeted my co-workers with a smile and take time to take an interest in them.  I try my hardest to make my staff laugh and always feel appreciated.  Have we become so divisive that we will no longer get along?

This was my cerebral data dump. So, to bring it back to institutional effectiveness.  Let us operate with a clear definition and model that is centered on institutional mission and culture. Let us use clear and direct language, with no jargon, that everyone will accept and understand.  Finally, the process of implementation will cause a great deal of stress so let us be mindful of this and do everything we can to reduce the stress to create an enjoyable work environment.