Yesterday, newly appointed President David Wright presented his vision for Indiana Wesleyan to the broad administrative leaders of the university. It was a deeply encouraging meeting. Here is a link to his presentation.
We have permission to share some thoughts from it. In fact, a good indication that he is a president worthy of our times is the fact that he recognized that some content from the presentation will have already gone out in texts and tweets while he was presenting. Gone are the days where you can control the release of information given to a group of people.
I thought I would just share three things that indicated to me, once again, that he is a president for our time. Of course there were the pieces we all knew would be there. The Chronicle-Tribune already captured his passion for global education. We all know that IWU needs to continue its diversification in terms of serving students of all ethnicities and having a faculty/administration that looks more like the diverse kingdom of God. We all knew those pieces would be there--and they were.
But here are three elements of his vision that to me were particularly important at this point in our history.
1. He would like us to steer toward the goal of IWU being a truly great university. In itself, there's nothing remarkable about this statement. It was how he defined it in terms of the story of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Anyone who would be truly great must be a servant.
In other words, he did not define greatness in terms of how much our faculty publishes or how good we look to the rest of the academy. He defined greatness in terms of how well we serve our students. You do things differently if your goal is to look good to academics and important outsiders than if your goal is to serve your students. The one approach says, "what makes this work best." The other says, "what will make other people admire us." I fear that some elements of IWU have been gravitating toward the latter.
2. Following on my first observation, he ironically began with a recognition that other institutions already look to us for ideas on how to innovate in the light of our changing technological times. IWU's online and distance programs have always been an ironic source of both admiration and mockery. Traditional academia has always tended to mock us (I think of the seminary president who, upon being newly elected, held up our seminary curriculum to his faculty and mocked, "This is not what we will be doing here." Yet here we are in the top 25% of seminaries after 4 years).
Of course we know that the kinds of institutions that used to mock things like online education are now often the ones that are in major financial crisis, even in danger of closing. It is deeply ironic that anyone would want to make IWU like institutions that, for all intents and purposes, are struggling to survive in our changing times. Dr. Wright did not say anything explicitly, but I noted to myself what was implied in his beginning: he recognizes that we are already more of a benchmark ourselves rather than an institution that needs to fix itself by benchmarking other, generally failing institutions.
3. The final thing that stuck out to me was his strategy on the structure of the institution. Again, he noted that across the academy, the prevailing practice is to structure an organization around disciplines. This is how everyone does it. You have schools of business that teach all the business in the university.
But he recognized that it has historically been more effective at IWU to structure by modality. You have to admire a leader who isn't afraid to do something different than everyone else--especially when it represents true insight. In effect, he proposes an operational grouping of the university around two halves, primarily residential and primarily non-residential. He proposed decentralizing leadership and to some extent infrastructure.
It was at this point that I tweeted yesterday what a smart cookie he was. This is brilliant and exactly the kind of thing the most effective organizations of our age are doing. Wright cited a term coined by Dee Hock, founder of VISA: "chaordic." You create structures that empower creativity on the part of your people. You structure a place around what it does, function over form.
What a breath of fresh air! Traditional academia is like algebra next to this calculus. It wants nice symmetrical boxes that look pretty on an organizational chart. Dr. Wright proposes a structure that focuses on functionality--to do the work--over formality. It is substance over form.
I was tremendously encouraged. This vision was the best of IWU past, poised to continue into the future. All the indications so far, from big statements to little things he has done, are very positive for his presidency going forward.