WHITEWATER — Few things are more ingrained in the fabric of academic life than letter grades, which are parceled out to every student in every class at every turn of the academic calendar.
Yet here’s a different twist: A report card for an entire university, given out by the chancellor to a “class” of 1,114 faculty and staff. That’s exactly what Jack Miller, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, did to usher in this new academic year, focusing renewed attention on the university’s highest priorities.
Miller talked about the “midterm report card” concept during Friday’s meeting of the UW System Board of Regents, hosted by UW-Whitewater. Assessing the progress of 36 campus goals set in 1999, Miller gave out 10 As, 19 Bs, five Cs and two Ds – and provided detailed statistics on the quantifiable goals.
“It is important for us to clearly articulate our goals because the ‘bottom line’ in higher education is so unclear,” said Miller. He offered the example of graduation rates: Certainly campuses work to graduate all of their students, yet a 100 percent graduation rate would raise serious doubts about academic credibility.
“We are not corporations for which the ‘P’ and the ‘L’ sheet is clear,” he said.
While people within higher education would universally agree that goals matter, thick strategic planning documents often end up gathering dust on bookshelves, lost in the crush of daily tasks. Miller said that is all the more reason why goals should be measurable, publicly shared and openly discussed. He delivered his report card before 600 faculty and staff in August during his annual “state of the university” address.
The categories of goals include the learning environment, students, diversity, faculty and staff and funding and advancement. Here are a few report card results:
- Increase the six-year graduation rate of undergraduates to 60 percent. While the latest graduation figures were at 52 percent – the UW System average – they increased five percentage points in three years thanks to new programs and interventions in advising and student affairs. Grade: B.
- Increase the overall percentage of multicultural students. The number of students of color increased from 689 in 1998 to 789 in 2001, up 7.6 percent. Grade: B+.
- Increase campus-wide participation in experiential learning programs. Over three years, involvement in experiential learning – including volunteerism, student organizations, athletics and campus employment – rose 15 percent. Grade: A.
- Increase graduate program enrollment from 5 percent to 8 percent. While graduate enrollment grew by about 100 full-time equivalent students, the total percentage stands at 6.4 percent. Grade: C+.
- Create more opportunities and tangible rewards for faculty and staff involvement in “entrepreneurial” activities. Progress has been extremely minimal and has not gone beyond formal conversations. Grade: D.
Miller said it may be uncomfortable, but also essential to communicate the failures along with the successes.
“Some time in this country, ‘failure’ got a bad name and I don’t know exactly why,” said Miller, a teacher education professor and former dean. “I don’t know when we decided that no one can ever feel like they failed. We think that if you’re not failing occasionally, you’re not trying things that are hard enough.”
Brian Mattmiller, UW-Whitewater