The capacity for growth and change within each institution must be nurtured to achieve fulfillment.

By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University


Our theme is developing institutional capacity for mission fulfillment without bricks and mortar. By capacity we mean, generally, our potential for achieving strategic priorities. Therefore, I think in terms of human capacity, including faculty, students, staff, alumni, other advisors, donors, etc. I also think of programmatic capacity, which includes the academic programs, degree granting and otherwise, used to assess societal needs and to organize activities and resources to meet those needs in mission-compatible ways.

I also think in terms of services, the capacity to meet and satisfy student, faculty and staff needs and interests and to ensure their greatest potential for success.

Other dimensions to capacity include partnerships at centers of activity beyond the core campus. We must think of leverage as capacity, the leverage that comes from joining forces with another organization to do what neither can do well on its own. We think of the calendar – clock capacity, making programs and services available at anytime, anywhere.

Finally, we must consider institutional capacity for reinvention and reimagining what is, without denying heritage. We can do this by using a different metaphor. Imagine that a local or regional chamber of commerce, embarked on a strategic planning exercise, wanted to attract an entity that would employ highly educated workers, whose employees would engage in the community, whose activities would be sensitive to the environment and contribute to the economy, and whose end results would be those in which all could be proud. They would be defining a university. Indeed, universities have been engines of economic development for communities during the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, both on their own and in combination with others.

Adelphi Examples

Adelphi has many examples of campus and community initiatives that expand capacity and fulfill mission. For example, in terms of enrollment growth, we have a partnership with ELS-Berlitz around the world for the recruitment of students, enhancing their English language proficiency, and enrolling them in degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, increasing our share of international students. We also have a joint Doctor of Audiology Degree with two other universities, providing a needed high-cost credential in a cost-effective way.

We also partner with a Seminary offering degree programs at sites convenient for those attending the religious institution who are unlikely to travel to campus. We also offer the MBA to groups of physicians at a health system; have numerous articulation agreements with community colleges; provide long-standing teacher preparation programs with the New York City Department of Education; and educate graduate students in Social Work in a distant county.

Other partners include clinical sites at hospitals, psychotherapy practices, social service agencies, schools, municipalities, and businesses. A variety of internship programs at for-profit and not-for-profit organizations add to our capacity for mission fulfillment, as do our programs for voluntarism and mentoring. The innovative Adelphi Community Fellows Program places specially prepared students in selected non-profit organizations for paid summer internships, supported by donors, in response to important regional needs and students’ need for meaningful employment.

A program called COACH (Count on Alumni for Career Help) brings alumni to the University to talk with students about careers and possibilities, and students to their work places to do the same.

We have convened a variety of advisory boards for individual programs, schools, and deans, as well as the president. In this way, we expand our capacity for strategic thinking by involving leaders in key industries and enterprises from beyond our campus borders. This helps us become involved in local, regional, and international activities throughout the U.S. and in other countries.

Several initiatives, such as the Long Island Institute for Non-Profit Leadership, the Institute for Parenting, the Bridges Program for those with Autism, the Freshman Community Action Program, the Levermore Global Scholars Program, the New York State-Adelphi Breast Cancer Hotline and Counseling Center, the Office of Volunteer and Community Services, the Center for Social Innovation, Vital Signs – the social health indicators project, the America Reads/America Counts initiatives, and a television show on “Exploring Critical Issues,” expand our capacity for mission fulfillment by working on big issues with other organizations and enterprises.

An important but often over-looked opportunity for expanding capacity is represented by the alumni of an institution. Instead of thinking of them as “graduates” only, we can think of them as potential life-long learning clients. After all, our 100,000 alumni have both experience with Adelphi and an affinity; they represent major prospects for continuing professional and cultural education on-line and at different sites, all leading to new ways to define enrollment and mission fulfillment.

Through these ways, plus courses which blend in-person and telecommunications, as well as other services on- and off-campus, we are able to serve the educational needs of the greater population and extend our capacity to fulfill mission in ways we could never do on campus alone, whether in advancing knowledge, skills, abilities, and values, or in expanding capacity for economic development or intercultural understanding.

Impediments to be Overcome

Impediments to be overcome in order to develop institutional capacity include “silo thinking” by department and program leaders, which limits inter-disciplinary approaches to complex issues; difficulty in setting priorities, resulting from poor planning and communication; waiting for new resources when reallocation may be a better alternative; viewing something as a problem instead of as an asset or an opportunity; and an absence of leadership committed to a new vision.

Assessment of Effectiveness

We assess the effectiveness of our various programs, services, and initiatives through the process of annual review of goals and progress, engagement of external reviewers, reviews of licensure exam results, operations audits by our internal auditor, special questionnaires administered by the Office of Research and Planning, surveys of employers and graduates, and a variety of professional and regional accreditation reports, all to inform investments of time and resources. Through these and other ways, including the leadership and accountability required of the division heads and deans, we ensure maximum effectiveness of initiatives in relationship to the University’s strategic plan, “AU 2015”, and our mission.

Lessons Learned

Having reflected on successes and failures in developing institutional capacity for mission fulfillment, I have found lessons to be applied another time. These include the need to define quality controls in advance; the importance of picking a meaningful partner with compatible values and vision; the value of turning what seems to be a problem “on its head” so as to see it from a different perspective; the benefits of asking “what lessons can we learn from this experience?”; the essential need for a “Devil’s Advocate” so as to consider unintended consequences of actions; and to remember that at times it is better to seek forgiveness than to ask for approval.

Reinventing Ourselves

The prospects for increasing the capacity of institutions are enormous. We can reimagine and reinvent our institutions to be engaged in addressing interesting and important problems in new and flexible ways, achieving distinctiveness without sacrificing heritage. This has been the path for Adelphi’s renewal in the past dozen years. In the memories of institutions are moments of transition, “hinges” in Thomas Cahill’s term, between one time and another, with each moment of change part of an evolution connecting what happened before with what comes after, both central to transforming the future.

This notion of “hinges” between history or heritage and building on strengths to address new challenges is the foundation of strategic planning, the essence of which is consensus on principles for decision-making and priorities for action. So, “AU 2015” focuses on four goals: academic distinctiveness; relevance in a changing world; student success in a in a range of educational goals; and a sustained reputation as an excellent, yet affordable university – a perpetual “Fiske Guide” “Best Buy” – each building on strengths of programs and relationships developed over 115 years. These include health to undergird a new interdisciplinary program in Public Health; health informatics; increased internships in for-profit, not-for-profit, and civic organizations; enhanced attention to student/faculty research in basic sciences; and increased participation in studying in other cultures and countries. Each goal represents a capacity on which to build even as the outcomes are new.

The capacity for growth and change is within each institution, but must be nurtured and encouraged if we are to achieve optimal mission fulfillment, with or without new bricks and mortar.

Thank you.

Speech given at the International Association of University Presidents, Triennial Conference, New York, New York, June 19, 2011.

For further information, please contact:

Todd Wilson
Strategic Communications Director 
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