Lee Burdette Williams
Constant turnover at the helm means more work belowdecks.
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To: Department Directors
From: Lee, Vice President for Student Affairs
Hello, folks. Good to see you all at last week’s Covid-safe, CDC-approved presidential inaugural celebration. I thought the shrimp cocktail platter was particularly genius, Sam. I just don’t know how you got masks on all of them. And Roland — the pep band’s rendition of “Here We Go Again” was great, if not at all subtle. Demi Lovato, right? I’m a bit fuzzy on my 2000s pop hits. Anyway. As you know, we are once again launching a new presidential reign, and of course you know what that means. So please pull out your current departmental strategic plan and start rewriting it, preferably using language from President Maverick’s “Pillars of Exceptional Excellence” plan, available on the presidential website. I’ll need these by the end of next week so I can rewrite the division’s strategic plan by the end of the month, when President Maverick wants to roll out the Exceptionally Excellent deliverables. Thanks.
To: Lee, VPSA
From: Sasha, Director, Student Activities, Community, Fun, Growth and Belonging
Hi Lee. I’m looking at my current strategic plan, which of course aligned with former President Mutineer’s “Markers of Outstanding Organizations,” and am puzzling a bit. Our current strategic plan’s connections to MOO might be hard to twist into the new Pillars of Exceptional Excellence. The MOO goals and objectives we developed here in SACFGB were more about organizational outcomes. I’m wondering: what if I pulled out the strategic plan from two presidents ago? You might remember President Turnaround’s “Yardstick to the Moon.” While she was only here for 18 months before the whole wine cellar renovation scandal broke, I thought her “Three Feet for the Future” was a good match with our community service emphasis.
Interesting idea. Let me give this some thought and see what some of the rest of our team thinks.
To: Department Directors
Hi all. Sasha had an intriguing idea, and I want to bounce it around (trying to use those skills we learned in that virtual 3-day workshop, “Bouncing, Brickbatting and Brainstorming” that President Mutineer had us go through last summer…was that just last summer?). She is wondering if it might make more sense to go back two strategic plans and rewrite the Yardstick goals and objectives, and just shelve the MOO Plan. Thoughts?
From: Drew, Director of Residential Life and Learning and Support and Service
Hi Lee. Shelve MOO? I’m afraid that particular shelf has no more room. The six different strategic plans I have had to write following the arrival of six different presidents during my twenty years here, all of which are collecting dust in a corner of my office, taunt me daily. But I’ll do what I’m asked. While I have your attention, I do have one question: The housing software system that former President Mutineer’s chief of staff insisted we purchase (Rooms4All), which has not worked well from day one — any chance we can replace it with something new, or, failing that, can we go back to two systems ago (BodsInBeds), which was sort of our high-water mark of efficiency?
Thanks for agreeing to write another of your brilliant strategic plans, Drew. You’re a trooper. Your plan under former President Vanguard (that was the one you wrote in iambic pentameter, remember?) remains one of my favorite institutional documents. About the housing software — I think we should wait to see if President Maverick has any interest in the details of housing, or any friends or former colleagues now making their living selling something before we alienate yet another group — the new(est) IT integration team that will be starting next week (that should be fun).
To: President’s Cabinet
Good morning, everyone. I just want to take your temperature on something. As we agreed we would all do, I’ve asked my directors to begin the process of rewriting their strategic plans to align with President Maverick’s Pillars of Exceptional Excellence, and am getting a little pushback. While I think they like President Maverick and some of his ideas, they are stretched pretty thin, especially since our summer round of layoffs, and are reluctant to take more time away from actually serving students. What would you think about maybe just doing some light edits to the Yardstick to the Moon plan, which actually looks quite a bit like Pillars? Except, of course, Yardstick had three feet, and there are four Pillars. Interesting note, btw: If you go back over the last eight strategic plans and add up the pillars, feet, steeples, staples, spires, keystones, marks and markers, the number comes out to 125 — just as we’re about to celebrate our 125th year. Crazy, huh? Divide by 5 (the number of presidents I’ve served under), and you get the number of people we laid off last summer.
From: Dan, Executive VP of Finance and All Areas Not Related to Learning
Lee, I thought I warned you about spending too much time with numbers. You’re a student affairs VP! lol. About your idea to edit an old plan rather than write a new one: that’s a hard no. President Maverick has made it clear in his recent “Maverick’s Missive” that he wants a fresh start for everyone. Blue Ocean! President Turnaround’s abrupt departure during the wine cellar crisis, especially with our accreditors here that same week, clearly upended any sense of stability we had started to regain after President Mutineer’s two-year term. I know the work that goes into drafting a new strategic plan, and I know how much your team resents anything that takes them away from actually serving students, but frame it as a “new beginning” (or something more creative — you people are good at that kind of thing), hold a retreat, order the good stuff from Panera (my treat), and let them have at it. I bet they’ll come up with some fresh ideas. Except maybe Drew. He seems a bit burned out, but maybe that’s because he’s down to three hall directors for eight buildings? Tell you what — I know Drew likes the Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich. Order him two. And get chips.
To: Lee and other President’s Cabinet members
From: Hannah, Provost
Good afternoon, all. I just want to weigh in on Lee’s question and Dan’s response because I’m encountering some resistance from my department chairs as well, in particular, Russ Oleander (chair of Political Arts, Sciences, Statistics and Media Studies — you may remember that we merged seven departments into one last year, and Russ drew the short straw). He wrote to me this morning saying, “The creation of a strategic plan, when quantified as actual effort (n faculty X n hours/thinking X n hours/writing X n hours/editing X n hours/debating edits) is the equivalent of three semester-long first-year seminars which, not coincidentally, is the number I have not been able to staff for the fall.” While I know that Russ is frustrated by many things and so might be overreacting a bit, I do agree with him and with Lee’s directors that we could be doing better things with our time than rewriting our plans, our structures, our goals and our policies each time a new president arrives, wanting to start building his (and just once, her) legacy. How many legacies can one institution take?
To: Hannah and other President’s Cabinet members
I would answer that, but I’m on “numbers probation” (thanks, Dan).
To: President’s Cabinet
From: Lisa, Chief of Staff
Greetings! First, many thanks for the warm welcome you have given me since I’ve arrived on campus. It was quite a first week, especially the inauguration celebration! Even the paramedics were friendly (I’m sure our dining services staff will be careful to keep shrimp off the menu from now on hahaha — not that food allergies are anything to laugh about — sorry, Lee). While I know you are all quite busy, I did want to make sure you’ve got these items on your to-do list, which come straight from President Maverick himself (he says hello, btw, and will be back from his advancement travel in eight short weeks).
● Strategic planning: It always starts here, doesn’t it? He would like to see your strategic plans built using the template I’m attaching here (perfectpillars.xls). Take an extra week to develop a TikTok for each of these, something that will get our applicants excited. Remember what our marketing consultant said, “If it can’t be captured in 15 seconds, set it free.”
● Core curriculum revision: Hannah, President Maverick is aware that the current core curriculum is only four years old, and yes, award-winning, but frankly, it does not capture the excitement of this presidency. For one thing, it has seven Competencies which do not evenly divide into four Pillars. He would also like to speak with you about dis-integrating your new departments.
● The implementation of Banner as your student information system was, I understand, very time-consuming, though I’m certain the four years your team spent doing it has led to some great relationships across campus. Unfortunately, President Maverick feels Banner does not provide all the functionality and user interface features that he believes are necessary. He would like you to meet with a representative from HeartMindTracker, a newer company that is generating a lot of buzz among presidents. HeartMindTracker was started by a former enrollment VP that President Maverick has known for years. In fact, that’s where the President learned terms like “functionality” and “user interface.”
● Athletics: Dan, President Maverick would like you to chair a task force to explore moving to Division I. He understands you only recently moved from Division II to Division III, so perhaps some of those task force members would be willing to step back into this conversation?
● Lee, can you put together a list of events that President Maverick can attend where he will have time with students? He prefers meeting with student leaders more than the “rank and file.” He would prefer not to engage with angry students while he is still in his first year, including the ones sitting outside my office right now. He loves all students, of course! He just doesn’t like conflict.
● One last thing — President Maverick has heard from a housekeeper that the storage area in the basement of the President’s house is kept at a steady 65 degrees, so can we have that storage area emptied of its current contents (it looks like dozens of boxes of water bottles, tee shirts and branded iPhone cases labeled with “Yardstick to the Moon”) so he can store his Zinfandel collection?
Thanks, team! And please just let me know if you need to reach President Maverick over the next eight weeks. I will be happy to get a message to him, and get right back to you with his response.
Guess what? I got an email from an old friend who said they just announced their new president, and it’s a name you’ll know: President Turnaround! That’s landing on her feet. And the good news is, their president’s house already has a wine cellar! Meanwhile, one of my three remaining hall directors just submitted her resignation. She apparently is now making more money from her side hustle (motivational dog-walking — I’m not sure I fully understand it) than we were paying her, so is going to devote herself full-time to it. Would you like to know how many students each of my two remaining hall directors is now responsible for? Oh, right — you’re on numbers probation. Let’s just say we might not want to mention this at our admissions open house on Saturday.
How about we stay focused on our Pillars of Exceptional Excellence? The students will have to take care of themselves. See you Saturday.
Lee Burdette Williams is a former vice president for student affairs (who happily served under just one president).