Plan for Resource Allocation in Ways That
Build Trust


Almost all colleges and universities have already started making cuts, many of which are targeted rather than across-the-board. Yet many institutions have not established inclusive and transparent processes for making and implementing these decisions. Recent faculty outcry against program prioritization at such institutions as Miami University and the University of Toronto has demonstrated that trust can be a resource as critical to steward as dollars. Even if your institution identifies the right programs or units to restructure or downsize, you may lose more than you gain for your institution's future if the decision-making process is one that damages the trust and morale in your organization.

When planning major changes to resource allocation across your institution, it's critical to approach the effort with a commitment to inviting broad participation and to soliciting input from a wide cross-section of stakeholders both internal and external to your institution. This broad participation is critical to your success in building trust and maintaining transparency as you develop your institution's plan for prioritization and allocation of limited and hotly contested resources.

For this article, we asked Larry Goldstein, President of Campus Strategies, LLC and former CFO of the University of Louisville, and Pat Sanaghan, President of the Sanaghan Group, to offer their advice on:

  • Getting the right task force in place
  • Involving broad participation
  • Getting one, unified message out about your institution's strategic priorities

These steps are critical to ensuring that priorities are set in ways that encourage transparency and garner institutional support for difficult decisions.

Getting the Right Task Force

The task force is a core group responsible for managing the planning activities and overseeing the process of prioritization. Sanaghan recommends:

  • Appoint 30 to 35 members, no more than 40
  • Ensure the task force consists of 60% faculty: "If faculty don't buy in, you don't have a strategic plan you can implement"
  • Appoint members who are highly credible and well-respected within your institution
  • Have the task force co-chaired by a faculty member of exemplary reputation and a key administrator, such as the chief financial officer: "This will send a very effective message that faculty and administration are working together on this plan."

Sanaghan recommends having task force members work together in pairs, as "thought partners," to encourage cross-silo thinking. For example, you might pair an English professor with a business officer.

Involving Broad Participation

An open planning process is critical. Goldstein cites the example of one college at which the union stepped forward and agreed unilaterally to forego staff and faculty raises in order to protect jobs. If the planning process had not been open, this proposal might never have been on the table.

"When planning, open the door to more people so you get a broader range of ideas. Get all the ideas in the room, then think about which ones are worth pursuing. Don't worry right now about screening out the bad ideas. Let the bad ideas come in with the good, and find the nuggets. You may find something unexpected -- like the union that offered to forgo pay raises."
Larry Goldstein, Campus Strategies, LLC

To gather meaningful input from an array of campus constituents, it's important to create structured opportunities for soliciting their ideas. Sanaghan warns against making the assumption that if stakeholders have input to share, they will offer it. "People don't always know you're receptive. You have to let them know."

One way to do this is to take advantage of an existing forum -- such as scheduled visits to the faculty senate or the student government. Make sure the purpose of these visits is to gather input, not to explain your positions. "Let's say they give you 30 minutes on the agenda. The smart thing is not to use 25 minutes to talk and give them 5 minutes to respond. You want to talk for 5 minutes and give them 25 minutes to respond."

Sanaghan also suggests using a series of intentional meeting designs for soliciting and collecting input from a broad range of campus stakeholders. "You have to avoid listening to yourself too much," Sanaghan warns. The key is engagement -- you want to harness the collective brainpower of your institution. An interactive exercise can help you draw out the input and insights of everyone in the room, where a roundtable discussion might not. Sanaghan calls this the "rule of four" -- "If 40 people get together for a purpose, four of them will do all the talking. What you need to do is get the thoughts of the other 36." This rule needs to guide the design of your meetings.


The Interview Design
The Carousel

The Future Timeline

It is critical that the president, the provost, and the chief financial officer stay on the same page and deliver the same message about the institution's priorities. "You can't have the president saying our No. 1 priority is athletics," Goldstein notes, "if the CFO and the provost are saying it is research."

Goldstein recommends that the CFO take an active role in educating the president and the provost on the true scope of the problem, the impacts, the rationale for financial decisions, and what needs to change. Then the president has to be visible in talking about the issues. At a larger institution, it may be crucial for all three officers to be active in talking about the issues -- but with a common message between them, so that constituents both within and outside the institution can understand the decisions made.

"The message has to be conveyed without jargon -- it has to be demonstrated that these are real issues with real impacts. Don't talk about ratios and deficits. The message has to be clear to everyone, from the physical plant worker to the administrative assistant to faculty in the humanities."
Larry Goldstein, Campus Strategies, LLC