Monday, February 23, 2015

11. Complexity works against sustainability.

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
I'm calling the third year of the Seminary the "year of maturity" for more than one reason. The primary one is the fact that, by the end of the third year (2011-2012), our first MDIV cohort had finished all its core courses. Our first MDIV graduates were that August, 2012. With our first cohort finished with their course work, we were able to become associate members of the Association of Theological Schools on June 20, 2012.

1. Half-way through the second year, I posted this check-up on the Seminary's story (Jan. 31, 2011). You can see how things were feeling then. It mentions a couple people I haven't brought up yet. Nate Smith was our first part time addition to Karen Clark as office support. He was with us from March 2010 to April 2011 and helped with registering students for classes, processing credit transfers, and such.

Dianne Clark, on the other hand, has been with us nearly since the beginning, since even before Wayne Schmidt. She is currently our MDIV and MPTh (Master's of Practical Theology) admissions counselor and recruiter and worked with Nate Lamb in admissions almost from the very start. She continued working in admissions and recruitment with Nate until he left for Colorado to plant a church at the end of May 2012. And she continued working with Aaron Wilkinson after he came to replace Nate on June 1, 2012.

Moses Avila and Kami Mauldin would later come in April 2013. Kami helps with admissions and recruitment for our MA in Ministry program. Moses not only helps with admissions and recruitment for the Spanish MDIV but also gives student support for Spanish students in the Seminary. For about a year, Deborah Baxter also helped us especially with Spanish registration (January 2011 to 2012).

Dianne, Kami, and Moses are all phenomenal servants. They are so positive and optimistic, how could any prospective student not want to come to Wesley after talking with them?!

In my previous post, I mentioned Bianca Tavera, who helped from around 2011 to 2013, I think first as a student worker and then for a bit as a part-time employee after she graduated. (Her sister Ambar has been a student worker now for a couple years too, who has especially provided help with the Spanish program.)

In January 2011, Joel Leichty was in the MDIV but also helping in the office. If you've never heard of Joel, you should. He is not only brilliant in mind; he has an incredible knack for organization. He is now working for Russ Gunsalus at Wesleyan HQ and must surely be given a good deal of credit for the operational success of the Gathering last month.

We currently have Kelli Clark (Karen's daughter) helping us in the office as a sort of project manager, even though she is only a sophomore. She's got the skills too. Although she began as a student worker last year, her capacity soon has seen her doing work on the level of a permanent employee.

2. The cast of characters I've just mentioned testifies to several things. One of them is the need for appropriate infrastructure in order for an organization to grow and persist beyond a certain point.

The one I want to focus on in this post is the fact that complexity can work against the long term success of an organization. On the one hand, contextualization increases the relevance and benefit of a program for its "customers." But the more you contextualize on a case by case basis, the greater the overall complexity.

If you look at the blog post linked to above, you can see that even two years into the Seminary, we had as many as 5 different professors teaching each praxis course. Karen Clark and I had worked out a pay formula. The praxis professor received 2/3 of the pay. Then I believe the integration professor received 1/6 of the pie, with the Bible, theology, and church history professors each receiving $200 to facilitate three or four assignments in the course.

By the way, it only dawned on Russ and I at the last minute before starting that we had not built the pay for these integration components into our system. The way the system was, Bob and Chip both received a full 6 hours of pay the first semester, even though a third of their class was being taught by other people. (They did enter attendance, as well as compute and turn in final grades, so there was more work for them than just teaching.)

At first, Russ covered the extra pay for the "foundations" professors from a fee we had charged, intended to pay for students to take the Myers-Briggs personality test, buy refreshments for their breaks during intensives, and so forth. It immediately became obvious, however, that we would have to split up the load.

3. Let's just say that there are a lot of moving parts to the Seminary. Alison Toren worked as our student advisor from March 2012 to last month (January 2015). I'll mention her again in the next post when I get to our embeddedness in the broader university. She was incredibly helpful not only because she has administrative abilities. She is a smart cookie. She could handle the complexity of the Seminary.

I would attribute at least some of the turn around in the Seminary in its early years to its complexity and high demands. Not just anyone can handle this level of complexity. And it doesn't feel good to drop the ball. I've done it. A lot of us have done it at one point or another.

I know educators don't like to think of what they do as a business, but it is. Without customer satisfaction, we close down. (Pastors hate to hear this even more, but reality doesn't care) We all know that the customer isn't always right, but we fail to give them the benefit of the doubt at our own peril.

So we have an Amazon store for all our Seminary books. What happens when you have a contextualized version of one class? Inevitably, a student or two is going to buy books for the wrong class. I've always tried to give such students the benefit of the doubt, even when it's really their fault.

But there's a complexity here. We need to know from faculty when they want to change books in adequate time. Someone has to change the astore in good time. When there are pre-course assignments, the students need to receive those syllabi in sufficient time. It's good business to have clear processes to make sure these things happen.

4. A couple of case studies might illustrate the complexity. So let's say a one week intensive is approaching in Indianapolis for our onsite urban MDIV cohort there. It will have slightly distinct books from the usual, so there is already the possibility that someone will buy the wrong books from the astore, not seeing the special link.

Let's say that Tenley Horner emails the syllabus to the students in this cohort 6 weeks before the course begins. But then let's say that someone jumps into this class after she has sent out the syllabus. First, this is more outside the norm than at a traditional seminary because normally this class is a dedicated cohort. To add someone is not the norm. Most of those who are in the class were registered for it the day they started in Seminary.

So this requires advisor contact to register them. But which advisor? There is currently a designated advisor in our adult student services who works in part for us, in part for other adult programs in the university. Then there is an IWU advisor at the Indianapolis north site. In theory, either of these could register a student dropping in.

But how will this student who is registering late as an add-on get this syllabus? Tenley has already sent the predicted group the syllabus. This is where Alison Toren was a sharp cookie. She would send the syllabus to someone she registered at the last minute--and we didn't even know she was doing it to fill int the gap. She thought to do it on her own because she was sharp. But in the transition after she left, one student fell through the cracks. So yet another system to develop so it doesn't happen next time.

Here's another case study in complexity. We have a part-time person who serves as a "scheduler." This person especially helps with the adjunct hiring process and with entering professors into our system. A couple years ago, we had just hired a new scheduler. We would not normally send contracts out to adjuncts more than a year in advance unless it was a special situation. Even full-time professors only set their loading more or less year by year.

But, as part of our complexity, we try to use the same person to teach the spiritual formation for a MDIV cohort all three years of their program. What the new scheduler didn't know is that we still only send them contracts semester by semester. So the new scheduler sent three years worth of contracts to one person by mistake.

This is just one small area of complexity, but there is a slightly different pay depending on what degree the professor holds. There are a couple distinguished visiting professors. There are some unique situations with regard to those who teach for our Bogota cohorts. We pay slightly different for spiritual formation than for normal credit hours.

My point is that it takes a certain level of skill to be able to handle this sort of complexity, and yet usually these are part-time positions.

5. Organizations tend to invent policies and simplified practices so that they can operate more or less on their own without needing its employees all to be Type A geniuses. Tasks need to be simplified and distributed.

So after four semesters of up to five professors, I finally conceded that we would not be able to have a dedicated Bible, theology, and church history professor for every class. We moved to two professors, one praxis and one "foundation" professor whose expertise would ideally be in either Bible, theology, or church history. There was a hope that this would strengthen these disciplines at least a little by giving them a single voice.

Still, our schedules are on these spreadsheets that are Karen Clark's signature. Learning how to read them is a little like learning a new language. The cohort model focuses more on cohorts than on classes per se. What this means is that an onsite course might combine multiple cohorts, which then have to be "cross-listed."

But this is not how the cohort model normally works. Once again, the blended model of the MDIV program required a system more complex than IWU had already developed.

One trick we learned early on was to cross-list any cohorts that diminished so much in size that they were no longer breaking even. I heard that our adult programs also adopted this practice so that they had classes of more like 12 or 15 rather than 6 or 8.

But the cohort model wasn't designed for this sort of problem solving. It was designed with the idea that you register a student at the beginning of their program and then you are done. It wasn't designed for people to be dropping out and dropping in. It wasn't designed to cross-list cohorts because of attrition. But to be a flexible and break even as a seminary, we have done these things--more complexity that competes with sustainability.

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

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