Sunday, March 16, 2008

do opposites really attract

I had an interesting conversation with another SU employee at my Friday leadership development workshop. He was commenting on the problems that his department has been having trying to reconcile the university's RCM budget process.

I recalled my Friday conversation as I was preparing for a Writing Program professional development mini-seminar: Writing and Civic Engagement. The readings range from a 1999 call to action by Barber to a contextualization of a part-time instructor's activities. In reviewing my marginal notes, I realized that I'm coming to this topic (and perhaps my other scholarly interests) from a position of fiscal accountability. It's a tension that we were trying to articulate in our leadership workshop. And it's a tension that I'm realizing underlies a lot of my work-related frustration these last few months.

While I know I do the methodology a disservice, RCM (Responsibility Center Management) is basically a budget process that decentralizes control of resources and demands fiscal accountability for all activities. RCM is becoming increasingly popular with large universities, but I'm not sure why. The accountability thing would, on the surface, seem to create a lot of issues for universities that privilege teaching over research. But that's not where I'm seeing the tension.

Here at SU, we're being challenged to find new and sustainable ways to engage the community through scholarly activities (the chancellor's Scholarship in Action initiative). At the same time, we're being asked to evaluate all of our activities against revenue and expenses. The tension: Trying to turn a scholarly community engagement into a revenue generator. If revenue cannot be generated: How to justify the cost of the engagement (non-tangibles) against all of the other non-revenue generating engagements within the university. What we're left with is a "My community engagement is more valuable than yours." This line of argument inevitably leads to claims of disciplinary superiority, and would seem to run counter to interdisciplinary collaboration -- another aspect of Scholarship in Action.

It's a complex question, which Louise and others have more eloquently and adequately addressed in a widely distributed white paper. I'm responding to the tension at a more guttural level because I (like my fellow workshop attendee and many many others on campus) am left to implement the grand schemes of our visionary leaders.

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